The word strategy comes from the Greek word “strategos” meaning “to spread and lead”. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was mostly used in the military context to deploy military means for a successful result. It entailed looking at the bigger picture, structuring different pieces of information, and determining the course of action. Even as the word grows out of its military usage into a business context, the underlying skills remain the same:
Big Picture/ Top-Down Thinking
Take an example, you are starting a lemonade business. You bought a cart, made some lemonade, and went to the corner near your house to start selling. Over a while, you notice the time when most people are coming or their age range. With that information, you slowly modify your working time and market proposition. This is an example of bottom-up thinking (the most common way our mind works) where we group observations to find solutions.
On the other hand, before shouting at the corner, you ask yourself: Is Lemonade is the business I want to go into? Is there enough market for Lemonade? Who would I be targeting? How am I different than others? This is top-down thinking, taking a step back and asking why we are doing what we are doing! In a business context, both bottom-up and top-down thinking is needed. However, as our human mind tends towards bottom-up thinking, we necessarily don’t train our minds to think top-down—a space owned by strategists using tools like pyramid principle.
In our busy lives, most of the time, we jump directly into solving the problem and start fire-fighting rather than asking a simple question, “are we solving the right problem?”
Jonathan Kool said, “Pick battles, big enough to matter and small enough to win.” Solving problems is a systematic process to determine the right issue, evaluate potential options, and act on the prioritized solution. We act when we know what we are doing, given the information available at that moment. In strategy, there are various tools like issue trees or hypothesis trees to guide the process
According to a study, most senior executives cannot remember more than three things. If we put ourselves in their shoes, they hold the big picture, run from meeting to meeting making decisions, and weave different parts through a thread of connections. One can get their attention by putting one-selves in their shoes and communicating the key messages (mostly three) simply.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” In order to show the complexity of our thoughts, we somehow miss the power of simplicity. Strategic skills involve structuring the message in an impactful and simple form to make it easy to comprehend and make decisions. The tools like MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive) messaging helps in the journey.
According to an HBR study, 97% of 10,000 senior executives chose strategy as the most critical leadership behavior for their organization’s future success. However, many organizations still do not invest in this trainable skill. Most MBA focus on strategy as a subject but not strategic skills as an individual development area. Relatively high demand in high-impact space and not much-skilled supply can explain the worth of the work done by strategic consultants. Who thought structure and simplicity could be a high-end skill!
Meaning Quotient’s program “Sharpening Strategic Skills” aims to diffuse the strategic skills among company professionals (mid manager levels) and change makers; so that we continue asking the question “Why are we doing what we are doing?”
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