The aim of a strategic thinking process is to add value to your business so that you maximize your resources and create competitive advantage now and in the future. But great thinking doesn’t just happen. Individuals and organizations need to actively work to create an environment that fosters it. In this four-part series, we examine four tactics you can employ to create conditions for strategic thinking in your entity: shifting from a transactional mindset; suspend problem-solving; disrupt your thinking; and explore the broader context.
In this final installment, I explain how to use a broader context to gain deep insights that can significantly modify what you view as important to your success - now and for the future.
Hold on, where am I?
I am sure you’ve gotten lost using your GPS at least once. Sadly, for me it has happened more than once. It happens when I am distracted during my drive and in unfamiliar territory. I am paying attention to my driving, just not as aware of my surroundings as I should be as I move on down the road.
When my GPS redirects me with a crazy set of turns or with a navigation line that doubles back on itself I feel disoriented and lose my sense of direction. I pull over and play with the GPS until I can see the broadest possible view of where my destination is in relation to my current location and start out again.
This is exactly what businesses need to do from time to time. They need to pull over and reorient themselves to the context and the environment they currently find themselves operating in and then set out anew. This is a core deliverable for most strategic planning efforts.
In an organization with strong strategic thinking skills, the broader context is the awareness of where you are and what forces are possibly in play around you. That is that there are competitors and other factors that can impact your company and its profitability. Reviewing these outside elements on a regular basis is important so that you are aware of innovations, changes to your customer needs or preferences and where you have an opportunity to flex and move ahead – a shortcut.
Exploring the Broader Context of Your World
So, what does exploring the broader context entail? It means, at a minimum, keeping a watchful eye on your competitors so that you know what they are working on and what changes they are bringing to the marketplace. This includes new or enhanced products or core innovations that the market is ready to adopt.
One striking example of how this all played out in real life occurred when I was working at Levi Strauss & Co. on their Dockers® brand. The market had changed and customers wanted wrinkle-free pants. However, we had a belief that khakis had to be 100% cotton and soft to the touch. When we attempted to pivot, the treatments that made our 100% cotton fabric wrinkle-free, also made them stiff. Alternatively, the addition of a synthetic material into the fabric changed the feel of the cloth and our product heritage. So, even as the market research indicated that our customers really wanted their beloved pants to be less frumpy looking, we just keep making our 100% cotton pants.
Then one day we discovered that not one but two of our main competitors had developed a manufacturing process that solved the wrinkle problem without the negative side effects - and our customers were flocking to them. It took us six months to develop the process ourselves, and we ended up entering the wrinkle-free market long after our competitors. It was a horrible time. We were racing to catch up.
Because we had such a strong brand, we were able to recover and quickly regain our market share, but just imagine where Dockers might have been if we had not had such a commanding presence in the marketplace?
If you are not taking time out on a regular basis to explore your broader context by looking at your competitors and listening to the changing needs of your customers, you are not thinking strategically. Ask yourself, “Could your company afford to be six months behind in the market and still survive?”
A deep and up to date understanding of the context helps organizations stay vital and on the edge of catching the next wave - AND it is not easy. In this series, we have provided four terrific ways to foster this important capability. When linked together they establish the core conditions to sustain strategic thinking for your success today and into the future.
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