For the past 3 years, I’ve hosted a monthly Office Hours at my workplace, a time when anyone from the agency can book in 20–30 mins with me and discuss anything they like. Without a doubt, the most common question I get asked is “I want to get into strategy, how do I do that?”
I answer in a variety of ways, depending on each person’s background, hobbies, perspective on the world and where they are now in their career. But these three themes are the consistent subtext to any advice I give:
Whatever role you’re in now, and no matter how far away ‘becoming a strategist’ feels, you can be more curious right now — and this will unlock the strategist that already exists in you. That makes me sound like Yoda speaking to Luke, but seriously, being curious is a cornerstone to being a strategist.
Follow the rabbit holes you find online. Seek out and follow people on twitter, medium, linkedin that you admire — but also some that you disagree with — the people that share compelling insights, blog posts, thoughts and links.
Put yourself into situations where you can stretch your strategic muscles in new ways — do a UX class at General Assembly, get a team together and register for the next Design Kit class with IDEO, attend a Creative Mornings talk in your city.
Read books like Service Design Thinking, Creativity Inc, The Lean Start-up. Read The Anatomy of Humbug, and then contrast it with The Lessons School Forgot. Create a book club to discuss these books with other thinkers or strategists and ask others for their books recommendations.
Read Growth Hacker case studies, listen to TED Talks, listen to podcasts like 99% Invisible, get out of our industry and find someone you know who is an Architect and ask them about their creative process and how they solve problems in their work. Then ask a Painter, or a Musician, or an Author, or a Political Speech Writer, a Photographer or a Detective! Some of my most interesting and groundbreaking career learnings have come from meeting people outside the marketing industry and understanding or observing the way these people think. If you can’t find people like that — try reading books written by people in those professions, and watch Abstract on Netflix.
Set a daily intention to be in ‘seeker mode’ with the navigation dial set to exploring ‘ways of thinking’.
PLAN TO NOTICE
Being curious is often described in such a way that it often feels like it can only be an inherently active mode of thinking. I believe there are two sides to the coin of curiosity (aka ‘being interested in everything’).
The first side of that coin, I call ‘Seeker’ mode and have described it above. There is another way to be curious, which is less ‘Seeker’ and more ‘Observer’. It requires mindfulness and the ability to linger in the present moment, listening — really listening — not allowing your mind to jump ahead, reserving judgment and simply noticing more, more often.
At its core, noticing is about mindfulness. Dr Ellen Langer is a psychology professor at Harvard University and is known as the ‘mother of mindfulness’ because she’s been researching and studying mindfulness — both meditation and non-meditation methods — for several decades. She evangelizes the power of ‘actively noticing new things’ as the primary methodology of mindfulness.
This very simple process of noticing, puts you in the present, and makes you sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement. Too many people wait for something to pull them into an activity, a friendship, or whatever they’re doing when in fact, if you just notice new things about it, you become immediately interested. Noticing turns out to be literally and figuratively enlivening. [Source]
I could write forever about this subject, but there is something about the research and science that Dr Langer leverages to explore this notion of noticing that is just unbeatable. You can learn more about Dr Langer’s research in her book, The Art of Noticing and this On Being podcast interview.
TAKE TIME FOR REFLECTION
How much time have you taken this week to just ‘stare out the window’ and reflect on what you’ve learned, noticed or discovered? Be honest, how often do you make the time to step away from your computer, phone or other devices and simply allow yourself the space to connect all the dots you collected while being curious and noticing?
The power of being curious and planning to notice comes to life during moments of reflection. It’s an all-too-easy step to skip when the modern affliction of ‘busyness’ takes over.
At least once a week, carve out time to ponder and reflect on the week that just passed. If you keep a journal of everything you noticed or discovered, read over your notes and scribble down whatever comes to mind as you review it all collectively. Ask yourself ‘Why?’ and then again, and again, forcing yourself to get below the surface-level of observations and findings.
These are the mind muscles of a strategist. Flex them, stretch them and bring them to the work you do in whatever role you’re currently in. The strategists at your agency will notice. They’ll involve you more in their own thinking and strategic process. And with that, you’re on your way to becoming a strategist.
Want more ideas on how to stay curious, plan to notice and spend time reflecting? I’m crafting a planner specifically for strategists, called The Mindful Strategist. You can start any time of year with this undated journal, which offers daily prompts and exercises designed to flex these three simple mind muscles.
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