Let me introduce you to Jesse…..
Jesse is a very skilled young website designer who has just started out working for himself. He has been told he is very good at what he does and has helped build a thriving business for his first boss, but has decided that he is ready to make the big money for himself. He has lots of friends who want websites and initially business is very good. He is busy creating websites. He loves applying his creativity, skill and focus to the task of helping people achieve their goals. (Level 1 Thinking)
However, after 3 months he begins to notice that client enquiries have slowed. He has a few awkward situations with friends who have not yet paid for work done. He has been so busy he has not even got his own website up and had done very little marketing of his own. He decides to go see an accountant and find out a few things about how to set up his business properly. (Level 2 Thinking)
When he thinks about it he notices that the websites he has been building are all quite similar – for friends who have a small business or a blog or a group they want to promote. The kind of work he is doing is not really using his skills and is not challenging him to grow. In his former job he had been doing work for large companies and organisations needing websites that were at times very challenging. He now wonders how he might attract those clients, and what he needs to do to position himself in that market. He begins to look at a few competitors, even his old company, and check out how they promote themselves. He realises he does not have a clear vision about his company, about the clients he is trying to attract, about the look and feel of any marketing strategy he might use. (Level 3 Thinking)
There are Three Levels of Thinking required in order to be effective at anything!
Level 1 – Tactical Thinking
This is the kind of thinking required at the coal face where the real work gets done. It usually requires great skill and focus. The technician needs to use all his skill and training to assess the situation, make decisions about how to proceed and take action.
Level 2 – Operational Thinking
This is the kind of thinking required to assist a business or organisation make sure they have enough resources when they are needed to get the job done. This is the very important world of trained managers and administrators.
Level 3 – Strategic Thinking
This is the bigger picture thinking vital to any business or organisation. This kind of thinking focuses on the purpose, the values, the direction and longer term goals, what kind of customers, what kind of marketing; all contributing to a strategic plan. This is where even a solo business person must learn to be a leader. Every business and organisation requires leadership
Like Jesse, it is so easy to get so focused on the task at hand that it consumes your thinking and efforts at the expense of other levels of thinking. Michael Gerber, (E-Myth Revisited) says this is the No. 1 reason that 80% of small businesses fail within the first 5 years.
Stephen Covey (7 Habits) writes about the difference between the clock and the compass. Managing your time and resources efficiently is of little value if you are moving in the wrong direction.
So, it is vital that EVERY business and organisation, small or large, has all 3 levels of thinking effectively working together in order to be effective.
In my experience the main level missing, or not sufficiently integrated into the working of a business, is Level 3.
This is often because in order to be a Strategic Thinker you need to be able to understand the purpose of all 3 Levels of thinking and communicate skilfully to integrate them for the benefit of the organisation.
For a small business person like Jesse, Level 3 Thinking is something totally foreign to him and is a good reason to hire a business coach or to find a mentor who can help him to learn to be a strategic thinker.
I’m endebted to the wisdom of Jo Muirhead of Purple Co for some seed thoughts in this article.
Please feel free to add your comments below.
i am intrigued by your article and concur with the three levels of thinking required. I've a few more things I see as valuable to add into this framework to make it more complete, desire, capability and talent.
There are lots of talented people in the business world with no desire to apply themselves, so they fail. Similarly there are vastly capable and able bodied persons available to pursue a career in an organization, but lack the talent to get them beyond the interview. Phase, or the first few months in the job. However what I continue you come across in my interactions with others is a marked shortfall of desire.
It's been said countless times that if you find a job you love, you'll never have to 'work' again, and I'm convinced that desire plays a significant, perhaps key role in the work we do.
Thanks for sharing this information out to all.
I agree with you.
Desire is one thing that must come from within.
A human being without desire usually has lost hope as well, or they are truly in the wrong place.
great article, I see this "missing" strategic thinking with small and even medium business. Would you have any suggestions how to develop this? Or is it a simple matter of awareness, and prioritising thinking time?
If the business owner is willing to admit they need to grow and then motivated to stretch, it is always possible to assist them to develop their Strategic Thinking.
I love helping business people with this.
It really depends on the individual and their situation as to where to start and what steps to take.
But the first key is that they are hungry to learn and grow.