News and Tips from AlexanderHancock Associates

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Volume 16, Number 9      

September 2016 

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writes in The American Interest that in 1940, although the French Army was thought to be Europe's most powerful, its highly centralized command system left it vulnerable to the German Army, whose commanders in the field were given more leeway to think strategically so as to take maximum advantage of changing battlefield conditions. The Germans used that freedom (particularly in utilizing tools like the tank and the radio) to defeat the numerically superior French in just six weeks.

Later in the war, when the Americans and British invaded German-held France, those Allied forces also tended to be more highly centralized, Fukuyama notes, with one exception - U.S. Gen. George Patton's Third Army, whose approach was much more like that of the Germans than that of other U.S. units. The freedom to think strategically while on the battlefield enabled the Third Army to cover more territory in less time and to inflict more German casualties than any comparable U.S. or British unit in Western Europe.



Are some people naturally strategic thinkers while others aren't?

It's true that some people may learn strategic thinking more easily than others. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tells us that those who prefer Intuition typically are more future-oriented, big-picture thinkers, divergent thinkers, more likely to connect the dots. And those with a Sensing preference typically are more detail-oriented, linear thinkers, focus on current realities.

So one could argue that Intuitive types could learn the techniques and strategies more easily, but we've found that (a) types are spread out on a spectrum so it's not true that either you're a strategic thinker or you're not, and (b) given appropriate training, everyone can learn strategic thinking skills and perform better!
What Is Strategic Thinking? We're Here to Show You

"I need you to be more strategic."
Have you ever said this to an employee? Or has your boss ever said it to you? Strategic thinking was once thought to be needed only by executives in the C suites. Now organizations need everyone to think and act more strategically, so they're asking people to be more strategic.
But what does that mean? Most companies and bosses aren't clear about "strategic thinking" - they don't tell you what that means, or what you should be doing more of or doing differently. In this month's newsletter, we'll try to define it; in October, we'll talk about how this skill can be learned and enhanced.
What is strategic thinking and how is it different from tactical thinking? The words come from military jargon. In brief, tactics are a way to take the next hill or town; strategy is a way to win the war. In business, strategy is about achieving and sustaining long-term competitive advantage. Tactics are short-term ways to achieve short-term goals that ideally also will help achieve the long-term strategy. Both are important! But tactics always should be part of a longer-term strategy, not just ends in themselves.
To help you grasp the difference, here are a few descriptive phrases to get you thinking.
Strategic thinker
Tactical thinker
Considers possibilities
Focuses on practical realities
Takes a broader perspective of business challenges and opportunities
Takes a narrower perspective of business challenges and opportunities
Sees a longer time horizon (2-5 years or more)
Sees a shorter time horizon (next quarter, year-end)
Proactively addresses issues before they become problems; identifies opportunities and explores them
Reacts and responds when issues are brought to their attention; may miss opportunities
Has a mental vision of the big picture; sees patterns and trends; connects the dots
Has a great grasp of the details; knows the numbers and facts though not necessarily the meaning and the connections behind the details
Develops innovative solutions; more likely to take risks
Relies on proven solutions; more likely to contain risks
Creates the future; makes things happen
Reacts to whatever happens; responsive
Focuses on the enterprise as a whole, how the parts fit together, how they impact each other
Uses silo thinking: focuses on own group or function; may miss interface issues
Think of people you know at work. Can you identify some who seem to be better at strategic thinking, and others who are better at tactical thinking? What do people in each group do, and how do they do it, that shows this? (See sidebar.)
Remember, to be successful you and your employees need to be skilled at both, just as an army needs sergeants and lieutenants as well as generals. Armies have known for a long time that they can achieve greater success if everyone has strategic-thinking tools in their toolkit. (See sidebar.)
Businesses, too, have begun to learn that they must train and encourage their employees to think and act strategically - not just to achieve this month's or this quarter's or this year's unit business goal, but to help achieve the company's larger, longer-term goals as well and to prepare their next generation of leaders.
A benchmark study conducted recently by Best Practices, LLC, looked at practices regarding identifying and preparing future leaders. The study reported that "strategic thinking is the most important quality that members of the benchmark class look for in identifying future leaders." (The "benchmark class" comprised six major U.S. corporations covering a variety of industries.)
We'll talk in next month's newsletter about what strategic thinkers DO - and how you can cultivate and improve strategic thinking in your organization. For more information about how to grow strategic capabilities in your organization, call us at 704-892-5097, email us at, or visit our website at .

The Lex Files

Early in my investigative reporting career, one editor told me that he grouped news stories into three types: event stories, pattern stories, and system stories.
I wasn't sure what he meant, so he explained: Let's say you're a police reporter. There's a wreck, so you do a story about that wreck. That's an event story. Let's say there are several wrecks at the same intersection within a fairly short period of time. Writing about that sequence of events would be a pattern story. And then a story about WHY there were several wrecks at the same intersection within a short period of time (as well as why there were NOT similar wrecks at several similar intersections) would be a system story.
As an investigative reporter and editor my team and I pursued mostly pattern and system stories. Why? Because they would tell readers why bad things were happening - and also because they often could uncover ways to keep more bad things from happening. Readers are more interested in stories about problems when you also can tell them ways to fix those problems.
It was not coincidence that I became dramatically better at pattern and system stories once I had been trained to analyze databases - everything from wrecks to Census numbers to pollution reports to school-milk bidding records. The data would make the patterns, and sometimes the causes of those patterns, easier to spot. With the data, I could tell which intersections had the most wrecks relative to the amount of traffic they carried, which neighborhoods were the most segregated, whether lots in the county reporting septic-tank problems all had been inspected by the same inspector (and who that inspector was), and so on. And once readers and I knew what those problems were, together we could work toward solutions.

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