Tag Archives: strategic thinking

What every organization can learn from the CIA’s Red Cell to avoid stagnation

red team how to succeed by thinking like the enemyHow can your organization avoid stagnation and future proof itself?

In his book, Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy, Micah Zenko tells the story of the CIA’s Red Cell group, devoted to “alternative analysis,” which includes techniques like “what ifs,” Team A/Team B exercises, and premortem analysis, all of which are used to identify holes in a plan, model an adversary to understand their weaknesses, or consider all of the conceivable ways a plan can fail beforehand.

6 of the most common strategy traps

strategy trapsStrategy without change is pointless, and doing what everyone else is doing is not a strategy; it’s a key principle most business people don’t get.

Take the most common advice you hear out there: don’t limit yourself to niche market; you won’t make any money.

How do you change the game?

how do you change the rules of the game?

This is a question I get asked very often (goes with my blog name). The topic of strategy is vast, it is filled with stratagems and other thinking that can be confused as cookie-cutter solutions. Strategy is heavily dependent on context, so, there isn’t one single way to change the game. But, for me, there is a psychological tactic you can use to change the perception of how the game is played.

For innovation: Better questions, better answers

If you want to improve your, and your company’s strategic thinking and innovation capability, take some time to write down some questions about challenges you are facing.

Any time I talk with fellow innovators, a large part of the conversation revolves around “what questions are we not asking that will help us find out where to make a difference?”. Granted, as we move along the project we discover more questions that don’t have an answer.

For an innovator, this is great territory to be in. For a delivery-driven executive, on the other hand, this is the twilight zone!

Yet, if these executives really want innovation, then they should create a space for people to ask questions they would never think of asking.

Some companies have weekly Town Hall type meetings used to update employees on company activities, as well as get feedback from them. This is a tradition. But, what if we create another type of meeting where employees are given the chance to question what the company is doing?

A “Challenge the status quo day”. That could be enough to get people to loosen up 🙂

Why? What do we want to accomplish by letting others have a go at making decisions?

Because in traditional companies it is the leader who is looked upon for answers. But for most situations, this is flawed thinking. Work in the behavioral economics and decision bias domains suggests that every single decision-maker—no matter how senior—has flawed, less-than-rational decision processes. The unaided human brain is not that great a decision engine unless it has made the same decision many times and learned from its mistakes. This means that major decisions should rarely be made solely by the CEO or any other single individual. A variety of individuals should be consulted in decisions, with a systematic process for sampling their perspective.

Great leaders lead with questions, not with answers. With that said, if you want better strategic thinkers in your organization, not to mention innovators, then questioning is where it starts.

Greater challenges ahead for those who don’t ask questions

Uncertainty is the norm, how do we cope with it? To start, we can anticipate and make peace with it. The next step is to consider what we don’t know yet by asking questions. For example, while we’ve been talking about social business for more than a few years, we’re just barely entering the mainstream of this trend.

But, most established companies have yet to consider what “social business” looks for them. The kicker is, most of the ones I’ve talked to, they think it’s about social media. This is wrong because they fail to consider the changes and opportunities social technologies create in the way companies hire, communicate, collaborate, execute and innovate.

This is the larger picture.

Taking it a step further, as it relates to creating the conditions for employees to make decisions, because of geographical location, some organizations benefit from diversity in their ranks. But, for others who may not be located in innovation hubs where diversity of thinking is expected, they have to create the conditions for cognitive diversity to flourish.

If you are like me, located in a non-risk taking environment, you won’t get the benefits of cognitive diversity if don’t let people question the status quo. Much less create a capability for innovation.

Today, and at all times, thought diversity is a leadership imperative for various reasons. Chief among them is the fact that the global workforce is shifting to the east or their respective country, taking their talent with them. Even though cloud technologies add a new dimension to innovation by enabling us to collaborate with anyone from anywhere in the world, there’s nothing like face to face contact to get the creative juices going.

A virtual workforce, collaboration without boundaries, and other trends make innovating an exponential, but not insurmountable, challenge for bigger companies. Small upstarts are using these trends to their advantage, leaving bigger companies in the dust. The next generation of innovators come from the world of online gaming, where players collaborate with others players who are scattered around the world to accomplish game goals.

This behavior translates to a different way to getting things done in the workplace.

Are most companies prepared to work as agile as the new generation work? I don’t think so. And the reason is very simple: established companies fail to ask questions that anticipate great challenges.

What can companies do to anticipate great challenges?

Don’t look for answers, ask questions

For me, it means deliberately asking myself questions and write them down. To do this, I scan my environment, be it people, texts, books, videos, audio, for interesting questions. I take these and add them to my Question Bank, either in my Moleskine notebook or Evernote.

Below is my notebook full of questions that I collect:

Bottom line: Asking questions is a key innovation skill, and the best way to create the habit of asking them is by taking the time to sit down, grab a piece of paper and write down some questions. It doesn’t get any easier than that 🙂


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how to get better at strategic thinking

Powerful Strategic Thinking technique for non-strategic thinkers

how to get better at strategic thinking

How can you get better at strategic thinking? Or in other words, “How do you improve your thought process?” One of the keys to becoming a great leader is to constantly improve your strategic thinking, so you can adjust to new global realities.

The first step is to accept that you are not right most of the time. You have to “constantly” question your own opinions. One way to do this is to surround yourself with people who don’t think like you. People who will question you. Make these people a key part of your team because what you don’t want is to be surrounded by YES men.

Another tip is learn game theory. Game theory is the study of strategic decision making. And strategic thinking is all about making better decisions. Game theory provides you tools to help you gain added perspective to generate alternative views. If you have added perspective, you’ll be able to anticipate and think critically about what may lay ahead; which are key strategic thinking habits.

Anyway, here a few simple and cost-effective ways to begin developing your strategic thinking ability:

google's master plan

Tactics are superficial, strategy is deep

google's master plan

Here’s the question posed on yesterday’s #bizforum chat.

My answer: Because, as always, everyone copies tactics. Not strategy.

Apple’s strategy is unique to them. Their reason for existing is theirs alone. And their tactics are aligned with that strategy. More importantly, their type of leadership, based on principles of excellence and artistic perfection; is laser focused on executing their strategy.

Who else thinks and acts that way? Not many.