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3 Strategic Thinking Skills that Get You What You Want

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One of the most exciting modules in the naMBA curriculum is when we talk about systems. We build our problem-solving skills by drawing on the work of the brilliant Dr. Russell Ackoff to learn strategic thinking.

Almost everything Dr. Ackoff says is worth quoting, but here's a line I think about at least once a week:

"An improvement programme must be directed at what you want, not at what you don't want. Determining what you want requires asking yourself: what you would do right now, if you could do whatever you wanted to? Because if you don't know what you could do if you can do whatever you wanted to, how in the world do you know what you can do under constraints?"

If you want to be a strategist, you'll need to think like one. The good news is, it's far less about your problem-solving skills - and far more about your  solution-finding ones!

Step One: Aim for what you want

When you've done that, you don't have to focus on solving problems, but you can flip the conversation to achieving goals instead. Problems are everywhere. Important goals are hard to come by.

If you spend your time designing for what you don't want, you might be successful. You might, for example, avoid financial ruin, reputation loss and poor health. 

But what about what you do want? Before you cut your dreams off at the knees thinking about your lack of time and money, the needs of others and the precedent that's been set in the past... stop.

 

Step Two: Stop asking if

Strategists don't ask if they can have what they want. They don't wonder if they could have a more successful business, a happier marriage, a healthier lifestyle or a more engaged team. 

If questions lead us to come up with all the reasons why we won't be able to achieve our goals, and promote mediocre goals. If questions see us thinking small, designing systems to manage risk in our business, manage conflict in our marriage, serve others, stave off weight gain and stop employees from leaving.

Strategists do it differently.

 

Step 3: Ask why, then how

First they ask why they want it, and then they ask how they can get their why.

Faced with a business idea or dream, they don't look at all the reasons it won't work. Instead they'll ask why it's worth achieving, and, if it's worth it, they'll set about working out how to make their why it a reality. Who they'll need on board, where they'll get the money from and what they need to learn to make it real.

What about you?

What would you do if you could do whatever you wanted?

Why do you want that?

How can you get there?

TL; DR Focus on the how, and the if will go away.