Strategic Thinking | TheUnion.com

Strategic Thinking

Alex Alexander

I recently attended a meeting of the Lake Wildwood Board of Directors, and saw something interesting, something good for our community.

Most of the time our Board concerns itself with operational matters, but at this meeting they were discussing a number of subjects of strategic importance, and were thinking strategically about them. I hope it’s a trend and that we’ll see more of it in the future.

I want to talk about strategic thinking in this column. I’ll start with an example from the Board meeting, specifically, the discussion of the “Highest and Best Use” project, which is an effort to identify all the various properties owned by the Lake Wildwood Association, determine the “highest and best use” of each property, and make future plans to maximize the value of all of those properties for the benefit of the membership.

This is important work, and if we get it right, it will make a big difference in quality of life for our community.

Tom Wulf and Terry Thies explained the progress of the project to the Board members, and fielded questions. At one point, one of the directors asked if it wouldn’t be best to focus on one property at a time, figure out how best to use it, and then go on to the next one.

Tom responded by noting that the whole issue of highest and best use of our properties was complex and depends on a lot interdependent factors. You couldn’t figure it out by looking at only one property at a time. You have to analyze the whole magilla (my word, not his).

As an example, Terry said that there has been speculation about the possibility of creating a condominium complex somewhere in Lake Wildwood. The belief is that a lot of our older members would eventually have to move out of their large houses (too much maintenance, expense, and complexity).

Currently the only way for those people to cut costs and simplify would be to move out of Lake Wildwood. But many of these oldsters (including me) love our community, have many friends here, and want to continue to live in our wonderful environment.

A condo complex might, or might not, be a good solution, and if it is, it could be situated in a number of different locations, or there could be more than one condo complex. You can’t explore this issue by looking at one single property.

You could make the same observation about boat and RV storage, the Association’s maintenance operation, location of solar power (if that turns out to be a good idea), the idea of (Heaven forbid) a fitness complex, or any of a dozen other possibilities, from dog parks to walking paths to mini-parks, to…whatever.

Our Board members get it.

They see that the Highest and Best Use project needs strategic thinking before it moves on to specific, detailed plans for each property.

Here’s another perspective on strategic thinking. It comes from my own experience as a business coach, helping small business owners learn how to be entrepreneurs. Strategic thinking is the heart of entrepreneurship, but most small business owners don’t know that.

They think that if you know how to fix a bicycle, you can create a bicycle repair business. In other words, if you know how to do the work of a business, you can create a business that does that work. But no, you can’t.

Building a business is a different process from that of fixing bicycles, and the difference is strategic thinking (in the same way that creating a great future for Lake Wildwood is very different from managing its day-to-day operations, and the difference, likewise, is strategic thinking).

To make it clear for our business clients, we first taught them about the five essential ways of thinking they needed to learn in order to become strategic thinkers. Gradually, as we coached them, and they worked on their businesses, the five thought patterns became ingrained habits of mind.

In that way, over time, strategic thinking became a permanent part of their conscious and unconscious thinking. If you’re interested, here are the five habits of mind:

— Holism: the habit of seeing and understanding the big picture, all of its components, and how they all interconnect and work together. In the case of our Highest and Best Use project, holism is the ability to identify all the available properties at Lake Wildwood, all the potential uses that could be made of them, the value of those uses to the membership, cost estimates, which property would be best for each use, and all the many, many trade-offs of functionality, location, financing, revenue possibilities, preferences of the members, and so much more.

— Whole-mind thinking: the habit of using both analytical and intuitive thinking to solve a problem. Some people “trust my gut.” Others trust facts and analysis. But the best thinking occurs when you use both your gut feel and your rational analysis. If your gut (intuition) tells you something, but your head (analysis) tells you something different, you need to figure out what’s right by digging for more information. Whole-mind thinking — gut feel and analysis together — will give you better solutions than lopsided dependence on one to the exclusion of the other.

— Creativity: the habit of seeing opportunities and threats, generating alternatives, being open to all possibilities, and not blocking your thinking with prejudices, preexisting beliefs, and past habits.

The essence of creativity is the ability to be open-minded and willing to generate and explore options that wouldn’t normally occur to you.

— Multi-vision: the habit of seeing the problem or opportunity from all points of view. In the Highest and Best Use case, it’s the ability and willingness to look at our properties from the viewpoint of members (and their families), the Association staff, regulators, service providers, contractors, attorneys, and first responders, and even from our neighboring communities…and most importantly, from the viewpoint of supporters and opponents of the various proposals that will be developed by the project team.

By the way—and this is just my personal opinion—all of the controversies and ill will we experience in Lake Wildwood “politics” comes from the inability or unwillingness for opposing sides to see things from each other’s point of view…not necessarily agree, but understand and acknowledge the other point of view.

— Curiosity and learning: a hunger and curiosity for information. Strategic thinking feeds on information. You can never know too much, and you need to be aware when you don’t know enough.

Strategic thinking doesn’t happen spontaneously or simply by studying it. You can’t simply flip a switch and tune in to your strategic thinking channel.

The five habits have to be developed in the real world, by thinking about real situations, in my clients’ cases, their businesses, in our Board’s case, the Lake Wildwood community, and in your personal case, your relationships, your career, your social circle, and so on.

At the end of the Board meeting, I stood up to praise our directors for the strategic thinking they were taking on, and to suggest that we need more of it, at which point one of the directors, said, “Alex, maybe that should be the subject of one of your articles.”

And so it is.


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