Strategic thinking is a muscle. The more you create positive habits out of it, the stronger it gets. The opposite is also true; it wasn't until recently that I recognised that some of my work patterns, like muscle memory that’s hard to break, are bad strategy habits.
This post explores some of the common problems that arise for young strategists. While this is based mainly on my experience working in advertising agencies, I outline a few habits I’ve had to unlearn along the way in hopes that they will be helpful to every type of communication professional.
Do your research, but don’t get trapped in it.
Any junior strategist knows that any strategy work starts with research. However, too much of it doesn’t only muddy the waters – it’s also easy to get lost down research rabbit holes and waste time.
When you get to the point where there’s enough information for you to move forward, it's time to design your strategy. If you're halfway through your research, and new information comes out that helps fill in a gap—that's great! Go back and add it in. But don't drown yourself in data. Take what you know and narrow your focus.
Stop working like a lone wolf
Much of the larger picture is out of view when you’re working in a vacuum.
When it comes to strategic work, it's all too tempting to let ourselves get lost in the details. It's a natural urge; you want to be immersed in the subject, but this can also make us less aware of what's going on around us.
The key is finding a balance between diving into your work and being aware of the periphery.
You need both a close-up view and a broader perspective if you want to make progress – so don't get bogged down in details and keep an eye on the big picture.
Don’t assume you’re the expert
As a junior, I had a false belief that strategists are the only thinkers on the team. As I met other people and saw how important their inputs were to the work, I realised that this assumption was just limiting my thought process.
This, perhaps, is what John Bartle worried about when he said that agencies, through account planners, were creating a new breed of individuals with “intellectual arrogance, a belief in their own monopoly of understanding.”
My former mentor would often remind me that strategic breakthroughs happen when two seemingly unrelated ideas collide. We must be deliberate about welcoming diverse ideas and information into our work.
After all, the best strategy teams aren’t made up of homogenous thinkers–they’re eclectic and open people who can bring together opposing viewpoints and interpretations, and then draw connections between different points of view to create something new.
Like muscles, bad strategy habits become ingrained in us if they’re not corrected. That's how I wound up drowning in data - but thirsty for insights - late into the night when I was younger; not because it was the most strategic approach, but because that became my default behaviour over time.
Break your bad habits and start building better ones.