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The Secret to Strategy: Thinking for Business Leaders


In a rapidly evolving business landscape, the importance of strategic thinking cannot be overemphasised. For business leaders, this skill is not just a luxury but a critical necessity. But what exactly is strategic thinking? Essentially, it involves envisioning what might happen in the future and applying those insights to the present scenario. Sounds easy, right? Well, not quite. At Ascern Advisers, we understand that the realm of CFO advisory is deeply entwined with the need for robust strategic thinking, and through this blog, we aim to delve into its intricacies.


Section 1: Laying the Foundations for Strategic Thought


Ask Strategic Questions


The first crucial step to becoming a proficient strategic thinker is to engage in a dialogue that stretches your mental faculties. This involves analysing a gamut of inputs ranging from financial statements, key performance indicators (KPIs), market conditions, to emerging business trends. While this might seem overwhelming, breaking it down into strategic questions can help guide your focus. Here are a few questions to get you started:


- How can we strategically position ourselves to enter a new market?

- What’s the direction for growth for each of our products or services?

- Where will the organisation's growth come from in the next five years, and how does it compare with historical growth patterns?

- How should we respond to the threat of disruptive competitors entering our marketplace?


These are not questions with quick, easy answers. They require in-depth analysis and sometimes even uncomfortable discussions within your team. However, they set the foundation for a strategy that isn’t just well thought out but robust against uncertainties.


Observe and Reflect


Strategic thinking is far from a knee-jerk reaction to problems. It involves meticulous observation and reflection. The best strategic thinkers are like detectives, piecing together various clues to form a cohesive story. This could involve observing your competitors' actions, or reflecting on your past successes and failures to find a pattern.


However, observation alone isn’t enough. It is essential to invest time in reflection. Reflect on the observations made, think about the implications and how it fits into the larger business puzzle. This process aids in avoiding cognitive biases that may cloud your judgement, thereby making your strategic plan more reliable.


Be Creative


Strategic thinking does not exist in a vacuum; it thrives on creativity. By creating connections between ideas, plans, and people that others often overlook, you are placing your business in a vantage position. Let's say you are in a traditional industry like manufacturing, but noticing the rapid advances in AI, you decide to incorporate machine learning in your production processes. This sort of out-of-the-box thinking is what separates a tactical manager from a strategic leader.


Creativity is not a one-man show. It thrives in an environment where diverse perspectives are valued. Consider brainstorming sessions, not as time-consuming meetings, but as incubators for strategic thought. Or perhaps, look for inspiration in other industries; what works for a tech start-up could also provide insights for a retail giant.


Broadening Your Strategic Horizons


After laying down the foundational elements of strategic thinking, it’s time to expand on those concepts. This part will focus on how to see the bigger picture, staying abreast of industry trends, and challenging the norms through creative thinking.


Focus on the Big Picture


Many business leaders are often so entrenched in day-to-day operations that they forget to lift their heads and look at the horizon. While it's crucial to focus on the nitty-gritty, strategic thinking demands that you also pay attention to the bigger picture.


Ask yourself: How will this decision affect the organisation in five or ten years? What are the long-term implications? For instance, opting for cheaper, lower-quality materials may boost profits now but tarnish your brand’s reputation in the long run. It's a game of chess, not checkers. Each move should set you up for future steps that align with your overall objectives.


Breaking down long-term goals into smaller, more achievable milestones can help create a roadmap for your organisation. By doing so, you provide your team with a clear path to follow, complete with signposts to measure your progress.


Stay Informed


Knowledge is power, especially in the world of business. As a leader, it’s imperative that you stay updated with the latest trends and developments within your industry. Whether this means attending webinars, reading industry publications, or networking with other business leaders, make it a habit to stay informed.


Subscribing to industry-specific publications can offer a world of insights right at your fingertips. Similarly, actively participating in forums and networking events can not only provide new perspectives but also create opportunities for strategic partnerships.


Think Outside the Box


We've talked about creativity, but what about taking it a step further by thinking outside the box? It's not just about connecting the dots differently but actually challenging the status quo. This could involve innovative problem-solving techniques, or even more radically, changing your entire business model to adapt to new market conditions.


