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11 top tips on how to make strategic thinking a habit

Mairead McKeown, Manager, Knowledge & Critical Capability Development

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Image by Arek Socha on Pixabay

Recently I dialled into LinkedIn Learning's Live Office Hours session on How to Make Strategic Thinking a Habit and it really was time very well spent. Why? Because at this session Dorie Clark, Columbia Business Prof; WSJ Bestselling Author; Ranked #1 Communication Coach; Top 50 Business Thinker in World - Thinkers50, shared her tips and strategies to help make strategic thinking a daily habit, so that you can make the best use of your time, energy and effort at work.

This insightful article summarises 11 top tips shared by Dorie, so that you can build your knowledge of how to make strategic thinking a sustainable habit, in the most time efficient way possible.

  1. Time:

The quick back of the envelope definition for strategic thinking is asking
the question what is it I can do today that makes tomorrow easier and
better? If we can slow down and answer that, that’s being strategic and
it doesn’t require a huge amount of time per se, it’s about reframing the
way you see the world. Strategic thinking is something everybody
should be doing no matter what level you are at in your career.

Now what? Include 15 minute buffers between meetings so you can remain focused, get tasks completed and reflect. Also set aside 30 minutes on a Friday afternoon to further develop your strategic thinking habit.


  1. Alignment:

The things you’re doing today, represent what you’re focusing on and what you’re focusing on cycles up to who you are as a person.

Dorie recommends creating three lists:

  • To Focus list = a big picture reminder of why you’re doing the things you’re doing.
  • To Be list = a reminder of what you’re striving for in the world and who you want to be as a person.
  • To Do list = the things you’re doing today.

Now what? Once you’ve created these lists it’s important to ensure they align.


  1. Execution:

There are two things that get in the way of strategic thinking execution:

  • Tip of the iceberg – things you can see, too many emails, too many
  • What’s underneath the iceberg - Busyness which has become a form of status and is often used for emotional avoidance. For instance, when we don’t know how to do a thing or when we are in emotional pain.

Now what? Work with an accountability partner to help keep your strategic thinking goals accountable.



  1. Decision diary:

In most of life you can control the process of strategic thinking and not
the outcome. Therefore, you should analyse past mistakes and importantly
past successful decisions because it’s useful to analyse the process and
ultimately this helps make your strategic thinking sharper over time.

Now what? Treat your decisions as learning opportunities. Keep a decision diary, record the rationale behind successful decisions and mistakes and take the time to learn from past decisions that you’ve made.


  1. CAN framework:

Using the CAN framework to think about strategic decisions, can help eliminate a lot of wrong strategy. CAN is an acronym which stands for:
Clear – am I clear about what I should spend my time and energy on today?

Align - is the thing I’m doing today aligning with the long term goals that me, my team and company has identified?

New information – have circumstances changed since I put the plan that I’m following into place – is there new information that needs to be considered?

Now what? Use the CAN framework to get Clarity on goals, Alignment on lists, New information on macro forces. Then re-orientate yourself to shift from short term to long term thinking.


  1. Inspiration files:

Re-orientate yourself in that way, so that instead of just reacting and
responding to things, you are proactively making choices to try to
see things on the horizon. Planning in advance, and asking what is it
that I can do now that can make it easier to get to that place tomorrow,
helps switch the paradigm from short term to long term thinking.

Now what? Leverage the Bord Bia Library/Reference Librarians and other good sources to create an inspiration file on topics to inspire and help you reach future goals.


  1. Multiple strategies:

When evaluating multiple strategies, the more upfront research you can do the better. It’s really useful to ask questions like – has anyone else been in this situation before and if so what did they do, and how did it work? And use that research to reverse engineer and to begin to see patterns that can help you make smarter choices about which approaches are more or less practical for you. Also figuring out what’s the smallest bet you can place, can allow you to test multiple strategies. This prevents you from wasting time and money on something half baked.

Now what? Bord Bia clients can leverage the Bord Bia library to carry out upfront research that can help answer relevant strategic questions. Also consider placing small bets to test multiple strategies.


  1. Goals:

The one most important thing a strategist should consider when making a strategy is the progression from the tactics and the techniques to the strategy, to the goal. What’s always important is to make sure that your strategy is in service of particular goals and to know what the goal is. Then it’s going to depend on the external circumstances and your analysis of that and there’s not probably one strategy that’s always the right one. It’s about putting out your feelers and understanding in a given moment what is right for that moment.

Now what? Make sure your strategy is in service of particular goals and understand what’s right in the moment. How it was before is not going to be how it is forever, the world is constantly changing.


  1. Roadblocks:

The longer the goal the more room there is for unexpected annoying things to happen, like roadblocks. So make sure with the scoping upfront you devote enough time to research and conversations that ensure you’re less likely to be rattled when something unexpected happens. There are many ways to achieve a goal, it’s also important not to get wedded to just one idea.

Now what? Use this set of checklists questions to guide your strategic thinking upfront and leverage a Bord Bia reference librarian to help you find answers:

  • What did it take for other people to achieve this goal?
  • How long did it take them?
  • What path did they follow?
  • What did that look like?


  1. Questions:

Senior managers/colleagues can encourage their leaders/managers to be more strategic by periodically asking the right questions that foster a strategic thinking culture.

Now what? Practise asking the following strategic thinking questions:

  • Great I understand you want me to do x, y, z can you tell me more about the higher level objectives these tasks will help us achieve?
  • Can you paint a picture for me of a year from now, where do you want to see our department and what does success look like?
  • If we were able to win at one/two/three big things, what are the most important things for us to win at so that we can accomplish the
    goals that we want? Where’s the biggest leverage?


  1. Shiny object syndrome:

Shiny object syndrome is essentially looking around and having FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) about what others are doing. But necessary strategic intervention is not about what others are doing it’s about whether market conditions have changed and weighing up do we need to change as a result of that. That’s the real question.

There wasn’t a market condition that necessitated Google plus and it’s now defunct. In contrast, taxi apps answered a need for better connections between consumers and drivers and digitally transformed that industry.


Now what? Start asking, am I looking at a change in technology, laws or government regulations or socio political morays that make something
different? If yes then it’s probably worth a change in strategy, not just he’s doing that so I should too.


Implications for Bord Bia clients who want to build a sustainable strategic thinking habit:

After reading this article, complete Dorie’s free online strategic thinking self-assessment to assess where you are at and begin putting her top tips into practice.

Then arrange a visit to the Bord Bia library where you can explore our collections and start to gather information for your inspiration file. Our reference librarians will be on hand to guide you during every step of your visit.

OR ask one of our librarians to carry out some desk research on your behalf and forward the search results direct to where you’re located.

Clients who wish to explore either of these Bord Bia library options, can get in touch at