What makes someone a good corporate strategist? The immediate thoughts turn to market analysis, financial intelligence, and competitive insights. Each is valid and play a role. What is emerging as a new talent for corporate strategists is mindfulness.
Mindfulness receives a lot of attention today. Just look at the Wisdom 2.0, bringing together over 2,400 people to explore and exchange ideas on mindfulness, technology, leadership, and culture. Even with this interest, many may not understand what mindfulness is. In many ways, this is the beauty of mindfulness – a discovery.
Being Mindful: Key Attributes
Jon Kabat-Zinn, an early advocate and author on mindfulness, defines mindfulness simply as an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Within this statement, there is a certain complexity in what it all means. The keywords that stand out are:
- Paying attention
- Present moment
- On purpose
As a corporate strategist, these elements are vital in today’s shifting market conditions, new technologies, and disruptive business models. Mindfulness can develop our skills as a corporate strategist, enabling us to deliver more relevant and timely plans.
A Mindful Strategist
With each element, certain mindful tactics will help us be a mindful strategist.
Mindfulness clears the clutter. Observation time gets crowded, as does think time. Developing a solid strategy requires both, so we need to pay attention in neglected areas where we may not be focusing while thinking about what we observe.
Mindful tactics to pay attention include:
- Listen more, inform less. Too often, we are telling rather than listening. Listen more to industry analysts. Listen more to customers. Listen more to people within your organization who you do not normally talk with. Expand your network and listen more.
- Observe more, inform less. A variation on the above but we observe how customers use our products. Observe more in how competitive products are used. Observe more in how complimentary products are used. Observe more of the normal workday of our buyers, suppliers, and partners. By doing so, we may begin noticing new trends or possibilities of how new strategies can fit together.
- Read more, write more. Getting stuck reading the same industry reports, newspapers, magazines, and websites produce the same results. To be attentive means we need to get out of our normal routines and usual suspects and broaden our perspective. Another key way to do this is to write about what is happening in your industry and marketplace. The exchange that happens may expand your perspective and the process of writing a blog post is the process of thinking through a trend, shift, or concept.
Mindfulness is determining where we spend our time to learn and, most importantly, how much time we are spending being alert to different sources. In looking at our calendar of meetings, we may realize we are not carving out adequate time to be attentive to more diverse sources.
Moments are not little. Our strategic plans are filled with moments of getting things right at the right moment. We may think moments are just noise, and some moments may be. Without being present in the moments, we may not discern the shifts underway.
Mindful tactics to be present in the moment include:
- Notice the busyness of your team. During different times during each week, we need to be aware of the busyness of the key people around us. What are they working on? Where is their time being spent? By being present in these moments, we sense whether or not people are focusing on the right things at the right times. We may realize we are leading a distracted organization. Without a course correction, strategic plans get derailed, delayed, and destroyed. Keeping an organization aligned around the right strategy requires most of the people doing the most of the right things at the most opportune time.
- Go deep rather than wide. There is a time to go deep and a time to go wide. With all the available information, it is easy to go wide. With all the electronic fronts we have, it is easy to go wide. The challenge today is to pick times to go deep. Being present in a moment means we need to dig deeper with an individual conversation or within a relevant topic. Skimming the surface or having high-level conversations may mean we are missing an opportunity to leverage a richer trend. We need to take the time to go deep.
Being present helps us understand where and how time is being spent. Being present helps us go deeper into areas that may be important. By being present, we take the small moments of time to gain a bigger perspective. Strategists who are present will be more proactive than those who are not.
We get caught in the moment or the stereotype. Group think still happens because it takes less effort to go with the crowd rather than stand up for a new opinion or thought. The easiest path is to be judgmental rather than not. Withholding judgment may seem indecisive, yet it may be the most fruitful path when working through a strategy.
Mindful tactics to be non-judgmental include:
- Experiment to find what works. One way to limit our initial judgment is to experiment more. Carving out some time to test an idea with a small group or prototype a concept provides an opportunity to break out of the usual opinions and get more real input from a fresh perspective. Designing the experiment may also open our minds as we get deeper into the concept. An experiment provides an opportunity to observe before making a final decision.
- Go for a walk. There are many forms of meditation. Meditation delivers business value when we can unplug from the various exchanges and think through what has been said and in what way. As we walk and think, we begin to discern what was important and what was not. We begin to slice through the thick judgments and determine what resonates more openly. What happens is we have a refreshed perspective. In developing a solid strategy, a refreshing look delivers a stronger way forward.
Mindful practices can keep judgments at bay while opening ourselves to possibilities and better responses. In doing so, we are less reactive and more refreshed.
Mindful practices can keep judgments at bay while opening ourselves to possibilities and better responses.Tweet
Purpose is the wrapper. Too many strategic decisions become self-centered. We lose sight of the higher goals and broader plans necessary to achieve better results for our customers and stakeholders. Mindfulness keeps us centered on purpose, for ourselves and our organization.
Mindful tactics to be purpose-centered include:
- Technology is not always the answer. When reviewing strategies, a reaction is to apply new technology to the problem. Technology can open new windows of opportunity. The intent needs to be examined, along with a clear answer to “For what purpose?” Technology alone is not the answer. Being mindful of the purpose of the strategy will help deliver technology in a purpose-filled way. We may also find that technology is not the answer, just more aligned processes and more empowered teams.
- Challenge processes to be empathy-centered. One of the best ways to prevent self-centeredness is to be empathy-centered. The mindful tactics in paying attention and being less judgmental help. Add in empathy and we become more other-centered. Customers, partners, shareholders, team members, and others help us devise the best strategy by listening and observing. In doing these practices, we also need to think through the next steps. How will the people affected react to the strategic changes? How will competitors react? With empathy, we put ourselves more than just in someone else’s shoes. We place ourselves in their shoes after the decisions have been made, and the impacts are felt.
Mindfulness practices focused on purpose help us create the scenarios to see if our decisions play out the way we intended. We can gain a glimpse into what purpose takes hold, one that is more self-centered or one that is more purpose-centered. Mindfulness can take scenario planning and add a strong test of intended or unintended purpose. By taking this step, we can work to keep our strategy on the right purpose track.
Mindful Strategist: The New Advantage
Mindfulness is having a positive impact on business, especially in the way corporate cultures and leaders are being developed. The time is ripe for mindfulness to have a positive impact on how corporate strategies are developed and implemented. A new breed of leaders are coming into our markets, armed with mindful practices. We need to encourage and push the envelope so that our business strategies can be on top of the changes rather than lag behind.
Are you ready to add mindfulness into your corporate strategy development?
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How to Be a Mindful Strategist
Mindfulness in business strategy doesn’t ignore the present. I was speaking to a business coach who is always pointing her clients five steps ahead so they can remain competitive. The problem was that today, in this moment, they were missing opportunities and struggling with their teams. No leader can create long-term success without being mindful of today… it’s today’s actions and challenges that shape tomorrow’s.
Another great piece that has me thinking. Thanks, Jon!
Agreed, Alli. We need to find the right blend between the future and the present in our strategy development. Mindfulness helps build our strategic capabilities and plans. Thanks! Jon