Strategic Thinking vs. Strategic Planning

The terms critical thinking, decision making, problem solving, strategic thinking, systems thinking, strategic planning etc are often used interchangeably.  However, while each of these words are tied to one another, there are distinct and important differences.

Strategic Thinking vs. Planning a Strategy:  What’s the Difference?

In many ways, Strategic Thinking is an umbrella term.  When you employ Strategic Thinking, you analyze, explore, understand, and define a complex situation and then develop planning actions that will bring the greatest possible positive impact towards a pre-defined goal.  As you can see, planning is one step involved in the larger process of Strategic Thinking.

Here are real examples from my day today to highlight the differences:

Planning a Strategy: I consider the security line at airports a race.  I refuse to be the traveler that holds up the line or forgets change in my pocket, so I plan accordingly.  I check my bag so that I don’t have to deal with the liquids/zip lock baggie rules.  Before I reach the airport I take my Driver’s License out of my wallet and put it in my pocket so it is handy when I get to the TSA agent.  I put my purse inside of my laptop bag so that I only have one back to place on the conveyor belt- not two.  I wear slip-on shoes so I never have to take extra seconds to tie or un-tie my shoes.  I wear pants that don’t require a belt.  I don’t wear any extra jewelry or sunglasses.  I don’t wear a jacket or hoodie because those items automatically send you into the pat-down line.  Before I even get in line, I already have my laptop bag un-snapped, un-zipped, and the flap folded over so my laptop is exposed.

Clearly I plan, but there is no complex strategy involved.

Strategic Thinking: I am helping a bail bonding company brainstorm how to use social media for their organization.  Here are some of the questions we have explored:

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What social media sites do they use?
  • How do we connect with them?
  • Do they want to be contacted?
  • How do they want to be contacted?
  • Do we only use social media to connect with future customers or use it as a bounty hunting tool?
  • What laws/regulations dictate how we use social media for bounty hunting?
  • How are other bonding companies using social media?
  • Will the time involved in using social media be worth it?
  • What is the goal of using social media for a bail bonding company?
  • Who should be responsible for the content?
  • What is the first step?
  • How will success be measured?
  • What are the risks?
  • What if there is negative feedback?
  • What is the exit strategy?

As you can see, the situation involves many moving parts and requires significant analysis, investigation, and understanding in addition to planning action steps.

What are some other differences between Strategic Thinking and Planning a Strategy?

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Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

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