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Strategic Thinking: Dealing with Complexity

How would you define a strategic thinker? Someone who develops and focuses on one single, organization-changing idea? Close, but not quite.

Thinking strategically also means dealing with complexity. You need to give your time and attention to many things at once and see things from a range of different perspectives.

Have a big picture view

To deal effectively with complexity, it helps to have a big picture view of your organization. You and your department are part of a larger organization, and the organization itself is part of a broad external environment.

Thinking strategically means bearing this big picture view in mind when making decisions or taking actions. Your decisions and actions will affect not only your department, but your organization as a whole and its external environment.

So an IT manager who’s planning to overhaul the company’s web site looks at the big picture and decides to create an online survey asking customers what changes they’d like to see. And when the manager also considers changing the company intranet, she meets with other departmental managers to get their views on how the intranet can be changed and how the changes will affect them.

Recognize patterns and causal relationships

Another way to deal with complexity is to recognize patterns and causal relationships. Try to identify trends in information or events so you can spot opportunities and develop solutions for addressing weaknesses.

For instance, suppose you’re reviewing complaints related to a new product. You notice a common theme — most of them are related to the same part, and after some digging around you learn that your company gets the part from a new supplier.

By recognizing patterns and relationships, you’ve discovered the root cause of these complaints. You then share this information with senior management and help address the supplier issue.