It is useful to define strong mindedness through this analogy: A strong body has muscle fibers that function by contracting; the better they perform the function of contracting, the stronger the muscle. Similarly, the mind functions to perceive information, structure it for recall, and combine it to produce new concepts. The better the performance of these functions, the stronger the mind. This analogy offers a straightforward characterization of a strong mind,
Strong minds produce strong ideas.
There is a secondary characteristic of a strong mind found in the synonym of robustness. In systems engineering, robustness is the characteristic of being able to continue to function despite failure of some part of the system. As an example, aircraft have redundant and parallel technologies for critical systems. Since strategic initiatives are characterized by complexity and ambiguous information, we should include this characterization of strong mindedness,
Strong minds do not fail.
1. Strong-Minded Leaders are Good at Probing and Sensing
Strong minded leaders work to gain a holistic and integrated view of their situation. They are comfortable with asking conceptual questions that help to identify the different dimensions and relationships:
- Is this a problem or an opportunity?
- Of what is this a part of?
- Where does it sit on the ladder of abstraction?
- What are the boundaries between these and other related concepts?
In many struggling strategic initiatives, I find that people have a difficult time gaining perspective and categorizing. Thus, one of my favorite questions for strategic thinking is,
What is the crux of the matter?
The answer to the what-is-the-crux question can be found in one of four categories:
- Self – I might be distracted or lazy or apathetic.
- Others – Others might also be distracted, lazy, or apathetic. Or they may have their own agenda for defining the problem and solution.
- Events - External changes in the markets might cause people to reprioritize their work, affective my ability to plan and execute the strategic initiative.
- Context – The organizational culture filters out data that does not agree with preconceptions.
Actually, all four areas may contribute to the difficulty of finding the crux, but typically there is one dominant area. I have found that once you can find and (get others to agree on) “the crux,” you can get unstuck.
As I have pointed out in earlier articles, strategic thinkers have a skill in tolerating and managing ambiguity. For example, in Part 4, I explained the importance of sensing the difference between uncertainty and ambiguity (and I provided some example questions that will help you do this).
2. Strong-Minded Leaders Imagine the Logical Future Consequences
Strategic thinking is not the same as critical thinking. Critical thinking is the application of analysis and logic; seen as step by step or cause-and-effect relationships.
Strategic thinking adds to critical thinking the ability to imagine possibilities; it is future oriented. Strong minded thinkers are comfortable with asking questions that force informed speculation. Here are three examples:
- What are the likely consequences of this decision?
- How likely is the given consequence of a risk event?
- Can I manage the adverse consequences [for risk events that I have chosen to accept]?
A four star general pointed out that one of the essential leadership competencies is to be a good anticipator. Through a strong intellectual understanding of the situation, you gain the judgment that helps you distinguish the important from the unimportant. This presents to you the opportunity to shape issues (rather than having the issues shape you).
3. Strong-Minded Leaders Look for Opportunities to Apply Ingenuity
Ingenuity is the pragmatic application of imagination to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity. It comes from accumulating relevant knowledge, merging into that accumulated new knowledge and then conducting a determined search for possibilities.
Here are two good questions for fostering ingenuity:
- Where have others found similar problems, opportunities and solutions?
- What barrier, if removed, would allow us to make amazing progress?
Five Tips for Mental Robustness
Earlier I wrote that a strong mind does not fail. These tips will help you avoid common failure modes for thinking:
- Strong-minded people avoid making mistakes. For more, read my article on The Compact Approach to Strategy. This approach suggests that you identify possible mistakes that you and others could make. Some weak-minded mistakes would be simply to fail to ask some of the questions listed above.
- Strong-minded people have emotional resiliency. Resiliency is the quality of maintaining an emotional perspective that keeps your mind functioning. I have seen many people get overwhelmed by things: information, grief, hurt feelings, and change. Strong minded people do not let anger or fears destroy progress. A key skill for resiliency: detachment.
- Strong-minded people have a capacity for self-reflection. When they criticize themselves, it is in the spirit of growth cultivated by the desire for performance.
- Strong-minded people have the ability to generate alternative solution pathways, as I described in the article on the Six Traits of Strategic Initiative Leaders and How Google Will Save the News. They try numerous different strategies, knowing that some will work and some will fail.
- Strong-minded people have an ability to balance action with contemplation. As I frequently say to audiences,
Action without reflection is impulsiveness.
Reflection without action is procrastination.
Good strategic initiative leaders are strong minded, strategic thinkers.
Do you agree with my two characterizations of strong mindedness (strong ideas and resistance to failure)? Have you applied any of them? Did I miss anything?
- Resolving Ambiguity and Uncertainty (Strategic Thinking – Part 4) (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)