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Mastering the Art of Strategic Thinking

By Deepak Bansal
August 2, 2023

A survey conducted by the Global Leadership Forecast, one of the most expansive leadership projects in the world, found that strategic thinking is a highly sought-after skill in leaders. It ranked among the top three critical leadership competencies including inspiring commitment and leading change. What does strategic thinking even mean?

Strategic thinking is a transformative mindset that empowers individuals and organizational leaders to navigate complex challenges by going beyond short-term decision-making, focusing on analyzing data, and aligning actions with overarching goals. Strategic thinkers, as Simon Sinek famously said, start with “Why”.

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, strategic thinking has become an indispensable skill for success. The ability to step back, structure, plan, and communicate effectively can give individuals and organizations a competitive edge. This article explores the “What” (components) and the “How” (tools) needed to master the art of strategic thinking.

The What: Components of Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking encompasses several key components that drive success in today’s dynamic business environment. These components include adept problem-solving, embracing big-picture thinking, and effective strategic communication. By mastering these elements, individuals and organizations can navigate challenges, capitalize on opportunities, and achieve long-term goals.

Problem-Solving: Strategic thinking is essential for effective problem-solving. A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study found that organizations with a strategic mindset are 2.5 times more likely to be top performers in their industry. Strategic thinkers can analyze complex problems from multiple perspectives, evaluate potential solutions, anticipate potential risks, and make informed decisions that drive favorable outcomes.

Big Picture Thinking: Big-picture thinking is the ability to see beyond immediate details and grasp the broader context of a situation. It involves understanding the interconnectedness of various factors, identifying trends, and envisioning the long-term implications of decisions. Rather than going straight to solutions, strategic thinkers take a step back and look at the overall context and the big picture. This allows them to focus on the right questions. By adopting a big-picture perspective, strategic thinkers can align their actions with overarching goals and make strategic choices that drive success.

Strategic Communication: Strategic thinking goes hand-in-hand with effective communication. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that companies with strong communication strategies aligned with their overall strategic direction experienced higher employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and overall organizational performance. Strategic thinkers facilitate the development of clear and compelling messages that resonate with stakeholders, fostering alignment and driving the success of strategic initiatives.

The How: Toolkit for Strategic Thinking

Believe it or not, strategic thinking is a skill set that can be learned. Tools like SCQ, MECE, and top-down thinking (Pyramid Principle) are taught to most consultants in their first few years in the business.

SCQ (Situation-Complication-Question): Designed by Barbara Minto from McKinsey, this straightforward tool helps provide context for our problem. Most of the time, we move directly towards solutions. A strategic thinker takes time to evaluate the current Situation, the Complication in the situation (we have a problem only if there is a challenge), and the Questions needed to address the challenge. When we use this simple approach before starting any project or even meeting, we have a better understanding of the big picture and alignment with various stakeholders.

MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive): Have you ever heard someone saying, “This is not MECE”? If yes, then there is a high chance that this person is a (ex) consultant. MECE thinking is the most commonly used framework in consulting to structure information and analysis. Strategic thinkers can break down complex problems and data sets into logical and manageable parts by organizing data into mutually exclusive categories that collectively cover all possibilities. MECE thinking ensures comprehensive analysis, minimizes information gaps, and supports strategic decision-making based on reliable data.

Top-Down Structuring (Pyramid Principle): Top-down structuring differentiates a strategic thinker from a non-strategic thinker. Our human brain mostly thinks bottom up. Our mind typically gathers data in categories to make it easier to handle. We start with a blank page when we put ourselves into a strategic thinking shoe. Strategic thinkers can focus on the big picture while incorporating relevant data and insights by starting with high-level objectives and progressively diving into more specific details (like a pyramid). This approach helps prioritize efforts, align actions with strategic goals, and leverage data effectively to drive decision-making and execution.

Strategic thinking is key to unlocking growth and success in today’s business landscape. By embracing problem-solving, big-picture thinking, and strategic communication, individuals and organizations can navigate challenges, capitalize on opportunities, and achieve long-term goals. Becoming a strategic thinker becomes attainable with the essential toolkit of SCQ, MECE, and top-down structuring.

Deepak Bansal aims to bring humanistic elements to our working life. He stands at the intersection of Business (MBA HSG Switzerland), Technology (MTech India), and Humanities (MA Philosophy California). With 15+ years in the corporate world, Deepak has held Executive positions (COO, Director) in consulting and working with multinationals. He grew up in Strategic Consulting roles (from consultant to Associate Partner) and has also led Learning & Development for a Strategic Consulting practice. MQ Learning is a top-tier Swiss EduQua-certified L&D Academy specializing in fostering humanistic skills for the digital age. Check out their certificate program on Sharpening Strategic Skills.

MQ Learning offers training on strategic thinking and the role of radical simplification… Please check out our offerings at: https://www.mq-learning.com/learning

Deepak Bansal is a presenter at this year’s Leadership and Innovation Online Conference available to stream now through September 4th! Register here.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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