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The Art of Strategic Thinking By William A. Horton

What is strategic thinking?

 In Becoming a Strategic Leader, the authors state that strategic thinking can be defined as,

“The collection, interpretation, generation, and evaluation of information and ideas that shape an organization’s sustainable competitive advantage.”

Similarly, T. Irene Sanders in Strategic Thinking and the New Science, says thinking strategically involves a combination of an idea such as identifying issues, connections, and patterns. Thinking strategically is working ON, instead of working IN the organization. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work and forget to look at the big picture. Sanders points out that thinking strategically as a leader helps you anticipate where the change is going to happen within your field and then get their organization there before it happens.

Thinking Strategically: A Case Study

In The Strategic Triumvirate, David Wimberly writes that CEOs and executives should always have strategic thinking on the forefront of their minds. This is because thinking strategically is a mindset that is continually thinking of what strategic goal best fits the needs of the organization.

Blockbuster busted in 2010 and went bankrupt. The former CEO of Blockbuster, John Antioco, is considered now by many to be a fool. Reed Hasting co-founder of Netflix had approached Blockbuster less than a decade before. Hastings proposed a partnership between Netflix and Blockbuster and was laughed out of the room. Would strategic thinking on the part of Blockbuster have kept them from bankruptcy less than ten years later?

When Netflix met with Blockbuster, Blockbuster was the industry leaders with over a 9000 retail stores and millions of customers. Blockbuster neglected to look at the future trend in the internet. Strategic thinking leaders look at emerging trends and consider whether they represent opportunities or threats to the organization, per Merlin Switzer in her article Strategic Thinking in Fast Growing Organizations.

Hastings was thinking strategically of the future when streaming over the internet and subscription models would resonate with customers. Blockbuster is the classic case of not strategically thinking, and ended up competing with a company that they had previously completely ignored.

It is important to point out that Blockbuster CEO John Antioco was considered one of the most successful retail geniuses up to the fall of Blockbuster. And yet, he still failed to see how technology would be the downfall of Blockbuster. If Antioco had strategically thought out his meeting with Netflix, Blockbuster could have had a piece of the now 28-billion-dollar company.

Why should leaders strategically think before making decisions? Because change is constant.  As my mentor, Dr. Johnson says, “Ignorance has a price.” Thinking strategically puts you on the offense rather than on defense.

Steps to Thinking Strategically

Thinking strategically is non-linear, but this still does not give you any steps to strategic thinking. If you were looking for me to provide you with a simple five-step plan to strategic thinking, you have come to the wrong place. What I will leave you with is this image: strategic thinking is a process. In fact, the process can be compared to a river. As organizations flow, there will be active periods of onrushing, white-waters progress as well as days of calm, steady currents. There will also be times of drifting, being stuck, floods and droughts. It is the leader’s job to think about and point out these seasons and obstacles strategically.

Switzer says that thinking strategically are always on alert for the obstacles ahead. Being alert in your organization may look different than in others, but it might involve scanning the news, literature, trade journals, social networks, and other sources of information for emerging trends.

Blockbuster failed to look at the patterns of change that were on the horizon. The internet had a profound impact on the world of business and the global community. Netflix was not a giant when they started. The founder’s strategically thought about the future and believed the internet would have a central role. People hated Netflix when they launched their streaming-only service, yet again through thinking strategically, they anticipated where change was going to take place and they made sure their organization got there first.

Keys to Thinking Strategically

The key to strategic thinking is to be open-minded. Ask questions about your organization without any preconceived notions. Open-minded thinking leads to creative solutions, and opportunities never thought of before.

What doors are you closing within your organization by not thinking strategically? How many potential millions are you losing your company by neglecting to think strategically before making decisions?


Rev. William A. Horton is an associate pastor at NC Church in Houston, Texas and a graduate student at Regent University School of Business and Leadership. He has a passion to equip people to fulfill their God-given calling in life.


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