How to enhance your strategic thinking

Posted on December 2, 2010


strategic thinkingI had the pleasure of hearing a panel of successful technology entrepreneurs share how they have strengthened their strategic thinking skills and these strategic skills contributed to their success. This panel was part of The Successful You 2010 Women’s Leadership Forum.

The panel:

Maria Cirino – Founder, .406 Ventures
Emily Nagle Green – President and CEO, Yankee Group (moderator)
Pam Reeve – Chairman, Commonwealth Institute; Founder, Lightbridge Technologies
Shirley Singleton – Chairman of the Board, President and CEO, Edgewater Consulting.

1. Define strategic thinking.

Maria (.406 Ventures) – Place the puck, don’t skate to the puck. Think several weeks ahead. Interpret what’s happening in your industry.

Pam (Commonwealth) – Think about what really distinguishes you from your competitors. What is your unique value to your customers. Really define who are your customers. This type of thinking will keep your mind agile.

Shirley (Edgewater) – Think of a game of chess, not a game of checkers. You really need to think ahead. Think several moves out.

2. Strategic thinking can be applied at all levels, not just at the senior executive level. Given this, what do you look for in new hires?

Pam (Commonwealth) – You can’t have everyone be strategic thinkers. You need folks who will implement the strategy. I like to look for a mix of skills; folks who can think broadly, but can also focus on tasks. I also look for curiosity, adaptiblity, and agility.

Shirley (Edgewater) – I look for a curiosity and a willingness to learn. Can the person think about many possible outcomes to a scenario? Are they ready to defend their position? I would also argue that purely technical entrepreneurs don’t need to be strategic. A CEO definitely needs to be strategic though so they can lead the company.

3. Can you give us some examples of how you’ve used strategic thinking successfully?

Maria (.406 Ventures) – In my role as an investor, I try to act how I would have liked investors to act when I was an entrepreneur. I’ve learned to never tell entrepreneurs what to do.

Pam (Commonwealth) – At Lightbridge, we had to decide whether to offer software as a service (SaaS) or to license it. I firmly believed that licensing the software was too narrow a focus. I wanted more interaction with customers, knowing that good ideas will come from the customers. This decision to offer Saas turned out to be one of the best ones I ever made. This model generated a lot of cash, even during a recession. You need to recognize a pattern that has matched a previous experience, but also be aware of nuances.

4. How do you filter the high volume of information coming at you?

Maria (.406 Ventures) – Give yourself time to think about things.

Pam (Commonwealth) – Know the question you’re trying to answer. Figure out the trustworthy information sources.

Shirley (Edgewater) – Have a balanced team, incuding one who loves data. Have periodic off-site meetings with leadership team and ask each member to come with three new ideas.

5. What stands out in really strategic thinkers?

Pam (Commonwealth) – They listen more than they talk. Their insights are concise and right on target. They can see relationships between disparate events. They can imagine something other than the status quo.

6. What can one do to become more strategic?

Maria (.406 Ventures) – Be more data driven and really understand your target market.

Pam (Commonwealth) – Read broadly. Learn about successful stratetic thinkers like Michael Porter. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Get to know people outside of your usual networks.

My conclusions from this very informative panel were that anyone can become more strategic, no matter where you are in your career or your level.