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Strategic Thinking versus Strategic Planning

  Sep 9, 2011

By Esther Kanyi

‘Strategic thinking is the bridge that links where you are to where you want to be.’ John Maxwell

In today’s fast-changing business environment, both managers and individual contributors alike need to have a broad perspective and an awareness of the cultural trends and business developments shaping the world. Many managers are focused on delivering ‘today’s’ business results, preoccupied with daily responsibilities that they fail to position themselves for long-term success. In this period of rapid change economically and business wise around the globe, strategy in business is moving away from the basic ‘strategic planning’ to more of ‘strategic thinking’ in order to survive the crowded and competitive global environment.

To remain competitive requires organisations to keep their strategic management process dynamic, continuously learning and adaptable and taking advantage of emerging opportunities. Strategic thinking thus becomes a key competency for leaders and managers responsible for the design and deployment of business and functional strategies. Strategic thinking needs to be at the centre of the entire strategic management process, constantly re-evaluating, re-visiting and re-defining mental models of the business. Henry Mintzberg (1994), in his article, “The Fall and Rise of Strategic Planning,” states that the label strategic planning should be dropped because strategic planning has impeded strategic thinking.

Mintzberg’s point of view is as follows: Strategic planning is about analysis while strategic thinking is about synthesis. Strategic planning in this case means breaking down a goal into steps, designing how the steps may be implemented, and estimating the anticipated consequences of each step while strategic thinking is about using intuition and creativity to formulate an integrated perspective, a vision, of where the organization should be heading.

In practical terms strategic thinking should help to analyze, explore, understand and define a complex situation and then develop planning actions that will bring the greatest possible positive impact towards a pre- defined goal, hence it is justifiable to conclude that strategic planning is subordinate to strategic thinking. Thus, strategic thinking is important as it helps in developing strategic plans. Strategic planning positions a business in a certain level based on the goals and possible positive changes they intend to achieve. This is why most companies require executives and managers to have a strategic mindset because this obviously sets them from those who think in a conventional manner.

Thinking strategically also helps predict the future of a company. With this it is easier to develop steps on how to get into what has been planned for the future and stay away from paths that may lead to business failure. Moreover, through this kind of thinking, a business is able to become more adaptable to change.

The distinction of ‘strategic planning and strategic thinking therefore leaves many confused on which one to prioritize on. It is a reality in business today that strategic thinking and execution of strategic planning is proving to be a challenge among many leaders. Therefore a clear understanding of the value and the benefits of strategic thinking are indispensable.

At Strathmore Business School, the Strategy in Action program offers an opportunity to the leaders to impart their knowledge and skills that will enable them to guide their organisation to the next level, more so emphasizing on the importance of strategic thinking.

About Strategy in Action

Strategy in Action is designed for the East African context, and will impart techniques and methods that are proven in this part of the world. The curriculum is informed by leading consultants and Chief Executive Officers. It is a unique opportunity to attend a world-class course in a local setting.

For more information, click here.

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