Margaret McGann

How to become a strategic thinker

In communications and marketing, planning, research, strategy on March 29, 2010 at 7:28 am

The world of communications sometimes seems divided between people who think they are strategic and people who think they are unable to be strategic.

It’s not that black and white. The ability to think strategically is not somehow in the genes or a gift it is a comprehensive and thoughtful process that you get better at each time you do it.

Malcolm Gladwell introduced the world to his “10,000 hour rule” in Outliers. The premise of Outliers is that success in almost any field can be attributed to practicing a specific task for approximately 10,000 hours.  Wayne Gretzy, Bill Gates, and Danica Patrick are three very successful individuals who are textbook examples of the 10,000 hour rule at work.

Personally I think Gladwell’s rule is just a new twist on what our mothers always told us “practice makes perfect.” It’s the same with strategic thinking the more you practice the better you get. 

At its core, strategic communications is laying out a plan of where your organization is now and where you want to take it. The strategic part is figuring out how you will get there but before you can do that you need to fully answer these questions:

  1. Where you are now — context: link past, present and future
  2. Where you want to go — objectives
  3. Who you want to reach — target audiences 
  4. What will help or hinder you achieving your goals — internal and external strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats — SWOT analysis
  5. What you will need to get there — resources you will need and how you will use them to realize your goals
  6. How you will evaluate if you have successfully met your goals?

Now that you can see the big picture you can start thinking of what to do and how to do it to get where you want to go.  And that’s strategic thinking! 

Next we’ll look at how to build a strategic communications plan.

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  1. Very interesting post on strategic thinking. Thanks Margaret. I would be interested in reading more about this topic. In particular, I’d love to get your thoughts on the differences between communications professionals and writers/editors.

    • Hi Nancy, I think there are many similarities between writers/editors and public relation practitioners/communicators. For example, in PR we use a RACE formula — research, analysis, communication and evaluation. Writers research their audience and chosen topic, analyze their findings, communicate their ideas or information through writing, and then evaluate how it was received. Editors are usually former writers who use the same formula (although it might be called a different name) to do their jobs.
      Research and analysis is the foundation for deciding which strategic approach might work best and once that decision has been made, you communicate it and then evaluate its effectiveness.

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