How to improve strategic thinking skils

How to increase creativity and strategic thinking in any company

“How can you increase strategic and innovative thinking company-wide?” This question from a former client of mine also goes to increasing problem-solving and how to hold an effective brainstorming session. I wanted to share the answer with you so that you can use it in your organization.

Most people go about attacking this challenge THE WRONG WAY. It gets them very little results. Done right, you can get massive ROI and game-changing results. And it costs very little do.

Question: Do you order the furniture for a house first or do you build the foundation?

If you have a crappy foundation, the whole house will fall down. You have to start at the foundation. Increasing strategic and creative thinking starts not in a conference room, but in the culture of the company and/or the team level.

Here is a blueprint for a plan I’ve done many times. You can use a version of this in your organization.

“So your question isn’t an easy one. So I wanted to give you a plan versus just some random thoughts or a tactic.If you can implement some version of this you will increase strategic and creative thinking (and problem-solving) company-wide.


Big Idea

The key to creating strategic thinking and new ideas is through psychological safety. It’s in essence what I did in my TED Talk and my card game. Google spent 3 years to figure that out and changed their business around it (Project Aristotle). They also made it first part of training for every new employee in their super secret company Project X that spend a billion plus dollars every year on.

Four important points:


1) People won’t share ideas if they don’t feel safe to do so. They also won’t take their “free time” to figure them out. That equates itself that people don’t completely trust the leaders.
2) Leaders have to be vulnerable first to make it safe for others to share with them.
3) Creativity and strategic thinking come out of a foundation of psychological safety because people are more personally invested in the outcomes for the business. They are more willing to be vulnerable and share ideas they have because the organization supports it.


Action Plan


Strategic level


1) Get your CEO and any top leader the information on Project Aristotle and have them read it. If they don’t buy into it, it won’t work.
2) Have the CEO and leaders do all the activities BEFORE the employees do it. Because everything from the top rolls downhill and will organically be embedded into the culture.
3) Make psychological safety and creative thinking be company values and part of the culture by putting it on the website, making it apart of materials, etc. These are small changes because it is just adding a couple sentences, but it makes an impact.
4) Make creative thinking as part of the review process because it holds people accountable.


Tactical level to build psychological safety


1) Play my game, Cards Against Mundanity, teamwide (can do over zoom, etc.). Teams get the benefit even if they aren’t in the same room or location.
2) I’ve got a blog post on top team building activities. I would do one a quarter over the next 5-6 quarters so you can implement something sustainable over time (and consistently reinforce the psychological safety).
3)  Play the game with new employees and existing ones. Depending on the rate of new hires, I would try to do it monthly (or within the first week if you are only adding people here and there). You’d get all the new employees together and an equal amount of existing employees (or if it was one employee, 3-4 existing employees).


Tactical level to get more creative thinking


1) Figure out exactly what areas you want more creative thinking around.
A) Have managers ask employees about it in their 1:1s.
B) Hold a monthly brainstorm around one key area. Just collect ideas in the meeting. Then managers/leaders can sort through them and pick out the top 1-3 ideas to implement or investigate more.
C) Have a “Strategic Wall” where people can write down a short idea or have a “slack thread” where people can share ideas.
D) Have the CEO do either do 1:1s or a breakfast with groups to solicit creative ideas.
E) Host a 24-hour hack-a-thon for coming up with creative ideas (we could discuss how to do this more).


2) Materials – I like to do non-traditional things to get people’s minds opened up.
A) Love David Goggins podcast. It’s about drive vs motivation and getting shit done. Swearing in it, but it gets the point across you have to dig deep.
B) Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness or Daring Greatly. Both books make people think.
C) Blue Ocean Strategy is a very good book. It’s more “marketing” oriented


3) Activities


You have to have uninterrupted time to think. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day or fire drills. You can reserve time on your calendar, but people always push it out or don’t do it. For example, you block two hours on Thursday for creative/strategic thinking. Someone walks into your office and you work on a fire drill over those two hours.
A) Get people or individuals to do meditation, Tai Chi class or something where they can’t be bothered and you remove all electronic devices. You could have them go to the museum and tell them they aren’t allowed to bring their phone or any electronic device (i.e. Apple Watch). It’s time to unplug and think.
B) We could create a game (like Cards Against Mundanity) that is filled with questions to focus on brainstorming. Then after playing, give people two hours with only a pen and paper to come up with ideas.


Within 30-90 days you’ll see hard evidence of this working, and benefitting the company.
I’ve done this before and works consistently.


If you just give people books/podcasts, you’ll get marginal results (and probably from the same people you are already getting them from).”


PS (Here is a brief follow up by me)


“The key is to build it into the foundation so it starts working for you over time. Then it becomes a competitive advantage.


You see this in high performing teams. They do something different and people can’t put their fingers on it or seem to replicate it. Because it’s psychological safety and people don’t believe that is the answer. They want to look for something complex, but it’s not.


You can take average performing people, put them on a team who cares about them, and you’ll see their performance go up. Part of that is they will work harder, and part of that is they don’t want to disappoint others.”


There you have it! “How to Improve InnovativeThinking Company-Wide.”


Want to take your leadership, management ability, and performance to the next level? Improve your team’s performance and problem-solving?

Contact me to discuss your challenges and to see if we are a good fit. You’ll walk away with a rock-solid blueprint and plan you can use with or without me.

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