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Think about how you think

July 30, 2014

The ability to select innovative strategies for your organization and balance innovation with big picture thinking can be one of the toughest challenges a leader can face. With that in mind, leaders should always be strengthening their conceptual thinking muscles. Ron Porter, Executive Vice President of Linkage’s Innovation Practice, has some valuable insights on how to do just that.

Ron was recently working with a large client that wanted to change its entire business strategy. “Like most clients,” Ron reports, “they wanted to jump immediately into the tactics of the transformation without a real firm understanding of where the transformation was going to come from.” As a result, they were solely focused on implementing specific systems that were only pieces of the larger business strategy, which had yet to be conceptualized and defined.” In other words, they needed to step back, think, and then act.

“Stepping back and asking themselves two simple, yet powerful questions: ‘What are we trying to accomplish? And how does [decision X] contribute toward that end?’ allowed the leadership team to identify the major factors and trends associated with their business. They then developed six specific strategic themes, key measures, and initiatives required to address those major factors.”

According to Ron, leaders with effective conceptual skills share the following traits:

  • They are extremely curious and ask simple, yet penetrating questions including: What are we trying to accomplish over [X] time period? How does what we are trying to do add, subtract, further, or stall what we are trying to do? How do all of the key pieces tie together to lead toward our ultimate result?
  • They constantly scan their environment to better understand trends and issues that might impact their business and they do something about them before they actually impact their business. They also encourage their employees to scan their environment so that they are always looking to better understand trends and issues as well.
  • They continually look for internal and external customer areas of major dissatisfaction and opportunities to fix the cause of the dissatisfactions they find.
  • They engage their employees in conversations about the big picture and leadership agenda, and how the specific things they do support the overall success of the company.
  • They keep employees focused on the strategic priorities and keep them from getting distracted by other things as they come up.
  • They create an innovative environment for their employees. This requires a standard innovation process, a shared desire for continuous learning, a deep understanding of the customer, and attention to building a collaborative team that offers diverse perspectives.
  • They also keep it simple by creating and sticking to a limited number of key priorities.

How do you think? Are you more tactical than conceptual? What do you do to drive conceptual thinking in your company? What are some of the barriers to conceptual thinking that you come up against?


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