How To Think Like A Strategist

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As brand leaders, we often hear that we need to “be strategic,” but we often don’t get much guidance on what that actually means. Some brand managers are natural strategic thinkers, while others can spend an entire career figuring it out.

So below I’m going to lay out a method for breaking down challenges and eventually recommending solutions. This line of thinking can be applied to many different situations. If you practice these steps, you’ll eventually become consistent at thinking strategically.

1) Focus on The Core Problem

When business challenges arise, the true problem is often different than what the team initially believes. Strategists know this.

Strategic thinkers are always looking for the core problem. The one that lies beneath the surface.

You can also think of this as symptoms versus the root cause.

So if you want to be a strategic thinker, you have to start with a certain amount of skepticism. Then start asking questions to “diagnose the patient.” Either confirm the problem is actually what the team thinks, or uncover the true underlying issue.

2) Identify Key Questions

Once you know the core problem that must be addressed, the next step is to consider the unanswered questions. More specifically, what questions need to be answered in order to know the answer to the core problem?

Usually big challenges that seem difficult to answer can be broken down into a series of smaller questions. These questions are often easier to answer, and by systematically answering them one by one, the bigger solutions becomes clearer.

Identify the smaller questions that help you chip away at the bigger problem, and you can make meaningful progress.

3) Outline the Alternatives

If you understand the bigger challenge and start chipping away at the key questions, you will start to see alternatives for how to move forward. Good strategists see these alternatives and start to weigh the options.

When weighing the options available, strategist consider a few different factors to understand which might be the best choice.

  1. What If Analysis—Good strategists will seek data or evidence that helps prove if an option is good or bad.
  2. Game Theory—Good strategists will think forward about the implications of potential decisions, including how competitors might react.
  3. Strategic Benefit—Good strategists understand that even if an analysis shows an option to be inferior, there may be a strategic reason to pursue the option anyways.

Understand your strategic alternatives and the potential implications of each choice.

4) Make a Choice

Last but certainly not least, good strategists make choices. This is difficult for most people to do. As humans we tend to be risk averse. Putting ourselves out there and making a choice feels risky… After all, what if we are wrong?

If you want to be a great strategist, you can’t be afraid of being wrong. I would even go so far as to say it often matters less which choice you make. What matters more is that you actually make a choice.

Brand leaders that pursue all options because they don’t want to get it wrong are the worst kind of leaders. In fact, it’s not leadership at all.

If you aren’t driving your team towards clear choices, then you aren’t doing your job.

You Too Can Be a Strategic Thinker

Strategic thinking can certainly be learned. Even if you aren’t initially wired to think in this way, you can use the process I’ve outlined here to train your mind.

In time you’ll start to do this sort of thing instinctively. And challenges that seemed murky early in your career will appear much clearer.

If you’re looking for a more efficient strategic and creative process, check out our course on How to Write a Powerful Creative Brief. In this hands-on workshop course you’ll master the skills needed to write each and every component of an inspirational creative brief based on sound strategy.


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