There’s a drum we’ve been beating in a pretty repetitious manner since starting Everyhow in 2018. It’s that anyone has the power to think strategically — and in fact all of us should think strategically.
Why should thinking be a discipline practised only by the select few? Why aren’t we all valued for the diverse thinking we can bring to the table? Why should organisations structure themselves around those who think, and those who merely do?
The long and short is that organisations stand to benefit hugely when they meaningfully engage their people in thinking deeply on their biggest questions. People employed by said organisations stand to benefit hugely too. The workplaces of the near future will not be shaped around industrialised tasks requiring automaton responses but complex challenges requiring ingenious solutions. We will all need to think for ourselves as a new baseline.
How will we build this new baseline?
It’s going to take a pretty significant effort. And it’s not because people can’t change, it’s because the legacy organisations of the last century — and the largest employers of people today — are huge immovable cultures. They run on received wisdoms such as, “there is a hierarchy in place and the people who think strategically sit at the top”, “ you’re a good prospect for promotion if you agree with everything and follow the leaders” and “if there’s a challenging problem that requires a different perspective, get the consultants in”.
In this context, what can we do? We can’t change organisational cultures overnight, but we can give people the tools to contribute; to participate; to think for themselves. This means offering up frameworks, models, approaches, techniques and stimulus. It means making these things accessible, engaging and— importantly — simple to pick up and use.
Over the past 10 months at Everyhow we’ve been building a tools-based strategic thinking methodology. We’ve been trialling it, fiddling with it and improving it. It’s in its infancy as a methodology but it’s been deployed with some success so far (across SMBs, large corporates, public service organisations and NFPs). What we haven’t fiddled much with is the theory we started out with — that there are three principal modes behind good strategic thinking. The ideal is all three are in play as much as possible.
All strategic thinking begins with critical inquiry. The truth is, most organisations aren’t very good at this and certainly don’t train their people to be good at it either.
As Clayton Christensen said, “Management aren’t good at asking questions. In business school, we train them to be good at giving answers.”
It’s important that we learn to question again (we wrote about this before here). Why are things the way they are? What is the picture I see before me telling me? What are the factors that I can’t see…and what might they be telling me? In critical inquiry we build the foundations of solid strategy. Models come in handy too. There are plenty available out there. We tend to use a mix of those created by traditional consultancies, those concocted by digital age pioneers, and a few we’ve built ourselves.
This next mode is always thought of as the most elusive. Surely only creative people can produce creative thinking? Well, actually, that’s completely correct. Only creative people can produce creative thinking — and that’s all of us.
What does it take to unlock the creativity inside all of us? First, it takes space. We need to make time to step back, to reflect, to see what we might otherwise miss.
We then have to ask ourselves questions we haven’t asked before. The more naïve the better. Warren Berger, in his book ‘A More Beautiful Question’, suggests: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
The beginner’s mind is one that queries first ‘why?’ and then ‘what if..?’ This is a useful sequence to employ when a creative leap is required. Why have we arrived at this conclusion? What if we approached it from a different perspective? What if conditions were different? What would we do? These are simple but deceptively powerful lines of inquiry.
The hardest part of most strategic thinking is landing on a solution. We can land on some solid insight and draw out some big opportunities. But how will we decide on the next step?
In his excellent short book, ‘Pebbles of Perception’, Laurence Enderson discusses the concept of being “contextually confident”. This is a smart middle ground between being absolutely certain on something (which can lead to blind overcommitment) and being a waverer (which can lead to inaction).
Decision making is important. It deserves focus. We make sure we end every project (if not every client session) with a checklist for decisions to be made. Have we delivered a response? How confident are we in that response? Will we agree to endorse the work? Who’s going to start implementing the ideas tomorrow?
There’s one more thing to note on this approach. This methodology based on modes of thinking doesn’t just help solve problems in situ, it delivers education and training in spades through the very process of getting people to work with the tools. In a world where (did we really just start a sentence with that…?) organisations are needing to double-down on investment in people, this is the new on-the-job training.
As ever, happy to hear your thoughts. Drop us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org