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Strategic Thinking and Strategic Planning Published: Sunday, October 5, 2014 12:01 am By: Ulises Pabón, President

It’s that time of the year again.  Managers pull from their desks’ drawers last year’s strategic plans; meetings are held to perform the habitual SWOT analysis (the acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats); company mission and vision statements are reformulated; unending lists of projects and “strategic initiatives” are written; timelines are specified and task owners are assigned.

Yet, despite all claims of engaging in strategic planning and the comfort the ensuing product may give, both the process and the outcomes rarely come close to genuine strategic thinking. 

As we help those that have fallen victim to what we consider to be “ritualistic strategic planning”, we’ve identified three underlying themes that are common to most cases.  Detecting and eradicating these themes – errors in thinking and in execution – is instrumental in rescuing the strategy formulation and strategy deployment process, critical to any company’s development and growth.

The first common error we’ve found is embracing a one-year horizon.  Yes, I can almost hear what you’re thinking.  It’s become the standard response of many executives: “You just don’t understand our industry.  Forget about five year horizons.  Things are changing so fast, no one can really know what it’s going to look like two years from today.” 

The claim rings as true.  After all, change is the only thing that is permanent; and accelerated change is definitely a sign of our times.  However, the fallacy behind this error lies not on whether change is ever present.  It lies on assuming that in order to plan for the future, we need to predict it.

Granted, looking beyond the immediate present is difficult.  It requires huge doses of keen observation; the development of foresight regarding industry and market trends; the creativity to imagine future scenarios; and the ability to anticipate thoughts and actions of customers, competitors, and other players in your industry.  This can be an exhausting task.  However, the insights you and your team will develop from this process are priceless. 

The second common error we find is a failure to identify, name, and face the challenge or key challenges the organization is encountering.  The essence of strategic thinking is always the same, whether in sports, in war, or in business: discovering the critical factors in a situation, designing an approach to deal with these factors, and specifying the coherent actions required to implement the response. 

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