I wish I'd read Stowell and Mead's Ahead of the Curve years ago, for it's one of the best books I've found on strategic thinking. The authors' seven skill sets are relevant for both professional and personal goals, and stand out from the business literature crowd with their emphasis on critical thinking capacity; rather than representing yet another blueprint for creating a soon-to-be-outdated strategic “plan.”
We often place too much emphasis on perfecting our “plans,” when what we really need to do is learn to think more strategically and create and adjust plans more on the go. Too often business leaders spend lots of calories creating and perfecting a plan, trying to get it just right while then being slow to respond to changes that require modification of the plan or even ditching it altogether. It's more effective to have clear goals based on business and development needs, while holding our plans loosely enough to shift gears at a moment's notice based on strategic thinking rather than tactical reaction.
Stowell and Mead write:
“These seven skills can be used separately (as stand-alone skills), or you can link them together and create a top-to-bottom process. You may encounter situations where some of the strategic thinking has already been done; in these cases, the strategic thinking process is a good review and check-off system or a decision-making filter. You may find that these ideas help in selective situations or on important projects or initiatives that are already underway. So, whether you use these skills systematically or individually, you are likely to develop some thought provoking ideas that will save you some agony, money, and time, as well as increase your contribution to the success of your organization.”
The seven skills are as follows:
1. Tame the Beast: create space to reflect and clear your head
2. Acquire the Target: utilize a “strategic dashboard” for examining the key customers, people, products, resources, processes and sponsors/stakeholders you must consider at all times–including yourself!
3. Gather Intelligence: track down and assess relevant data on a continuous basis, connecting the dots between these data and the strategic target
4. Analyze the Forces: take thorough, truthful deep dives into assessing the positive and negative factors in your environment, and their relevancy toward your strategic target
5. Define Scenarios: become more adept at predicting how events will likely turn out in the future
6. Chart a Course: craft a set of specific actions that can be assigned and tracked, a road map based on the first five skill sets
7. Mobilize and Sustain: embrace courage, speed and concentration!
Read this book!