The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy….. Michael Porter
Strategic thinking is defined as a mental or thinking process applied by an individual in the context of achieving success in a game or any endeavor. It is a cognitive activity and as such produces thought. If thought is not produced and nor does it foster a thinking process than it is anything but strategic thinking. And as such can be judgement, opinion, bias, prejudice, loose-ad hoc thinking, jumping to conclusions etc. Strategic thinking works best when it becomes, an information based approach for leveraging assets and competitive strengths to achieve results that aligns with your long term goals.
So for any student on the anvil of passing out from a campus, it is a significant opportunity to exercise strategic thinking to figure out what s/he needs to do or would like to do next with their options. Options typically being to get a job, get any job, study further, start something, join family business, etc.
However should you follow a thinking process as what do I want to do, what will make me better, what are my (best) options, what options are best for me, what more do I need to learn, what am I really good/ bad at, etc., then a frame work for information is being laid out. Populating this well and accurately will make the framework work better for you as it starts helping you to better understand (in this case about yourself) to a reasonable end point clarity. However this is easier said than done… (and gets much more complicated when you start applying the same to an organization later in your professional life).
For answering the above questions one must learn or have (or start learning to have) objectives. Setting the right objectives is most crucial and is the start of the strategic thinking process: For ex: look at the difference between setting an objective as getting a job vs. becoming a master professional. The first one is a straight and easy fix and can be pursued with great zeal. It will become just that – get a job or get any job. Any road should likely get you there. But the later will elicit some questions out of you – who/ or what is a professional, how does one become that, what makes a master professional, who are the true masters/ or and master professionals, what must I do to become one such professional etc This whole set of questions and approach has suddenly become complex. It is seeking answers from you that you may or may not have (and in 99% of the cases it will most likely be not knowing or not having any answers). Good and if you stay the course and keep your searchlights on, at least you will start cogitating and or start discussing with other like minded folks. As an example, let’s look at a well known master professional such as say SachinTendulkar – what could he have told himself in his campus (/ early) days, when he was very young. Likely he would have set an initial objective for himself ‘to become a good cricketer and play for India (and this over years would have gotten more sharply re-defined/ tuned as, keep playing for India, win more laurels, become better than the best, acquire more focus, dominate the bowlers etc. etc.). Few things stand out thus. Certain clarity of where he wanted to be when he was very young and possibly knowing at a deep intuitive level what his core strengths were and the foundation from which to keep getting better with every passing match/ tour/ year. So in a sense here is a person who has always been thinking and learning in the direction of self improvisation and setting for himself progressively tougher objectives with time. The whole process being a very self directed process and staying on course to keep learning at the helm - and in the process being open to inputs, seeking counsel from his coach and others who would enable him to become better and also observing/ learning from others mistakes. So essentially it was all about wearing a learning hat, keep sharpening the saw and staying humble all along – to an approach, that while was self directed and proactive, was also creative and collaborative
Good strategic thinking comes more easily to some people than to others. It requires a certain understanding of what objectives you have set for yourself (if at all), what you perceive are your strengths and areas for improvements and that certain distilling of your passions and aspirations. Thinking along these vectors can help others too to acquire these skills. Strategic thinking can be learnt. It just requires significant personal discipline and recognition that instincts and convictions are mostly not strategic.The process while can become progressively complex the core of it remains same always – what directions you want to go, where do you want to end up and how you intend to get there (and later as you work in companies becomes, along what directions for the company to take, etc…). And so by its very definition strategic planning is a very selective process, enabling you to make choices from the options developed within a possibility of feasible scenarios. Done well can give that competitive advantage and a winning edge (that others will find difficult to have or copy). In sum, it is worthwhile to train yourself to think strategically about most decisions in your life, at least those that matter a lot to you – like your career plans, free time, finances, hobbies/ activities and even your own social life. There is no better best person or playground to start practising this and teaching, than your-self.