How to Empower Your Thinking with a Strategic Mindset

In order to build a strategic mindset in teams, students and business cultures these 4 simple questions can prove helpful.

By Salt 106.5 Network Monday 24 Aug 2020

For those in the corporate or educational world, the idea of a Growth Mindset has been front of mind in recent years. In many of my own books and articles I have explored what constitutes a Growth Mindset, what differentiates it from a Fixed Mindset and how it can be fostered in workers, students and leaders.

However, a recent study reveals the emergence of a third kind of mindset that has proved to propel people further into innovation, creativity and efficiency than the other two ever could.

A Fixed Mindset is based on the assumption that skill, talent and intelligence are inbuilt, or fixed, whereas a Growth Mindset is driven by the assumption that skill, talent and intelligence can be honed or developed with intentional effort.[1]

When people think with a Strategic Mindset, however, an idea explored by a team led by Patricia Chen at NUS Psychology, they look for ways of doing something better. Instead of simply trying again or putting in more effort, they intentionally seek out new and innovative ways of a approaching a task, asking themselves, ‘Is there a way to do this differently?’[2]

This way of thinking far overshadows the Fixed and Growth mindsets in its potential for fostering a culture of innovation and creativity.

In our age, approaching present problems with the future in mind is an essential posture for a business that intends to last. If businesses are to do so, then adopting an approach resembling the Strategic Mindset will prove crucial.

In order to build a Strategic Mindset in teams, students and business cultures, 4 simple questions can prove helpful:

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1. Imagine if …?

This first type of question is powerful because the word ‘imagine’ has a unique capacity to broaden people’s thinking beyond linear or incremental problem solving.

The example of David Hudson, who is global head of markets execution at JPMorgan Chase, is a good one. Every Monday morning, Hudson gathers his team together and poses this question: ‘Imagine if you had $100 million … how would you take on JPMorgan or lessen its grip on clients?’ The fruit of this exercise is a long list of ideas for improving the company’s value proposition with clients.[3]

The value of creating such wild and even unrealistic scenarios is that sometimes we need to move into the abstract in order to have out-of-the-box ideas that we can actually apply to real circumstances.

2. Why not …?

This second type of question is all about challenging long-held assumptions regarding the status quo.

A superb example of the ‘why not’ question comes from global furniture giant IKEA. In IKEA’s early days, a marketing manager was struggling to fit furniture back into a truck at the end of a catalogue photo shoot. Watching as one attempt after another met with failure or frustration, the photographer simply asked, ‘Why not just remove the table’s legs?’

This simple but genius question became the seed of an idea that landed in the marketing manager’s mind: Why not ship all IKEA’s furniture disassembled to save on freight costs?

After sharing the idea with the rest of the executive team, it was swiftly implemented and thus IKEA’s flat-pack business model was born![4]

There is something powerful about looking at the status quo and simply challenging it. British philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell put it well when he said, ‘In all affairs, it is a healthy thing to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.’

3. What would _______ do?

When confronted with an issue or challenge, rather than consider the options available from your own perspective, imagine what another organisation would do in the same situation.

For a commercial example of this third type of question, consider the experience of Rick Kreiger, who recognised in a visit to the emergency room the inefficiency of healthcare providers. Reflecting on his experience as a patient, Kreiger asked himself: ‘What would McDonald’s do if they got into the healthcare business – how would they run things?’

Recognising that the power of the McDonald’s model is in its standardised systems, Kreiger went on to create a hyper-efficient and systematised kiosk-style medical clinic named QuickMedx. The business’s slogan, ‘You’re sick, we’re quick’, gives some indication as to the mode of operation. Within six years, the breakout success of QuickMedx attracted the interest of CVS Caremark, which purchased the company for $200 million in 2006 and rebranded it MinuteClinic.[5]

In order to hack the system, Kreiger first had to step out of the system.

4. What CAN we do …?

When facing various situations, we are often highly adept at listing all the things that can’t be done. In contrast, by approaching issues with the deliberate paradigm of assessing the resources and options you DO have at your disposal, the thinking quickly shifts.

Consider the example of a breakthrough innovation in the Coachella Valley Unified School District. This district is the second poorest in the United States with one hundred per cent of its students living in poverty.

A number of years ago, a new district superintendent named Dr Darryl Adams arrived in the Coachella Valley and secured funding to provide each student with an iPad after recognising the need for learning technology. However, very few students had internet access after-hours, limiting the value of the devices.

In considering possible solutions to this challenge, the question of ‘what CAN we do’ proved enormously helpfulThe idea was suggested one day that they could place wi-fi routers within a resource readily at their disposal – the district’s school buses. The buses could be parked in neighbourhoods overnight, giving students internet access.

Within a few years, graduation rates for high school students increased to 84 per cent (up from 69 per cent), 40 per cent now go to community college after graduation, and high school dropout rates have halved. Reflecting on the initiative’s success, Adams said, ‘We’re showing what public schools can do. There are innovative and creative people out there that sometimes get limited by an old way of thinking. Let’s create a new system.’[6]

Asking the right questions can be the practice that best empowers a Strategic Mindset in your teams. Businesses in search of innovation, creativity and efficiency would do well to consider these questions and to build a cultural mindset that instinctively thinks, ‘How can we do this better?’


Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen. Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

Feature image: Photo by rubylia from Pixabay.