The aim of strategic thinking is to add value to your business, maximize your resources and act as a catalyst for creating competitive advantage. However, it doesn’t just automatically happen. Individuals and teams must actively work to create an environment that is conducive to it. In this four-part series, we examine four basic conditions that foster this vital competency, including shifting from a transactional mindset; suspending problem-solving, disrupting your thinking, and exploring the broader context.
In Part 2, we examine how to stimulate new thinking by suspending problem-solving.
Problem-solving is a process of finding the best solution quickly so you can get back to ‘getting the job done.’ Often this is what teams are built to do; gather and examine how best to review and fix things. In fact, entire companies and whole industries are built around solving specific problems. It is a very well developed capability in both the commercial and non-profit sectors.
This frame of mind is often depended upon to manage our businesses. Efficiency and high levels of productivity are highly sought out and rewarded. It is a natural outcome that many cultures have strong problem-solving capabilities.
|Perspective: I find that promising individuals get very caught up perfecting their problem-solving skill, believing it to be the pathway to executive leadership. They believe their career opportunities will improve if they prove an ability to solve more complex problems faster and better than anyone else. That may be a valued skill, but it alone does not set you up for a role in executive leadership.|
At the organizational level, the problem is (no pun intended) that the ‘get it done’ mantra can seep into all parts of an organization and unintentionally stifle its ability to stimulate new thinking. Because these folks are so focused on solving today’s problems in relative isolation, they can miss vital indicators that they are defining the problem incorrectly or seeking a result that is soon to be irrelevant.
Hit the PAUSE button.
One of the real benefits of strategic thinking capabilities is that it allows you to explore what could be versus just solving the problem of the day. Without the ability to halt a finely tuned "fix-it" discipline from time to time, organizations can end up somewhere they did not plan to be.
So, how does suspending a core business process stimulate new thinking?
- First, suspending means just that, temporarily pause your "get to it" process to see if you are missing something. You do not stop completely, or for any great length of time, just pause it and add a step of exploration into your process.
- Second, you break the linear chain of problem - solution - action to include some less structured discussions. While this break in the action can be frustrating to some, I have found that 99 percent of the time it results in a better decision and one that has greater support – so a decision that sticks.
A simple exercise to support this new practice in your organization is to conduct regular meetings that include people at all levels of your entity. Discuss an area of your market, a recent article from an influencer or possibly a competitor’s innovation or new product/service announcement and the possible implications to your entity. It does not even have to be directly related to your market, the point here is to deliberately break the rhythm of identifying a problem, select a solution, and getting into action to resolve that problem.
Opportunities to demonstrate an interest in the exploration of ideas or different lines of thinking indicates that it is valued. It sets the stage for others to bring new thinking to the table when they are engaged in their regular activities, and it provides you the ability to get the most from your talent. Today with our ever-shortening cycles, finding a way to consistently and quickly get ideas from as many different perspectives as possible can mean the difference between success and failure. This is where the magic of competitive advantage begins. When people get engaged and start freely sharing ideas, you get their hearts and minds, and their feet are sure to follow.
Strategic thinking helps organizations stay vital and produces new results from their regular business management processes. However, it is not automatic, and it is not always easy. We have lots of tools that help you be successful.