As our professional paths evolve many of us are asked to take on more strategic responsibilities. For some the expectation of being more strategic can be at odds with their personality and experience to date. This conflict may result in a feeling of being overwhelmed… of being ‘stuck’. Perfectly natural and understandable, there are many ways to overcome it.
Real modern strategy is a means of building longer term value within an organisation. It is the mechanism which helps us move from where we are today to where we would like to be in the future. It is first and foremost a dynamic, ever-evolving process.
To use strategy and strategic thinking as a means of embracing future uncertainty and a process for developing value we must be willing to…
- change perspective
- be aware of emerging trends, threats and opportunities
- be prepared to try something new.
All of this can be sabotaged if we let stuck-ness get in our way.
stuck: “fixed in a particular position, place or way of thinking”
Being rigid in our thinking and staying with old ways of working do not help build dynamic modern strategy or develop strategic skills. What we need is the ability to explore, to be flexible and have a proactive attitude to keeping stuck-ness at bay.
Why? As Albert Einstein is quoted as saying…“Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the same framework in which they were created.”
In his book ‘Think Better’, Tim Hurson explains that, although we believe we are thinking all the time, our brains are generally engaged in either ‘distraction, reaction or following well-worn patterns’. He brilliantly describes these as monkey mind, gator brain and the elephant tether.
The combination of these instinctive, reactive, distracting and learned responses makes a heady cocktail. One which can…
- stop us from seeing the truth
- make us defensive to change and new ideas
- prevent us from trying new things
- make us feel stuck
Monkey Mind: The monkey mind makes it hard for us to focus and often stops us from thinking productively. Strategy requires us to explore options and ideas; it also requires us to know when to focus and not get distracted by our monkey brain.
Gator Brain: Despite having our highly developed cerebral cortex, we are still at the mercy of our reactive gator brain. Commonly known as the stem brain this is where our fight and flight reactions originate. According to Hurson, the speed of reactions emanating from this area mean decisions can come from our gator brain and are then rationalised by our human thinking.
When making important strategic choices we must ensure there is rigour and analysis behind our decisions. We then reduce the chances of anyone’s gator brains leading the group down a purely self-serving path.
Elephant’s Tether: Hurson’s work explains how most of our brain’s ‘wiring’ is used for ‘recognising, storing and retrieving patterns’. This is obviously an asset when it comes to survival; helping us make judgements on what may happen in certain scenarios. It is also useful when you are trying to learn, remember and do repetitive everyday tasks.
The drawbacks with the elephant tether or patterning can arise when we continually follow existing ways of thinking and working without challenge. Making decisions based solely on what has happened before yields a pattern-skewed view of future outcomes.
From a strategic thinking perspective, being visionary and expansive in our approach to the future helps us move away from entrenched patterns or beliefs.
Challenge: Whatever our roles and responsibilities it is important we continually challenge the status quo. Not to be destructive, to ensure we are striving to be the best. Change comes from challenge and wanting to make things better. Becoming and remaining un-stuck is linked to our attitude to change.
Commitment: The next stage is to commit to making changes. Initiatives here and initiatives there without substance or commitment do more harm than good and can lead to increasing stuck-ness. Honestly and genuinely committing to change inspires others to do the same. Commitment from all involved is extremely important. In the words of Peter Block, “The answer to how is yes”.
Continual: This is not a one-off exercise. Casting off the shadow of stuck-ness, investing in a modern approach to strategy and developing strategic thinking abilities do not happen over night. Everyone’s adoption of the new ways of working will have a different pace.
By staying curious, supporting others and continually investing in our own development we can help boost our strategic skills and help keep stuck-ness at bay.