Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking in college and on the job

Strategic Planning is useless — unless there is first a strategic vision.                                                   — John Naismith

There are several ways you can arrive at a vision or goal.

1. You can accept the goals that others (parent, teachers, school administration) have set before you.

2. You can consider your future and what you want out of life or out of college and set your own goals.

3. You might have a problem. Problem Solving begins with defining a problem as clearly as possible. It continues with considering and evaluating what you want, and it should lead to setting goals.

4. A person in business sets goals that may or may not begin with a problem. These goals often focus on increasing production or earnings.

If you haven’t set any goals, you should start there

You might see  Setting Goals

Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.     –Tom Landry

Write your goal, checking to see that it is clearly stated, specific, and realistic.

1. For example, if you write Study Harder…

I don’t know understand. What do you mean by “harder”. Will you study more hours? If so, how many hours?  Or does “harder” mean you will use a different study method? What method?   Or does it mean that when you study you’ll do it in a place without interruptions? Where will you study? In the library?  This goal is not clear and it is not specific. I cannot measure how much harder you will study.

And studying harder probably isn’t you goal; it is more likely to be  a strategy to reach some other goal.

2. If your goal is Make Better Grades …

You are getting closer. I have a clear image of making better grades, but it still isn’t specific. Are you talking about making better grades in every one of your subjects or just one or two subjects. Do you care about the subject? If not, your goal might be to raise your gpa (grade point average) from 2.7 to 3.5 . That would be clear and specific.  I don’t have enough information to know if it is realistic. If the semester is almost over, you won’t be able to raise it very far. If you are beginning a new semester, this might be a realistic semester gpa, but depending on your year in college, you may not change your overall gpa this much in a single semester. Perhaps this is a goal you intend to reach in the next three semesters. Excellent. Go for it!

A young man looking thoughtfully out a window, think of his future goals.3. Avinash has a long-term goal of becoming a paleontologist. His now has a semester goal: Avi plans  to make an A in Paleontology this semester. (For those who don’t know, a paleontologist studies fossils.)

Avi’s goal is clear, specific and realistic. Avi already knows a lot about fossils. He has collected them since he was ten years old. He took Biology last year so he’d be better prepared.

He is so well prepared, that getting an A in paleontology may not be much of a challenge. “Hey Avi, why not plan to get an A in Organic Chemistry at the same time. If your Organic Chemistry class is as hard as the one I took, that would be a real challenge.  And I can tell from your expression that you enjoy a good challenge”

Avi responds, “All right. I’m all for a real challenge. I will make the highest grade in the class in Paleo and the professor will write me a great recommendation for graduate school. And, I will also get that A in Organic.” Now he is prepared to develop a strategy.

Moving from a goal to an effective strategy

 To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs.                                  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

1. Think about the obstacles in your path, the problems that might prevent you from reaching your goal.

In making a good grade, the obstacles might include other commitments that take time away from study like a job, family time, social activities or commitments to an organization. If you are to have adequate time to work toward these goals, you might need to take time you are accustomed to using from another purpose.

Another sort of obstacle or problem might be inadequate skills. If you are required to write a paper for the class and your writing skills are weak, you will need to improve them.

Other problems might include a lack of willpower, poor time management, needing study strategies other than just reading and memorizing.

2. Plan a strategy to help you overcome each possible problem. You can visit your school’s writing center. You can read a book on better writing. You can use information on this website. Likewise, you can find help on developing willpower, time management, and study strategies.

3. Study or analyze what will be required to reach your goals. Avi might talk to students who have taken paleontology and organic chemistry for advice. On the first day of class he will get a syllabus from each professor. He will make a list of all the steps along the way to his final goal. He will notice all the quizzes or tests, the lab reports, the final exam, and any research papers that are required. He will mark these in a heavy marking pen on a large calendar.

4. Map out your long-range plan. Avi will plan to get research papers done a week in advance. While he usually spends 3-4 weeks on a paper, he will spend at least 6 weeks on his paleo paper. He plans to make the top grade in this class and impress his professor. His paper needs to be really outstanding.

He also needs to make high grades on each quiz, test, and lab report as well as his final exams.  He begins planning how to prepare for each of them.

5.  Create your weekly schedule. Avi uses his new Time Management skills to block out classes and a few meetings, as well a meals and time to sleep. Now he adds the time he will spend on each class.  His Paleontology class is a three-hour class so he needs to spend 6-9 hours a week for study. He starts with 9 hours for Paleo and 12 hours a week on Organic because he doesn’t feel as well prepared in Chemistry. If he finds he doesn’t need that much time, he can cut back later.

6. Plan strategies for using study time. Take time to survey or preview your books carefully. This will not only give you a good idea of how the content is organized, it will help you decide what strategies to use.

Avi learned from the student he spoke to that he needs to identify hundreds of different fossils and know their scientific names. Recognizing the fossils would be easy for Avi but he’d need to learn the scientific names.  He’d need flashcards.

He will also need to know the time periods for each fossil and learn about the index fossils that help geologists identify the geological period of the rock layer. Avi was aware of index fossils but hadn’t studied them. He decided he would create a giant chart of the geological time periods on his wall. Then, he would find the index fossils for the various periods and add them to the charts (pictures and names)  He could also make flash cards to practice them until he knew them perfectly. He would see the name of the period and name the fossils and vice versa.

Avi was beginning to get excited. He had never studied like this before. This would be fun. And, for the research paper, he would talk to the professor soon and discuss possible topics. If Avi could do actual field work, looking for fossils as part of his paper, that would really be interesting. His professor might have some ideas.

7. Do a weekly evaluation of what you have accomplished and revise your schedule as needed.

8. Continue to build and maintain enthusiasm. Do you need a motto or quote on the wall? Do you need to remind yourself each morning that you have set some difficult goals but you’re off to a great start and you’re enjoying it. If it helps, you can give yourself gold stars for each step along the way…. for each ten fossil scientific names you learn, for each set of index fossils you know perfectly, for every A on a lab report.

Thinking well is wise; planning well is wiser; but doing well is the wisest and best of all.                  — Persian Proverb

Using Strategic Thinking on the job

The first time you go through this process, it takes a lot of effort. Each time you do it, the process will seem easier, though the goals will probably be more difficult. When your company or research team sets a new goal, you will be prepared to help them through this process…

Make sure the goal is clear, specific, and realistic.
Identify potential obstacles and find ways to deal with them.
Work from long-term goals to weekly or monthly goals.
Identify strategies, working methods, or equipment that will help you reach the goals.
Develop a plan for what individuals and small teams will take charge of each task and when it will be done.
Meet regularly to evaluate what has been done and deal with new problems that have come up.
Find ways to increase the enthusiasm of the teams so everyone is excited about the project.

 If you employed study, thinking and planning time daily, you could develop and use the power that could change the course of your destiny.         – W. Clement Stone

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