How Strategic Thinking Can Help You Make Better Decisions and Achieve Your Goals
You may have heard the term “strategic thinking” thrown around, but never really quite understood what it is, how it works or why it is superior to other ways of thinking. Fortunately, strategic thinking isn’t just an abstract concept, but a very definite way of thinking about and solving problems to your general advantage. Here’s what you should know about strategic thinking and its many benefits.
Just What is Strategic Thinking?
Before exploring how to think strategically, it’s important to understand exactly what is meant by strategic thinking and how it differs from so-called tactical thinking. Simply put, strategic thinking means making decisions on the basis of their ability to help you reach an overarching goal in the future. In other words, a person who is thinking strategically will have a clearly defined vision of what he ultimately wants, and then make all of his relevant decisions in that area align with that long-term goal. That cumulative set of decisions then becomes a strategy for reaching that goal.
This is also what differentiates strategic thinking from tactical thinking, which is a much more limited and short-term way of thinking. To illustrate this difference, consider the example of a salesman who is attempting to increase his sales numbers. A person who was thinking only tactically might think of how to close a specific sale, hoping that that sale would raise his overall numbers for the month. The strategically-minded person, though, might attempt to improve his overall selling abilities or come up with new sales systems, allowing him to close not only that sale, but many others in the future as well. In the latter case, the person is making a decision that is aligned fully toward his future goal, rather than just to the needs of the moment.
Strategic Thinking in Business
Needless to say, this kind of thinking is often applied to business goals. Businesses tend to use strategic thinking to come up with plans and systems that will help them expand and make more money several years in the future. Strategic planning is essential in business, because reaching major revenue and growth goals requires the labor of many people over long periods of time. In this kind of environment, short-term thinking can become almost entirely incoherent, since teams need to focus on the future to be effective.
For this reason, businesses tend to prize strategic thinking most in their leaders and executives. However, this kind of thinking can be applied by almost any person at any level of an organization. A shipping and receiving supervisor, for instance, might find ways to improve efficiency in his area by better coordinating teams removing goods from trucks and those that do the sorting in order to achieve a future goal of being able to process trucks more quickly. This would be a smaller-scale example of strategic thinking, but one that could very much benefit the business as a whole.
Implementing Strategic Thinking in Your Personal Decision Making
So far, strategic thinking sounds all well and good in a business context, but what about using it for your personal life goals? Just as thinking strategically can help businesses achieve growth and higher revenues, aligning your own decision-making process to your goals can make you far more likely to achieve them. The first step in implementing strategic thinking in your life, of course, is defining your goals clearly. Without definite goals in mind, a strategy to reach them can’t be effectively formulated.
Once you know what your goals are, devising a strategy to reach them involves working backwards from them whenever you have to make decisions in that area of your life. Say, for instance, a young man starting out in his professional life has a goal to someday make $200,000 per year. When deciding what career to enter into, strategic thinking would demand that he evaluate which careers had the realistic potential to produce that salary. Similarly, a person with the goal of losing 20 pounds in two months would need to carefully evaluate which foods he could eat and which he could not in order to maintain the needed calorie deficit. By working backwards from a goal, you gain a general set of guidelines that will help you make your decision. These guidelines will also tend to narrow down your range of choices on any given matter, making the decision process easier as well.
Strategic thinking, if applied properly, will keep you moving forward toward your goals with every choice you make. This is a significant improvement on the emotional thinking that many people do, which often produces choices that either don’t serve their ultimate goals or, in some cases, may even work against them. By carefully and rationally evaluating whether any given decision is in line with your larger goals, you can remove most or all of this incoherence from your choices.
The Role of Flexibility in Strategic Thinking
So far, strategic thinking may sound very rigid, but the fact is that there is a role for adjustment and flexibility as well. Over time, some of your goals will change. When that happens, it’s important that you realign your decision making to fit your new goals, rather than your old ones. The point of thinking strategically is to help you achieve the things you want most, not to lock you into a set of choices that serve a goal which may no longer be particularly important to you. Keep this in mind as you set and re-evaluate your goals, and you’ll be able to keep moving toward them.
Overall, employing strategic thinking will help you to consistently make progress toward your goals, giving you a higher chance of successfully achieving them. Whether in your business, health or even your relationships, using strategic thinking to inform your decisions can help you lead a happier, more fulfilled life. Give strategic thinking a try, and you’ll be impressed by the kinds of results that it can yield.