Strategic Thinking is a Journey – HBR Blog response

By Sam Bodley-Scott, Kepner-Tregoe

Author and strategist Roger Martin published an article on the HBR Blog Network. In “Don’t Let Strategy Become Planning,” Mr. Martin explains howmany people he’s worked with don’t understand the difference between strategy, strategic planning and budgeting and that “strategy is a singular thing; there is one strategy for a given business”. He then goes on to describe a story about a highly successful CEO that was shocked by how strategy could be developed in a day.

It is with mixed emotions that I read Mr. Martin’s excellent and thought provoking piece. Firstly, the joy! As someone who’s been involved with strategic thinking for some 20 years, I agree that it’s critical to get people to understand the difference between strategic choices and strategic plans. I define strategy as, “A set of choices that define the nature and direction of an organization,” a definition which some find helpful.

And now the pain! The notion that it will only take one day to produce the clear thinking required to understand what’s truly going to make a difference and then agree what new oceans should be travelled, is a concern. However functional a leadership group may appear, a strategic thinking ‘journey’ is different. The team will likely have to make sense of ambiguity, changing relationships and personal agendas before they are in a position to bring their considerable cognitive resources to bear on difficult strategic questions.

Divergent and convergent strategic thinking needs to be structured and effortful and engage the analytical “System 2” mind to do it justice; this takes time. The conversations and conclusions that are at the heart of strategic decision making must allow for periods reflection and consideration before the final strategic ‘egg’ is laid. You don’t want to replace no strategy with bad strategy; ask Kodak and more recently in the UK with HMV.

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