3 Ways to develop Strategic Thinking

Becoming strategic in our thinking is the apex of acquiring and utilizing the gift which separates us from the lower animals. It entails a lot of discipline and the ability to suspend immediate gratification for something better that would give you the most satisfaction in the future. Becoming strategic requires some self-denial and foregoing what is pleasurable and comfortable at the moment which most of us are inclined to do. In the words of my former Canadian client, “It’s not a sexy task.”

With all the stimuli around us, we could hardly concentrate and become strategic on the most important task. It is this part of our nature or the reptilian and limbic brain that is identical with the lower animals – that governs our responses on the present moment and could not look beyond.

This is what makes us fall for the alluring in the present moment because it activates that animal nature within us, the latest trends in social media, the opinions of our friends as well as the actions of the people around us and whatever seems to be most dramatic. This is also what makes us fall for the enticing schemes of the “get rich quick” and marketing gimmicks of several advertisers which makes us cease to become strategic and react from our lower impulses.

No one is exempted in falling into these lower impulses because it is in our nature. In my own experience, I have fallen into this “present moment allure” a lot of times when I wasn’t thinking strategic. That’s why you see a lot of sales representatives of major credit card companies or get loan quick promos that will try to lower your defense by seemingly targeting the weakness of the human nature in all sorts of ways whether this be our need to feel prestigious, or the feeling that we could buy anything we want to our heart’s content which is all geared towards immediate gratification.

This is not to despise the sales representative or marketer doing the selling or enticing us to buy the product. I started out as a salesman myself early in my career and there are a lot of salespeople out there who sincerely believe that their products or services can help the consumer. It is more of our faux pas that stems from our inability to think strategic and see beyond the allure of the present moment.

How can we develop strategic thinking? There are three practical ways to develop our own strategic gifts which are also what separates us from the lower animals and thus elevate our perspective.

1. Develop Awareness – There is no use in denying and thinking that we’re infallible and we don’t fall for the present allure of the moment and that we are more strategic than what we really are. We are social creatures, and it is just but natural that we become tempted to its allure from time to time. Besides, we won’t be able to remedy something that we’re not aware of. What’s more is that if we deny it people could spot that weakness because it manifests in non-verbal cues we cannot completely control.

The key is to recognize this impulse especially when we are in a social environment where we are sometimes gullible to the influence of others. It’s easy to say that we are rational and won’t fall into these schemes especially when we are in a familiar environment or within the comforts of our home and even condemn others that fall into some insidious schemes in social media. Thinking they are not strategic and rational.

Everyone could fall victim to these plots even the great mathematician, physicist Isaac Newton, a paragon of rationality, had fallen into an investment scheme during the 18th century when he invested his earnings into a system perpetrated by a charismatic and pragmatic businessman only to realize it was a scam. Which in his quote he said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.”

Learn to recognize this impulse especially when you’re with someone with a strong personality or in an environment where almost everyone seemed to be in assent with an idea and you find yourself buying into that idea as well. Feel these impulses on your body and step back when you’re asked to decide. Look beyond the allure (or pressure) of the present moment and imagine the consequence of your actions long-term and from there, you can detach yourself from the emotions and approach it without or with minimal duress.

2. Never be overwhelmed by the allure or the threat of the present moment – Thinking strategic you must be calm, composed and serene. The present allure or threat captivates your mood and narrows your field of vision. In most successful negotiations in business whether transacting with a supplier, creditor, the CEO, department manager or employee, the main ingredient that is always present is being calm. Without it, it is easy for us to succumb to the other party’s pressure. And this is the essence of negotiation which is to pressure the opposing party.

Once they have applied the pressure, we become reactive by becoming defensive. And if we allow ourselves to get overwhelmed, it is easy for the opposing negotiator to read us since our reactions would manifest in ways that we may not be aware of. Some may lose their control and raise their voice if they’re threatened. In these moments, we lose our centeredness and become prone to more blunders and our subsequent actions would hardly be productive. At worst, we regret our actions after realizing what we’ve done and we cease to be strategic because we have succumbed to the allure or threat of the present moment.

Avoid the temptation of succumbing to the “present moment pressure” or you might act out of sync to what you really want in the long-term and cease to be strategic. Sometimes, it is better to sit back and let it unfold until you see the formation. And once you see the formation that is the time you approach and with a cool head. We can never see the formation as long as we’re immersed in the heat of the tactical battle.

Recognize, beyond the methods and tactics employed in most business and office negotiation is an underlying place called calmness where everything should emanate. Nothing could come out worse than what we imagine if we come from a place of being calm. You may not have complete control of the situation at hand and things may not look good, but it will never get any better anyway if we allowed ourselves to get overwhelmed but if we remain calm, it will not be as bad as what we imagine. This is strategic thinking.

3. Become a change agent by starting small – Once you have developed awareness and refused to get overwhelmed by your present situation, you can step it a little further. There is nothing grand or big into changing to the direction that resonates with you and the company that you work for. Every organization seeks value from each stakeholder of the company whether you are a regular employee, manager, CEO, director or supplier. And even as an employee, you’re not there simply to accept and do things but also to make things a little better because you are the one in that position already and you’re also expected to offer your best elements in that position. And it does not matter whether this is solicited or not as long as it furthers the objective of the company. Becoming strategic is not all grand or big but rather small and subtle in most cases.

 What makes most revisions and changes for the company fail most of the time even though it is done with pure intentions is that people per se, resist change. The greater the change proposed the greater the resistance. As a strategic thinker, you saw a loophole within the internal control system of the company, say the collection department collects the money from the company’s customers and also updates the customers’ receivables. They’ve been doing that for the longest time, and now here you are pointing at the shortcomings of their procedures.

Perhaps, you can sit down with the person in charge of the department and open up what you have observed. Use tact and when you say what you have observed say it in relation and as incidental to your position so that it won’t sound accusing and intrusive such that you’re going beyond your boundaries. What you’re only saying is how can we enhance the procedures because, at the end of the day, the processes in their department has an impact on your work and affects other departments as well as the whole operations of the company. This is strategic thinking in a grand scheme but it has to be revealed sparsely. In this way, you are getting him to your team and even asking advice. And whatever grand proposal you have would be met with the least resistance. This is the essence of strategic thinking.

The gift of strategic thinking is innate in us and this is what separates us from the lower animals. However, this gift is also rarely used by most of us since we are inclined towards the comfortable. The individual who possesses this gift of strategic thinking and cultivates it to its highest form is rare and will be sought after by people and organizations.