Both internal and external landscapes of a business demand this kind of inventive thinking. From organisational structure to market penetration strategies, thinking outside the box often creates the most substantial competitive advantages. A well-timed pivot or an unexpected partnership can turn your company’s fortunes overnight.


Case Studies to Inspire Your Business Strategy


Learning from others' successes and failures is an invaluable practice in business strategy. Case studies provide real-world examples that can inspire and guide your strategic planning. For instance, look at companies that have successfully entered new markets or those that have recovered from significant setbacks. What did they do right? What would you do differently?


Tesla's Supply-Chain Strategy

Tesla identified early on that batteries would soon be their biggest supply chain bottleneck when they began scaling up production to compete with established vehicle manufacturers. Rather than negotiate large supply contracts with battery manufacturers, potentially ending in a bidding war with their soon-to-be competitors, they invested in battery manufacturers to control their supply chain. This vertical diversification also turned into a profitable example of conglomerate diversification as those manufacturers could also supply batteries to parallel products such as Powerwall.


Toyota vs Tariffs

Japanese car manufacturers began aggressively entering the US car market in the 1970's. The established US manufacturers were caught flat-footed because Japanese cars were sold at such low prices they couldn't be matched. Among other measures, the US Government responded with punitive tariffs on imported vehicles to protect local manufacturing. Toyota's response was to work within the new rulebook, and within a few years had established their own factories in the US ... but they also managed to import their super-efficient manufacturing processes and were still delivering cars for less than the US manufacturers could. By the early 2020's US Vehicle Manufacturers' share of the US market was less than 50% (compared with over 80% in the early 1970's).

Case studies serve as tangible examples that strategy isn't just theory; it's practice. And often, it's practice under high-pressure conditions, making the lessons learned even more invaluable.


Putting it All Together – Becoming a Master of Strategic Thinking


After exploring the foundational elements and then broadening our perspective on strategic thinking, it's time to tie everything together. This final section will guide you through the art of implementation, ensuring that you can practically apply these insights in your role as a business leader.


Prioritisation and Decision Making


Effective strategic thinking doesn’t end with creating a plan; it extends to making the right choices. Decision-making is arguably the most critical aspect of strategic thinking. With myriad factors to consider, prioritisation becomes a crucial skill. What needs immediate attention? What can be delayed? What adds the most value to your long-term goals?


Given that resources are finite, strategic choices often involve sacrifices. Learning to give up less impactful initiatives in favour of those that align better with your organisation's long-term goals is an indispensable part of strategic thinking.


Flexibility and Adaptability


A strategy is not set in stone. In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, being too rigid can be a significant downfall. While it's essential to have a plan, you must also be prepared to adapt it in response to unexpected events or new information. The last couple of years have shown us that the world can change in the blink of an eye; businesses that can pivot are those that will survive and thrive.


Execution Excellence


Having a strategy is one thing; executing it is another. A beautifully crafted strategy is useless if not effectively implemented. Execution excellence involves coordination across departments, meticulous planning, and, most importantly, a commitment from the team. Consider leveraging technology or management systems that help track and ensure everyone is aligned with the strategic plan.


Continuous Learning


The realm of strategic thinking is not static; it's an ever-evolving discipline. Business leaders must engage in continuous learning, staying up-to-date with new methods, theories, and tools that could enhance their strategic capability. Webinars, podcasts, and even short courses can serve as excellent resources for staying ahead of the curve.


Conclusion


Strategic thinking is a multifaceted skill that every business leader should strive to master. It’s a continuous process that involves asking the right questions, being observant, staying creative, focusing on the big picture, and staying informed. Above all, it requires an excellent balance between planning, decision-making, execution, and the ability to adapt and learn.


By adhering to these principles, you’re not just ticking boxes; you’re elevating your organisation to a platform from which it can face the future with confidence. In the fast-paced world of business, there is no room for stagnation; strategic thinking is your route to sustained relevance and success.


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Thank you for reading this comprehensive guide on strategic thinking. If you want to delve deeper into this subject, especially in the realm of CFO advisory, Ascern Advisers is here to assist you.


For more actionable insights on improving your business strategy, keep an eye out for upcoming posts on our blog.


Thank you for reading, and here’s to your strategic success!

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