You’ve been told you should ‘think more strategically’. But no-one has told you how to do it. That’s because most people who are skilled at strategic thinking have automated their behaviour. They are not consciously aware of how they do it. That’s where ‘cognitive modelling’ comes in. Cognitive modelling is a process for uncovering the thinking patterns associated with high levels of performance. When we model talented strategic thinkers, there are four habits we find them using. These are habits anyone – including YOU – can adopt.

1. Use your brain’s pattern-detection software

What’s the number one habit of a successful strategic thinker? Noticing and tapping into trends and patterns. Fortunately your brain comes complete with pattern detection software. Your neural networks are set up to notice and respond to patterns. You just need to pay attention to the information your mind is already organising at a subconscious level. To get the most from your pattern-tracking ability, bring that information to conscious awareness by asking yourself high gain questions. For example:

  • What global trends are emerging in the world of business right now?
  • What implications do those trends have for the ways people will work and do business in five years’ time?
  • What changes are happening in your industry/sector right now?
  • How will those changes impact on what your organisation does or produces in the next five to ten years?
  • At a local level, what changes are happening within your organisation?
  • What are the implications of those changes over the next five years?

2. Shift from fear to high gear

At first, thinking about the broader implications of emerging change might trigger fear. But burying your head in the sand won’t halt the change – it will just mean you’re poorly prepared to cope with it. It’s important to manage your fear, so that you can tap into the opportunities the future will bring. Remind yourself that every change creates new markets and possibilities. Use the following high gain questions to shift from fear to high gear.

  • What opportunities are current changes creating?
  • If current trends continue, what will your customers need in five years’ time?
  • How can you prepare yourself NOW to deliver those services or products?
  • What are the top five implications of trends in global ways of doing business?
  • How can your business capitalise on those trends?

    inventing fire

3. Focus on building new roads, not on repairing potholes

Strategic thinking is future-focussed thinking. It involves thinking beyond here-and-now reality and projecting yourself into the future. This is the equivalent of planning and building new highway, rather than repairing potholes in an existing path. In order to do this, managers, leaders and HR professionals need to adopt a collaborative problem solving approach. It helps to:

  • Leave daily operations to your team. After all, they’re paid to keep the business running smoothly right now. Meanwhile, your job is ensuring that the business thrives well into the future
  • Focus managers’ attention on setting strategic objectives for the business
  • Actively align each team’s objectives with business objectives
  • Communicate your business strategy over and over again. It helps to create an inspiring ‘change story’. After all, dot points and strategic plans are boring. But great stories are memorable

4. Take on a curiosity mindset

Talented strategic thinkers enjoy being exposed to new ideas and mastering new skills. They operate from a ‘curiosity mindset.’ Instead of feeling threatened by change, they set out to master it. Rather than dismissing novel ideas, they explore them. Instead of being passive, they assertively speak up. And this is pretty simple to do. It just means asking yourself the following questions:

  • In five years’ time, how will this trend/fact/event be playing out?
  • How can this information be useful to me/the business?
  • What’s the upside of this situation/change/trend?
  • What would happen if I turned this information/situation/event into an opportunity?