Strategic Thinking: The Adhesive That Connects Vision to Execution

It was one of those moments in life that, for whatever crazy reason, you remember with vivid detail. It was June 1980. I was 25 and had just completed the capstone course in Pepperdine’s MBA curriculum. My professor (Jay Krasner) needed a ride to the airport. I figured volunteering for that duty might give me the benefit of the doubt when he got around to grading our thesis submissions, so that’s what I did!

On the way to the airport, Dr. Krasner asked the following question masked as a statement: “Tell me about Sam Shriver in five years.”

There was awkward silence for what seemed like forever. Finally, sensing I had no idea how to respond, he mercifully broke his request into tangible piece-parts:

  • “Are you married?”
  • “Do you have kids?”
  • “Where do you live?”
  • “What kind of job do you have?”
  • “Etc.?”

As a human being, Dr. Krasner could have best been described as both serious and thoughtful. So, I did my best to reciprocate. It was the first time I can remember “playing chess instead of checkers” in life. After careful consideration, I answered his questions to the best of my ability, and we had a truly meaningful, although relatively brief, exchange.

Looking back, there are a couple of things that have stuck with me as a result of that random airport run:

  • It is simply wild how many things I verbalized that day wound up happening. It’s like I pictured attractive outcomes; I verbalized those pictures, which kept me thinking about those outcomes, which resulted in me eventually taking actions that made those outcomes more and more tangible
  • How closely that process mirrors the discipline of effective strategic thinking

I would offer that strategic thinking is the intellectual adhesive that connects vision to execution. Good strategy is easy to “get your head around.” It’s simple, straightforward and practical. It takes vision and transforms it into actions that make your desired future state more and more tangible. Consider the following characteristics as indicators of leaders that excel in the realm of thinking strategically:

  • ACCOUNTABLE to themselves for developing and refining their business acumen, expert power, appreciation for the needs of key stakeholders and market dynamics
  • FLEXIBLE as it applies to actively considering emerging information objectively and the impact that updated understanding can have on course corrections moving forward
  • INQUISITIVE in that they can be counted upon to ask the extra question and go the extra mile to ensure the actions being taken align with the objectives that have been established
  • PROGRESSIVE in that they proactively and creatively challenge the process they played a key role in establishing as a mechanism or a means of ensuring its ongoing validity
  • RECEPTIVE to feedback, opposing views and candid critique
  • LEARNING AGILITY leverages experience in the face of developing trends to refine or adjust the path forward

Brevity distinguishes a blog from an article, from a research paper, etc. As such, is effective strategic thinking more complicated than these six characteristics, taking a ride to the airport or both? Of course it is. By the same token, at the heart of all that effective strategic thinking is:

  • The ability to see something that isn’t there yet
  • Verbalize what you see in a manner that invites collaborative input
  • Crystalize the essence of that collaboration into language that others can readily understand
  • Align moving forward in a manner that transforms vision into tangible activities

APPLICATION CHALLENGE

Where do you see yourself in five years?