Get your strategic mind working
WHAT is on your mind right now? I hope that it is something big, bold and exciting; for as you think and strategise, so you become. Strategy is not just an impressive document that is neatly typed out, demonstrating your scholastic prowess, ticked as having been done then placed in some file and conveniently forgotten until a year or so later. Strategy is not a mere presentation and interrogation painful annual ritual that some organisations do.
Strategy is a way of thinking, amplifying focus, clarifying goals, and making clear choices. In strategy, being clear about what you are not going to do is more important than trying to do everything, be everything, and ending up doing nothing.
If some concept cannot sit clearly in your mind, it is not strategic. Claiming to have a game plan that you cannot remember is an exercise in futility. Having a game plan that you do not use is wasting mental resources. Strategy is a game plan that is present in your mind as you play to win. Those who do not have a strategy just play to play, while those that have a strategy play to win.
You have a strategy when you have defined what your winning aspiration is, how you will play to win, where you will plan and what competencies you need to be in the game and then to win. Hold you strategy with suspicion if you can not explain it in simple words, clearly without the aid of elaborate and confusing presentations.
Eyes that look are all too common, but eyes that see are truly strategic and precious. People just looking across the street to copy whatever a competitor is doing are mistaking strategy with photocopying. Your strategic mind is the “eye of the mind” that allows you not just to look but to see with clarity, make definitions and articulate a clear path into the future.
Your energy and resources will go in the direction of your strategic attention. Operating without a clear strategy shows that you are content with self-preservation and not flying. No aircraft ever takes off without a flight plan. To get your strategic mind, working start by looking intently and you will see things that other people may have ignored or are not seeing.
Look at the past and catch the “Sankofa”
When you look at the past, be intentional and remove the blinkers of pride from your eyes. Look to find what happened, what you can learn and what you can build on. What worked in the past is a useful trampoline to help you spring higher. The knowledge and studies done in the past is a useful strategic platform to build on. Not everything in the past should just be tossed away because times have changed and bright lights are shining.
Precious lessons of the past are too important to throw away in the name of blind progress. Celebrate and build on what worked in the past and gave you worthy results. Otherwise you will keep digging foundations, rather than building going up. Fit the wheel in the right place instead of reinventing it. Build on the things that worked in your past. Do not let your ego interfere with your clear thinking. Catch your “Sankofa”.
Sankofa is a special African word from the Akan people of Ghana. The literal translation of the word and its symbol is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind in the past.”
The Sankofa is a mythical bird that has its feet firmly planted facing forward whilst its head is turned backwards. In some depictions, the bird is taking an egg off its back. The Sankofa symbolises looking at the past intently, examining it critically, intelligently and looking patiently at the past to uncover precious “eggs” that you should be courageous enough to go back and get.
Strategy is a quest to build on your strategic DNA, distill lessons from the past, clarify your game plan and spring forward with determination. The Sankofa strategy playbook is: Face forward firmly, look back to learn, reflect deeply, then take off in flight and seek to stay relevant. As you march forward and speed into the future, do not forget the platforms that were built in the past and the knowledge assets of the past. There is no need to spend your energy destroying what you can be learning from. Never throw away a book, burn a library, avoid a museum or ignore a person with experience.
Rescue from the past all the good you can and bring it into the present in order to make accelerated positive progress. Failing to learn from the past is giving up your precious eggs to others while you fail to benefit from them. The essence of the Sankofa mindset is that you cannot let precious lessons of the past just remain the past.
History is too precious to ignore and if you must carry anything from history carry the best and most empowering parts. It is personal mutilation and needless suffering to carry the hurts, misgivings, toxicity and mistakes of the past and import them into your current and future strategies. Knowledge generated in the past is too precious to just burn in the name of change and at the altar of pride. Instead of dumping what worked in the past, a strategic mind seeks to benefit from the past and build on it. Learning from the past is strategic wisdom that allows you to build a strong future faster. Look inside and find your “Owl” What strategic issues are on your mind? Stop cogging your mind with worry, negativity, bitterness, hate or any other toxic dependencies that rob you of your energy and motivation. The future belongs to those who are working to possess it, not those who are worrying that they missed it. What keeps you awake at night is important enough for your strategic reflection.
If anything is worth keeping, you awake at night, let it be energy generating, not stress inducing. Owls wisely fly at night and see in the dark. When an owl perches itself near your window and starts hooting in the dead and dark night, your sleep is interrupted. Wake up to do some great thinking, grateful that the owl woke you up to do some uninterrupted thinking and strategic reflection. Do not waste any moment that you get for quiet reflection. The key to strategy development is being able to slow down, tune out the noise and hold deep reflections.
What strategic uncertainties keep you awake at night? You do not have the luxury of relaxing in the middle of a storm as though nothing is happening. You do not need to have all the answers but you need to be clear of the strategic uncertainties that keep you awake at night. A few good questions and a blank page could be a good starting point.
Robert P. Bauman, who used to be the Chief Executive of SmithKline Beecham in the 1990s once boldly stated that all newly-appointed CEOs should ask five key questions, namely: ◆ What are the basic goals of the company? ◆ What is the strategy for achieving these goals? ◆ What are the fundamental issues
facing the company? ◆ What is its culture? ◆ And is the company organised in a way to support the goals, issues and culture?” These questions are not just for new CEOs or just CEOs, but they are important questions that every team member in any organisation should be seized with. Spend as much time as you need to get clarity on these questions. Instead of being seized with fruitless worry, be kept awake by strategic reflection.
What are the basic goals that you are pursuing? Strategy is not just about running endlessly without a clear direction. It is the ability to distill your focus on the essential goals and then put action and resources in the pursuit of those goals that matters. Big goals require big focus and big bold moves and this is what the big leadership bench needs. Chasing is not enough, be clear about what you are chasing and if chasing it is worth your time, attention and resources. Chase something big enough to justify strategic thinking.
Committed to your greatness.
Milton Kamwendo is a leading international transformational and motivational speaker, author, and executive coach. He is a cutting strategy, team-building and organisation development facilitator and consultant. His life purpose is to inspire and promote greatness. He can be reached at: email@example.com and Twitter: @MiltonKamwendo or WhatsApp at: 0772422634. His website is: www.miltonkamwendo.com