Have you ever gone into a meeting hoping to make a decision only to find yourself inadvertently brainstorming newer and more exciting options? You left the meeting energized, with creative juices flowing only to realize what you needed was a decision and what you got was more work. You were duped by the twin sisters, creative and strategic thinking who swapped seats when no one was looking. They winked at each other and giggled as they skipped out of the room. 

Creative Thinking vs. Strategic Thinking

In my class, we are working on building creative and strategic thinking skills. Our goal is to understand the strength of each and to know where and when to use them. Why are we doing this? In a work context, creative and strategic thinking are different mental models. When they get convoluted you can wind up as I have in the situation above. This “creative procrastination” approach feels productive but is an inefficient and undisciplined process with chaotic results. The alternative is equally time consuming and unproductive. For example, reflect on a time when you needed to develop a new or novel approach to something. Perhaps, people gathered around a table (or screen) and argued the pros and cons of each tiny seed of an interesting idea until they shrivelled up and died. No glimmer of creative or innovative life ever had a chance of making it past early budding stage with these harsh gardeners. 

Strategically understanding context.

To illustrate strategic thinking with students, I ask them to imagine being a football coach. (👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 Jennifer King – the first Black female assistant coach in the NFL). This helps visualize the competencies of understanding context and considering or communicating with stakeholders.

For example, a football coach understands where the team is in the standings. They know who they are facing and their opponent’s ranking. The coach understands, their team’s and the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. They know who is out with injuries. They are able to see what the game looks like from the field, from the stands, from the VIP box/media box and even what it may look like from a helicopter. They also consider stakeholders at each level. Understanding context is their fuel.

Armed with this information, the coach refers to their playbook and adapts the plays as variables ebb and flow. The coach uses this playbook to quickly make the best decision possible given the information in front of them. The goal is not to make a perfect decision. The goal is to make a good decision and to manage the outcome which inevitably leads to more decisions. 

Not understanding context.

In case, you can’t read the caption below, it says, “HELP, HELP – POLICE!”

Another way of looking at Strategic Thinking.

If the football analogy fumbles, this The Daily’s podcast episode about jury selection in the Derek Chauvin trial provides another strategic thinking analogy.

Identifying bias. 

While I may never want to think about myself as being biased, or holding stereotypical views, who I am shapes my world views. In a jury selection process, the nuances of my bias would be confirmed in a few questions by both the prosecutor and the defence. The perceived biases may be assets, or detriments, may exclude me from the pool of candidates but rarely are my biases irrelevant. Even when we are not at a trial, critically identifying our biases matters. With strategic thinking we must look at problems or evidence from more than just our own perspective. 

Critical thinking based on evidence. 

Once the trial is underway, the jury considers the evidence that is put forward. Behind closed doors, they argue their views and opinions based on the facts at hand. Clearly, a jury is not a place for creative problem solving. Jurors are not asked to be innovative or to brainstorm solutions. They must look at the evidence and make the best decision that they can with the evidence provided. This is the essence of critical thinking. 

Changing your mind is good. 

While everyone has the right to hold opinions and beliefs, organizational psychologist and author, Adam Grant warns us his book, Think Again, not to let our“totalitarian ego” dominate our thinking. Grant goes on, “We’re entitled to hold opinions inside our own heads. If we choose to express them out loud though, I think it’s our responsibility to ground them in logic and facts, share our reasoning with others, and change our minds when better evidence emerges.”

In the strategic thinking mental model, and on a jury, we must ground our beliefs and opinions in facts.  It is equally important to listen to opposing views, to take in new information and to be willing to change your mind. 

As with many twins, each is extraordinary on their own. When creative and strategic thinking mental models are combined, they have bewitching wonder twin powers. A word of warning though, put some time into to figuring out which is which and keep an eye on them! 

Skillpod’s Strategic Thinking Competencies:

  • Understanding context
  • Critical thinking
  • Strategic communication
  • Local to global thinking

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Watch: Strategic thinking skills and hockey timestamp 6:37

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