Book Review – Thinking Strategically By David J. Collis

Thinking StrategicallyIntroduction

Thinking Strategically written by David J. Collis, a professor in the strategy unit at Harvard Business School is part of the Harvard Business Press Pocket Mentor series. This short book gives direct and straight to the point advice on thinking in a strategic way. It describes what thinking strategically is, why is important and the process of doing it. The book is divided into two distinct parts. The first part contains the main part of the book, content for reading. The second part called, Tips and Tools, has some tools for thinking strategically and some questions to test yourself. This part also contains some references to learn more about the subject. This is a mini-book which can be read in just a couple of hours totaling just 106 pages. The book is topical and so it doesn’t have chapters but seven topics. Following is a brief review of each topic.

An Overview of Thinking Strategically: This section introduces the concept of thinking strategically. It answers questions such as, what is strategic thinking? Why is strategic thinking important? Who needs to think strategically? What are the distinguished characteristics of strategic thinkers? What are the steps in strategic thinking?

Step 1 – See The Big Picture: From this point on the book begins to concentrate on the steps involved in thinking strategically and this section deals with the first step which is about seeing the big picture. According to the author seeing the big picture involves, having a good understanding of the internal and external environment of the organisation and being mindful of the priorities of internal stakeholders.

Step 2 – Articulate Strategic Objectives: Once you have a solid understanding of the organization you now need to articulate your own strategic objectives. This part of the book outlines four steps to do this:

  1. Understanding your boss’s objectives
  2. Defining your objectives
  3. Identifying your project-related objectives
  4. Making your objectives SMART

Step 3 – Identify Relationships, Patterns, and Trends: Part of strategic thinking is understanding relationships across the organization and the patterns that emerge front those relationships. Three suggestions are given in this step which are understanding how the relationships work, devising solutions from patterns and trends spotted and categorizing unrelated information.

Step 4 – Get Creative: What happens next after identifying relationships, patterns and trends? It’s time to get creative in order to generate new solutions and alternatives. According to the author, this requires challenging assumptions, inviting provocation, envisioning an ideal world, gathering others perspectives and fostering an environment creativity.

Step 5 – Analyze Information: This step looks at analyzing information that has been gathered and using the analysis to make decisions. Four suggestions are given here, which are:

  1. Identifying critical information that you need
  2. Steering clear of irrelevant information
  3. Creating an information gathering plan
  4. Building on existing knowledge

Step 6 – Prioritize Your Actions: This section focuses on the important topic of prioritization and the usual discussion about setting realistic timelines for projects. Nothing new or unusual here.

Step 7 – Make Trade-offs: This is the final section and it deals with making trade-offs. In other words what are the pros and cons of choosing one action over another. Topics discussed include comparing short and long term outcomes, balancing unit and company needs and learning to say no.

There is nothing special about this book. It’s a quick read with some good information and tools, but one I feel doesn’t have a very wide application. The language is very narrow and almost seems applicable to only middle to senior managers and that may well be the case. But if you do need some quick information on strategic thinking, then spending 3 to 4 hours reading it is not a bad idea.

 

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