Four Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills Today


Strategic thinking is often considered essential to an organization's successful performance. Some have even advocated for companies to develop the strategic thinking skills of their executives and other staff as a core competency. How can strategic thinking skills be developed? But first, here's a definition.

“Strategic thinking is a distinctive management activity whose purpose is to discover novel, imaginative strategies which can rewrite the rules of the competitive game; and to envision potential futures significantly different from the present. Furthermore, strategic thinking is specified as being conceptual, systems-oriented, directional (linking the future with the past), and opportunistic.”
— Ellen F. Goldman

In other words, strategic thinking is a process used to broaden an individual's perspective to achieve successful outcomes such as competitive advantage. And it can happen at every level of the organization; it's not just for executives.

Here are four specific things you can do to improve your strategic thinking skills.

1. Schedule Time for Strategic Thinking

You are investing in your success as well as that of the organization. Find the time to focus on strategic thinking. A tip is to place a recurring event on your calendar to reserve time for strategic thinking activities.

2. Monitor the Big Picture Including Trends

The default focus at most organizations is on what’s directly ahead. However, "peripheral vision"—including keeping sight of the big picture and industry trends—is essential for long-term success. Some tips follow. Keep abreast of industry organizations and publications. Build external networks to help you best scan the competitive landscape. Determine the unique perspective that your role provides, and define its favorable impact on the organization’s vision, mission, and/or strategic objectives.

3. Ask Questions to Uncover Patterns

Further to your mindfulness of the big picture and understanding of changes in the industry, you can put strategic thinking to work by asking yourself and others questions. A few examples follow. "What if _____?" questions are frequently effective in helping one "see around the corner." And variations such as "If _____, then _____?" often yield insights as well.

4. Embrace Uncertainty and Conflict

Strategic thinking involves envisioning the future and potential proactive ways the organization can change to remain competitive and successful. You should accept that the future is uncertain, and challenging assumptions by asking questions and other tactics may make some people uncomfortable. Remaining mindful of those aspects will help you stay the course in regularly practicing strategic thinking and securing the benefits summarized in this article.


By sharpening your strategic thinking skills, you benefit both yourself and your organization. It helps you make a greater contribution to the business—which may also support your advancement—and it helps the company enjoy greater competitive advantage and long-term success. So, start work on your strategic thinking skills today!



Atsmon, Yuval (2017, May 2). How to Unleash Your Strategic Thinking. Digital article. McKinsey & Company.

Bonn, Ingrid (2005, June). Improving Strategic Thinking: A Multilevel Approach.
Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 26 (5). DOI: 10.1108/01437730510607844.

Cowan, N. (2001, February). The Magical Number 4 in Short-Term Memory: A Reconsideration of Mental Storage Capacity.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24 (1): 87-119.

Dixit, Avinash K. and Nelebuff, Barry J. (1993).
Thinking Strategically: The Competitive Edge in Business, Politics, and Everyday Life. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Goldman, Ellen F. (2007, Summer). Strategic Thinking at the Top.
MIT Sloan Management Review, 48 (4): 75-81.

Graffius, Scott M. (2016).
Thinking Strategically and Acting Tactically. Winnetka, CA: Exceptional PPM and PMO Solutions.

Reynolds, K. (2013). Strategic Thinking for Today's Project Managers. Paper presented at PMI Global Congress 2013—North America, New Orleans, LA. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Syrett, Michael and Devine, Marion (2012).
Managing Uncertainty: Strategies for Surviving and Thriving in Turbulent Times. London, United Kingdom: Profile Books.


About the Author


Scott M. Graffius is an agile project management consultant, practitioner, award-winning author, and keynote speaker. Content from his books, speaking engagements, and more has been used by businesses, governments, and universities, including Gartner, Cisco, RSA, Ford, Qantas, Atlassian, Bayer, the United States Department of Energy, the New Zealand Ministry of Education, Tufts University, Texas A&M, and others. Thinkers360 named Scott a Top 20 Global Thought Leader and Influencer.

His full bio is available here.

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