The Strategic Thinking Crusade

Note from editor: This piece was originally written for an internal publication. Corporate identities have been amended to avoid embarrassment on both sides.

Check out the big brain on Brad, Jules, Pulp Fiction, 1994

If you’ve ever taken up a job in a large organisation and caught a frustrating glimpse of the bureaucratic nonsense and studied indifference to common sense in the production of THE PLAN, you’ll appreciate a crusade to improve our common lot. (If you haven’t, then hang around a little longer and this apocalyptic vision of the head office will be your reality.) You see, in our organisation we like to think that we are excellent at developing plans and conducting operations. I have no beef with this sentiment. I actually agree in the most part, so long as the planning horizon does not extend beyond the posting cycle. Our ‘operations branch’ are studies in excellence. Our collective ability to turn a budding catastrophe into a homecoming parade is just part of our DNA. “No cuff too tough” has been our catch cry through this last decade of instability.

But can we look out beyond the next post? I argue that we can’t. We are as limited in our ability to develop long-term strategies as my chickens’ ability to invade my homestead. They are constrained by the enclosed aviary pen I built them and have a biologically limiting wing spread that is unable to counter standard gravitational effects and produce a sufficient upwards motion to ascend the stairs at my back door. (We could conclude this scenario with a hilarious attempt to open the door knob without an opposable thumb but I see you get the analogy.) My argument is that our organisation does not sufficiently understand the strategic thinking capability required to develop long term strategies. The result is that we replace the importance of thinking in favour of the short term satisfaction of doing. The consequence is that we are often surprised, rarely hold the initiative and never dictate the terms.

Why is this so? In my mind, not everyone is born equal. If you ever saw me trying to catch a ball then you would wholeheartedly agree. Thus I presume that you understand that some people appear to be better at developing long term plans whilst others (and generally not the same person) are great at short term reactionary tasking. This then implies that there is something different about their noggin (or ‘cognitive reasoning’ if you’re a brainiac). But what is different about these strategic thinkers as individuals and can you develop this ‘strategic thinking’ as an ability within the organisation? I asked these questions several years ago and, in fortuitous alignment, it turned out to be a great dissertation topic that I am now pursuing.

This year I have taken on the challenge to understand the strategic thinker mindset and sufficiently develop a strategic thinking model so that our organisation can start to develop an actual capability. To do this, I intend to blah, blah, blah…. I can see your eyes glaze over. (If it hasn’t then I suggest you contact me. I can refer you to a kind old gent who is really good at listening.) The result of this study is a model that will help us demonstratively prove why we need to structure our individual cognitive development along certain lines. We can convincingly argue that a tertiary education is beneficial, not in some arbitrary navel gazing terms, but in hard conclusions derived from quantifiable cost-benefit analysis. In my future, your junior line manager can look you directly in the eye and state that *insert elite and expensive tertiary fraternity here* was worth your tax payer funds. Their rationale and solid grasp on reality would force you to stow your normal tactile counselling method with a more considered approach. One that perhaps engenders trust and, heaven forbid, respect. This example would be replicable across the higher-education management schemes sponsored by the organisation. Clearly the immediate benefits are white collar centric but that only reflects our current management and leadership paradigm and I challenge you to change that. The rest of us will clearly benefit from clearer messaging and planning and a reduction in the current ‘WTF’ factor.

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