Are we born with an innate ability to be strategic or can it be learned? I would argue that it can be learned and not enough of us are making the time to think strategically. 

Holding a funeral before the death or a pre-mortem is one process that can help stretch your strategic thinking muscles. The concept is described in the book, Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The idea is to consider what would happen if your project was a total failure. One organization that uses the concept of a pre-mortem is the military. When planning a major battle or campaign, officers imagine that their initiative was a total failure. Then they analyze what factors led to that failure and plan to avoid those contingencies. 

Organizations, teams and individuals can use this same concept. It is a year from when we started and our initiative has failed – Why? Then you can figure out how to avoid those potential stumbling blocks. By the way, if you are doing this with a team, the authors suggest team members brainstorm separately first and then come together to share their answers. More ideas will surface from different perspectives. 

The Heaths also suggest running a pre-parade. What if our initiative is widely successful? What do we need to be prepared for? In the book, the authors tell the story of how the inventors of Soft Soap, the liquid hand soap, anticipated a wide demand for their product after some initial trials selling in smaller markets. One of the key components of the product is the pump dispenser. Anticipating a huge success, they basically bought out the market in pump dispensers, so that no other company could purchase the pumps for several years making them the sole distributors of their product. 

A major tendency for many of us is to be overconfident about how the results of our decisions will work out. We become so enamored of our idea that we only follow the most obvious paths for planning. The Heaths suggest that to avoid this you prepare to be wrong and use tools like a pre-mortem or a pre-parade to widen your perspective. 

This leads us back to the idea of strategic thinking. Some people don’t know where to start to begin to think more strategically. To learn a simple process, I recommend the book – Executive Think Time by Ellen Fredericks and Val Williams. And consider using techniques and tools like the pre-mortem and pre-parade to snap you and your team out of your traditional thinking patterns and prepare for a wider range of possibilities.

Please share what methods you use to help you to think more strategically in the comments.

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Welcome to the Listening to the Leader in You Blog

Super-leaders arm themselves with insight. This blog is where you’ll find concepts, ideas, resources and more for honing your full set of leadership capabilities. 
Lynn Schaber, MCC
For the past 20 years, I’ve been privileged to partner with individuals intent on cracking the code to leadership beyond the ordinary.