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Why You Need to Think Strategically, and How to Do It
Being a strategic thinker isn’t reserved for senior level executives in the corner office, but it likely helped them land there. Understanding the direction you need to go and the results you want to achieve is a good philosophy for most of us, particularly if we want to strengthen our company’s competitive advantage—and advance our own career.
“Thinking strategically helps people work smarter, which leads to more productivity,” says Bentley University professor Linda Edelman, who is teaching a two-day seminar on strategy and innovation through the executive education program. “You don’t waste time; you’re able to better prioritize if you know how your role fits into bigger picture.”
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It involves possibility thinking in ways that are different, broader. Edelman, who is in the management department, likens it to making sense of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Asking: How can I put them together in a way that makes a coherent whole? What can be done smarter, faster, better, instead of?
Sounds easy enough, right? But unfortunately most of us don’t think that way, Edelman explains. “We get busy with life and the day-to-day tasks we need to check off of our to-do list.”
However, she’s optimistic that anyone can do it. “Strategic thinking is being rigorous and forcing yourself to think about things you don’t normally think about.”
Edelman offers eight ways to be more mindful and challenge the way you think:
- Know Where You Stand
What is your company good at? Analyze resources and capabilities to assess what sets your business apart. It’s as much about how you do business, as what you do.
- Create Value
Use design thinking to understand a problem. Design thinking, a concept developed by the Stanford University Design School, is a process that always places the needs of the user demographic at the core of concept development. It focuses on “need-finding, understanding, creating, thinking and doing;” as you create and test something, you learn and improve upon initial ideas.
If you're interested in users and user experience (UX), think about getting a masters degree in Human Factors in Information Design (HFID).
- Capture Differentiators
Figure out how to keep competitors at bay. Build barriers to entry to protect what you have, and innovate in ways that can’t be imitated. This involves an analysis of what competitors are good at. The relationships you’ve built are hard for competitors to imitate.
- Analyze History
Synthesize information from your company’s past and present. But also focus on the future. How can you take what has happened and channel it to help you look into the future?
- Embrace Complexity
You need to recognize that the competitive environment is incredibly complex. You’ll never be able to manage all of that complexity. Accept that the very best you can do is recognize that there are lots of moving parts, and be aware of as many of them as possible. Ask yourself: how I can really understand what’s going on? What are the drivers and levers? How can I make sense of what is going on around me?
- Know When to Fold ‘Em
Be open to admitting when you need to change your course and try something new.
Read more about how to “fail gracefully” to make positive change.
- Challenge Old Notions
Explore the underlying assumptions in an organization that drive current practices, and then find ways to challenge those. There may be good reason for them, but you can’t innovate or change until you understand those underlying assumptions.
- Feel Important
No matter what your title is, your job is to positively contribute to a company or organization. Be proud of how you fit into the big picture, and finds new ways to become a more prominent part of that picture.
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If you’re ready to challenge your thinking, check out Bentley’s two-day executive education program on strategy and innovation.
Bentley was also named No. 1 for Highest Freshman Retention Rate, No. 3 for Most Innovative Schools and No. 4 for Best Undergraduate Teaching among the regional universities in the “2019 Best Colleges” report.