Some executives are surprised when I talk about strategy in terms of creativity and insight. While business professionals are comfortable discussing their products or services from that perspective, they’re generally unfamiliar with the role these concepts play in strategy formation. They associate the powers of imagination and intuitiveness with the right-brained thought process common to their marketing department and product development team, not with the seemingly “logical” world of strategy and planning.
It’s hard to fault these executives given the lack of consensus on a single definition for the word strategy. As you can see from the rotating quotes on the right-hand side of your screen, strategy is defined in many ways by many different people. Among the individuals quoted on this website are prolific writers and thought leaders in the field of strategic management. Note that none of their quotes mentions creativity as a component of strategy or even includes it as part of the term’s definition. Generations of executives have honed their skills in a milieu that depicts strategic thinking as a logical, sequential, planning process. It’s not surprising for confusion to ensue when that assumption is challenged.
Fortunately for some, the confusion is only temporary. Leaders and managers who are fully invested in their strategic outcomes have learned to fuel their strategic engine with creativity and discovery. They understand the importance of developing competitive competence, and they work to create and leverage that competence within their organizations. Many have done this by effectively separating their strategic thinking and strategic planning processes. They’ve transformed strategic thinking into the creative and discovery-based function it needs to be.
The drive to improve one’s competitive posture is influenced by a host of sources. It can come from the vision and focus of the CEO and key executives. It can be an embedded aspect of the organization’s culture. Or, it can come from the drive, temperament and behavior of its people. In today’s world, it is also driven by factors external to the organization—factors that will exert even more impact on the competitive environment in the future. They include:
- The certainty that customer needs will evolve and change
- The mounting evidence that the competitive environment is getting tougher
- The understanding that the macro economy will always be in flux
- The knowledge that human resources are getting more mobile and more fickle
Each of these factors pushes businesses to be more adaptable, more knowledgeable and more artful with their strategic process. It’s not enough to develop a strategic plan and review progress on an interim basis. Strategically competent organizations must respond creatively to changing internal and external circumstances as conditions warrant. This is best achieved through a strategic thinking process that is integrated—but nonetheless separate—from an organization’s planning activities.
Strategic thinking must be executed proactively and continuously. It’s a process that forces you to synthesize existing knowledge with newfound insights. It asks you to think differently, to make intuitive leaps, to break through the paradigms that limit your worldview. Clearly, strategic thinking is a creative process. It’s very much a right-brain activity. And it’s within the reach of anyone who’s willing to devote the time, energy and commitment to creating a meaningful, value-added process.