Sunday, May 7, 2017

Julia Sloan on Learning to Think Strategically

Julia Sloan talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about her book, Learning to Think Strategically (3rd Edition).

“You begin to see the problem so differently the minute you take pen to paper and start to draw your problem.” ~Julia Sloan

Julia’s area of expertise is on the learning aspect of strategic thinking, and in addition to being on the faculties of Columbia University and the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, she has worked with senior managers of companies, international agencies and nonprofit organizations throughout the world, primarily in Asia, the Middle East and Africa on how to strengthen their strategic thinking. She has been working on the research for twelve years and has worked in the field of strategic thinking for eighteen years. She decided to write Learning to Think Strategically after realizing that people were making no distinction between strategic thinking, strategic planning and other, similar concepts that had become merely buzzwords, rather than concepts to be assimilated.

Julia notes that there is a difference between strategic thinking and strategic planning. Strategic thinking focuses on the problem at hand, and the purpose here is not to think of solutions to the problem but to go deep and get to the real problem concerned. She also notes that strategic thinking is informal, intuitive and emotional, highly reliant on what she calls “arational” thinking, which makes it rather messy. Strategic planning, on the other hand, is more linear and the topic of what most strategy literature deals with. Strategic planning is also formalized, rational and structured, and Julia notes that, once people differentiate between strategic thinking and strategic planning they do well.

Where strategic thinking is concerned, the underlying structure consists of divergent thinking, creative thinking, conceptual thinking, polarity thinking and critical reflective processes, which include critical dialogue, critical reflection and critical inquiry which questions underlying assumptions and beliefs to get at an issue’s premise, which is usually invisible. Julia also points out that these are not taught in business environments, and she mentioned the case of a medical technology company which was able to use strategic thinking to change course from the strategic plan they had created to close a plant in one area and open another in another country as well as purchase a company, which enabled them to be the top three companies in their particular industry.

Julia notes that strategic thinking is needed in corporations because of globalization, and that those organizations who aren’t aware of strategic thinking tend to force others to think the way the people where the company came from think, and when things go bad fingers get pointed about who is to blame for a failure in innovation and strategy. She points out that strategic thinking is a learnable human activity, rather than a cultural concern, and that anyone can thus learn how to think strategically. That said, Julia admits that culture teaches people what to pay attention to, how to identify patterns and how to make decisions, and that, once these cultural traits are gotten past, the learning process is the same anywhere.

Julia notes that “strategic thinking” has become a confusing, blanket term, and gives an example of what is really desired from someone who is essentially told, “I’d like to promote you but you need to show more strategic thinking.”

Julia envisions the teaching of strategic thinking all the way from elementary to graduate school by paying attention to the domain of arational thinking, which includes polarity thinking and metaphors. She points out that these are not easily measurable the way rational thinking methodologies are, and are thus not convenient to teach. Drawing is an activity that she highly recommends as a way to access strategic thinking, as Julia points out that she has used this method for senior managers and that children can use these as well, and the methods can be taught at all levels.

Julia points out that Learning to Think Strategically focuses on the learning aspect of strategic thinking, and how the latter is differentiated from other types of strategic tools, and that those who imbibe its lessons enhance their mental agility. The third edition includes some new concepts and matter that weren’t included in the previous editions, such as the triangle model as well as the two cognitive clusters that support both strategic thinking and strategic planning.

Purchase from Amazon: Learning to Think Strategically (3rd Edition) by Julia Sloan.

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