How to Think About Thinking

Thinking 210When we were small children, our parents thought we didn’t need to do it, so they did it for us. In school, our teachers tried to help us understand it and teach us how to do it. When we were teenagers, no one thought we did it at all! Even as adults, it is an enigma to many. As leaders, we need to do a lot of it, and we need to do it well.  What is this that both follows us and seemingly escapes us throughout our lives and careers?


Thinking is our constant companion. We think about this and that. We solve problems thinking about causes and solutions. We come up with outlandish ideas when thinking creatively. We develop processes for people and products to get from point A to point B thinking logically. Thinking analytically, we drill down to the root of numbers that don’t add up. At other times, for example. when we’re called on to give a presentation, our minds go blank and the ability to think disappears until we sit down. But that’s another blog for another time. As you can see, different situations call for different types of thinking. We expect our leaders to think strategically. What is strategic thinking? Most people, when pressed, find it difficult to define strategic thinking.

Strategic Thinking

One of the definitions we see most often for strategic thinking is thinking ahead. According to Henry Mintzberg, a consulting guru, strategic thinking is more like SEEING ahead. Yes, seeing ahead, and also Seeing behind
Seeing above
Seeing below
Seeing beside
Seeing beyond

It sounds like we need a set of eyes on every part of our head! Obviously with this concept, strategic seeing or thinking cannot be a just linear process.

The Components of Strategic Thinking

According to an article on Forbes, critical and implementation thinking were all leaders used to need to help them be successful.  The author goes on to suggest that today’s world is so fast paced that we need conceptual, intuitive, and innovative thinking as necessary tools for thinking strategically. Bly the way…. here’s a bonus for you. My colleague, Gary Patterson, the Fiscal Doctor has written a brief piece that might prove helpful on that note during this time.  Get it here

Moving on. Here’s what can help people who struggle with giving a clear, concise definition of strategic thinking to understand. Strategic thinking builds on a system of layers and incorporates a series of components to become what we know as strategic thinking. When we use the experience of building strategic thinking and using it components, then perhaps it’s better to say that we use strategic thinking to see or plan ahead and all the other areas Mr. Mintzberg posits. Therefore, the definition of strategic thinking should be: A tool using a variety of components enabling us to see, plan, and improvise for the future.

Five Components of Strategic Thinking

According to one source, there are five different types of thinking that make up strategic thinking.

  • Critical Thinking: Here is another confusing aspect of strategic thinking, some people think that strategic thinking and critical thinking are the same. Strategic thinking as discussed earlier is more about the future, whereas critical thinking is more analytical. However, according to many sources and at least one study, self-assessment can help one to become a better critical and strategic thinker.
  • Implementation Thinking: The source suggests this is simple, plan organizing those plans so they can be carried out. However, you can review a more complicated version of the Business Thinking Implementation Model here.
  • Conceptual Thinking: Conceptual thinking is certainly nothing new, but people may not think about it as part of strategic thinking. But think about this, how can you engage in strategic thinking without considering new ideas, coming trends, and putting patterns, and considering how these new ideas might work in unison to create bold, new paths?
  • Innovative Thinking: This involves part of the ideas in number three above. However, what totally off the wall concepts might work? Then think about using those ideas to create new products, relationships, opportunities, and processes?
  • Intuitive Thinking: What do you know? What have been your experiences? What trends in behaviors (people, markets, economics, products, etc.) have you seen? What do you know that might be true without hard core evidence?

When you think about thinking, the process cannot be linear, it cannot be versions of any tunnel vision, and it cannot be a one size fits all approach. Thinking is a journey, it is evidence, it is a feeling in your gut, and it is imaginative.  Think about the possibilities of thinking.

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Critical Thinking; Business,, strategicthinking