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How to Be a Strategist: 3 things you can do today

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I've been thinking again about how to answer the dreaded BBQ question - you know the one: "So, what do you do for work?"

Ugh.

Even after all these years, I'm terrible at answering. "Ah, I'm like an author, um, speaker, sort of a consultant, but not really, um..."

Does anyone else hate answering that question? I'm still working out how much detail to provide, and always get it slightly wrong. 

Not here though. Here, you know what I mean when I say: I'm a strategist. *puffs up chest proudly*

But here's the thing: that doesn't make me special at all. You're all strategists too. In fact, everyone is - it's our defining characteristic. Our ability to join dots and plan for the future is what makes us human. 

Spoiler alert: strategy is simple

I'm determined to change the narrative around strategy. It doesn't need to be some complicated, jargon-infused world dominated by old white American dudes. You don't need blue oceans, five forces, long documents or multi-grid canvases. 

But strategy's not much good without strategists. So, I reckon there's three key things you can do to more fully embrace your strategist identity (and none of them require you to have a strategy MBA.)

  1. Ask better questions

  2. Play the long game

  3. Have more ideas.

1. Ask better questions

When in doubt, zoom out. Strategists are annoyingly curious and ask lots of questions that come from a wider perspective. How do things fit together? How does this thing affect that thing? Is this the same or different than the thing we did last year? Why are we doing it like this? Do we need to do this at all? etc.

(Careful, this one will really annoy people who just want to get on and uphold the status quo.)

2. Play the long game

Strategists think about how today's choices make tomorrow's reality. Rather than wondering what's going to look good, or feel good in the short-term, strategists play a longer game.

They know what their values are, what kind of life they want, and they use that as their lens... even when it means suffering or looking stupid now.

By thinking more carefully about how small choices fit into the big picture, and allocating time, energy and resources to the things that will make the most difference, strategists have an edge that most people are envious of. That can be you.

3. Have more ideas

Most people have one or two good ideas, and then settle on their decision. Strategists pull the edges of their thinking a bit further.

Masters of a simulation, strategists push a bit harder and ask: what else could we do? What haven't we thought about? What if we did the opposite? What if we had twice as much time and half as much money? Half as much time and twice as much money? What's the worst idea we can think of? And so on.

You'd be surprised at the goodness that comes out when you dig a bit deeper. Try to come up with 10 different options for every challenge, even when they seem ridiculous.

Live your best strategist life.