How to Think Strategically by Greg Githens


This 2020 publication is much needed: too many corporate initiatives are branded “strategic” as a synonym for “important”. Githens brings rigour to the subject in this highly readable book, which focuses on how think strategically and how this links to leadership.
Githens starts with asking the question, “are you strategic?”, and then shows that ambiguity is inherent to strategy, and that step-jumps in thinking can be better than incremental improvement. The challenge in crafting strategy is in detecting subtle discontinuities that may impact a business in future, and that luck plays a part in recognising that a discontinuity is important or not.

He outlines 20 “microskills” to help develop strategic thinking. Some of these may see obvious (curiosity, pragmatism) but others perhaps less so (devalourisation, metacognitivity). When starting to craft a strategy, he advises, “don’t begin with brainstorming clever answers: start with the hard work of finding the right questions.”

He introduces the concept of “pockets of the future”: present-day objects and behaviours that are presently not common but will have a large impact in the future – it the strategist’s role to tease out these subtle signals, investigate them, and if appropriate, initiate a strategic business initiative. He suggests postulating a hypothesis that an organisation’s current “story” (its strategy, its frame) is mediocre, and the strategist should use insight to replace this mediocre story with a better story.

The book is full of stories, techniques and observations. It is also entertainingly written and sparkles with quotations:

    • “The success of the angel of dullness is based on your satisfaction with what comes to mind readily”.
    • “Strategy involves making bets. No strategy can be guaranteed to succeed.”
    • On new entrants at risk being stifled by corporate groupthink, “the cucumber gets pickled more than the brine gets cucumbered.”

A must-read for strategists and leaders; it repays close study and re-reading. I’ll leave the last words to Githens: “a strategic thinker who chooses not to practice leadership is functioning as an analyst. A leader who doesn’t think strategically is merely a cheerleader for operational efficiency.”