Over these weeks and months, I’ve mentioned strategy, or strategic thinking, thinking 5 steps ahead, business being like chess, and not letting your ego cloud decisions at least a dozen times or more, but as I look back over the last 96 hours, I wonder if any of it is sinking in at all.
It’s too long and boring a story to explain the exact circumstances, but needless to say, had I spent more time thinking and planning, then I wouldn’t have been kicking myself the way I have been this morning.
So it then got me to thinking about how to think strategically. Is there a process, a step-by-step guide, anything at all, which can help you improve?
Von Clausewitz thought there might be. In his book On War, he references Napoleon’s success on the battlefield, and in trying to account for his wizardry, summarised it into 4 steps.
- Firstly, take ‘examples from history’, and put them in the shelves of your brain. Study can help, by putting more and more there. Read a lot. Read about a wide range of topics.
- Secondly ‘presence of mind’ where you free your brain of all preconceptions of the problem you’re solving and the biases that are ingrained in your mind on how to solve it
- Third comes what the French coin as ‘coup d’oeil’, or ‘glance’. In a thunderbolt of inspiration, the examples from history fly off the shelves and connect to the problem you’re trying to solve as you rise above the melee of the problem and see its root cause
- Lastly comes ‘resolution’ where you not only say to yourself “I see!”, but also “I’ll do it!”
Collectively these become strategic intuition. Which is a muscle. Like any muscle, it can be strengthened and developed if you spend the time isolating it and working it.
You can have all the Strategic Intuition you like, but if you’re not giving yourself the time and space to use it, or develop it, then as a muscle does without use, it begins to atrophy. In this environment of back to back meetings, ‘busy work’, and 24/7 email access, are we hobbling our capacity to think strategically? Are we becoming reactive instead of proactive? Does this all come at the expense of the project we’re being tasked to deliver?
I fear it’s a resounding YES.
It appears to me as managers and leaders, we too often feel obliged to attend meetings, simply because we were invited. Perhaps it’s a form of workplace FOMO? Perhaps we are simply too overwhelmed by the amount of actual work we need to do that by attending back-to-back meetings give us a justifiable excuse for not doing any of it?
Take a look at your work calendars, and tell me there aren’t too many meetings about topics or issues you’re either not involved in, or could be managed (often better) without you being there.
There’s a sh!t tonne I’m sure.
I’m half way through a book called The Effective Executive by a fellow called Peter Drucker. Despite the (occasionally alarming) sexist undertones around women in leadership positions, the fundamental question of “Are we doing things right, or are we doing the right things?”, still stands 51 years on since it was published.
So if we’re spending all our time trying to do things right, it stands to reason we’re not spending enough time on doing the things we ought to be. We’re not making enough time for thinking.
Does thinking time mean relaxing at your desk watching YouTube videos and refreshing your Facebook page? Of course not. It means thinking well beyond the decisions in front of you, and trying to understand the next, and next, and next, and even next step in this dance we call Project Management.
There are people in this world, ultra-successful people, who aim to have a diary which is entirely clear rather than entirely full.
All so they can spend time thinking.
Have they got it right?
I’m preeeeeeeeeetty sure they do, and there’s surely something we can all learn from that.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I have a goal. It looks like this.
I think about it
A block of land.
A tiny house.
No Internet reception.
A fire pit for when it’s freezing cold.
Somewhere locked away in my brain is the ability to think better. I am 100% sure of it.
I am also 100% sure that a place like this will help. A place where I can take the family, let the kids run wild and loose, where I can fix fences, chop firewood, never check my phone, and when everyone’s asleep, simply sit and think…..
What will I think about?
But I can guarantee it won’t be about trying to think of ways to book more meetings….
Do you struggle to find the time and space to think? Have you unlocked a way of giving yourself Thinking Time? Share your thoughts below!