Strategic I Am

Pick-up sticks is a game many played as children. A bundle of sticks roughly six inches long are held in a loose bunch and released on a table top, falling in random disarray. Each player then takes a turn removing a stick from the pile, with the goal of not moving or disturbing the remaining ones. Unfortunately, in many organizations, strategy development resembles a game of pick-up sticks. Unable to escape the whirlwind of daily activities, managers annually throw together a strategic planning session comprised of a series of random questions and a SWOT analysis, for good measure. With no rationale as to their sequencing or practical application, this jumble of jargon and templates can best be described as a Pick-up strategy session. People leave these sessions with a frustrated, unfulfilled sense of having done little thinking in an unproductive way that generated no real changes in the business.

As we’ve seen throughout the book, elevated levels of strategic thinking can be guided by a coherent and methodical framework consisting of concepts and tools to help you achieve your business goals. The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking provide a concise, yet comprehensive way for leaders to raise their level of thought in setting strong strategic direction for the business. They are as follows:

  • 1. Coalesce: Fusing together insights to create an innovative business model
  • 2. Compete: Creating a system of strategy to achieve competitive advantage
  • 3. Champion: Leading others to think and act strategically to execute strategy

Mastering these disciplines will take time. Revamping business models, revisiting value propositions, enhancing value chains, mining the market for innovation, assessing competitive advantage, influencing others to buy in, building new habits, facilitating strategy conversations, and designing a Strategy Scaffold all require a significant investment of time, energy, and commitment. It won’t be easy and it certainly won’t come without risks. Saying no to some potential customers, not saying yes to every internal request that comes across your desk, and forgoing promising opportunities because they don’t fit with your strategy will open you up to risk. Having the intellectual prowess and the sheer guts to make these trade-offs defines the truly strategic leader.

What’s your end game? When your career comes to a close, where will you be? What shape will your business be in? How will your colleagues, employees, and customers describe you? Most important, how will you assess your run? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about the little things. It’s about how you create the defining moments that shape the trajectory of a team, a business, a life. It’s about coalescing insights into competitive advantages that you champion. It’s about rising above the fray and seeing things others don’t. And you can make that happen, if you’re willing to elevate.

A common maple seed, like those you tossed up into the air as a kid and then watched as they spun to the ground, uses the same principle of autorotation as a helicopter does when it descends. In fact, single-engine helicopters are designed with this autorotation principle in mind so they can flutter to the ground safely in the event of engine failure. The maple seed’s illustration of the principle behind helicopter flight is just one example of how something complex can be made simple. Leonardo da Vinci, whose design of the aerial screw inspired the future development of the helicopter said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Great strategy should be simple, maybe even as simple as a Dr. Seuss book. And if Dr. Seuss had been a strategist, I think he may have written something like this:

Strategic I Am

I am strategic. Strategic I am.

Do you like to think strategically?

I do not like to think strategically, not in an office, not in a tree.

It’s more fun to think tactically, stuff I can touch, stuff I can see.

I do not like to think strategically,

I haven’t the time to be so leisurely.

Setting good plans, I’ll leave to others.

Gotta check my e-mail. Even in bed, under the covers.

No, I do not like to think strategically,

I prefer the adrenaline rush of mindless reactivity.

You do not like to think strategically, so you say. Try it, try it, and you may.

Say! I do like to think strategically.

While others around me only fight fires,

I focus my resources, taking my business higher.

I schedule time, just to think.

Now my goals and strategies are in perfect sync.

Thank you, thank you!

Strategic I am.

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