In today’s lesson I’m going to do introduce you to the single, most powerful way to analyze and plan strategy. Yes indeed. You are about to learn the most effective and creative way to:
- Conduct a SWOT analysis
- Create winning strategies
- Build robust strategic plans
This “strategizing on steroids” approach and tools is used by business leaders at global companies, and is taught at top business schools. However, chances are you rarely – if ever – use this approach when conducting your analysis and planning sessions.
What am I referring to? Specifically, it is the practice of using visual thinking tools in the analysis and planning process. Let me explain by introducing the concept of visual and design thinking.
As outlined in Wikipedia, “Visual thinking, also called visual/spatial learning, picture thinking, or right brained learning, is the phenomenon of thinking through visual processing.” (source: Wikipedia).
Essentially the practice uses visual tools such as sketches, matrices, process visuals, infographics, diagrams and prototypes to analyze, spark ideas, convey information, and also to outline plans and strategies.
Studies have shown that when visual tools are used as part of a planning and brainstorming process, the brain’s right hemisphere – that part of the brain that is more creatively oriented – is engaged more easily. As a result, creativity is enhanced, obstacles can be more clearly seen, these tools allow you to better see the forest from the trees, and ideas are generated more easily.
With these tools you won’t get as caught up in paralysis by analysis and the process of strategy making and idea generation won’t be as frustrating. Most importantly, your left brain (the analytical side) and the right brain (the creative side) will work together better. Ultimately, using these tools gives you more good ideas, more often.
For example, one tool we use is the Threats Analysis Matrix, which is a key tool in our strategic planning toolkit.
I call the Threats Analysis Matrix the Million Dollar Mistake Preventer because when it’s used properly it helps avoid and counteract significant and potentially expensive threats to your business. Here’s the matrix:
As illustrated, the matrix allows you to assess threats to your business on two fronts:
- How much of a negative impact the threat will have on your business if it eventuated
- The probability of the threat occurring
What you do is go through the list and then plot key threats where you believe they are located on the matrix.
The next step is crucial. You then need to come up with counter measures, especially for those threats which have a high probability of occurring and which could have a significantly negative impact on your business. i.e those in the top right quadrant. This is a key step that many business owners fail to address when conducting a threat assessment.
The Threats Analysis Matrix is just one of more than 100 visual tools which I’ve borrowed, developed and invented to help business owners improve their ability to analyze and strategize. I actually began applying visual thinking principles back in about 1995, when the concept of visual planning was still in its embryonic stage.
Fortunately, there is a global shift for businesses to be more creative and right-brained in their strategic planning. In fact, Daniel Pink, in his best-selling book, A Whole New Mind, wrote about this shift in 2005:
“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind— computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”
The concept of visual thinking and planning has evolved over the last 20 years and has really come of age since the mid 2000s…about the time that Pink’s book was published.
Otto Beisheim School of Management, a leading German business school, acknowledges the importance of visual thinking in this way:
“Visual skills have become more important in many different business areas such as marketing, business modeling, new product development, sales, distribution, etc…Developing visual thinking skills and a visual strategy also forces participants to think in a very structured and analytic way.”
Large companies that utilize visual thinking and planning include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Google and Coca Cola, and its principles and practices are taught at such universities as Harvard and Yale.
Passionate practitioners of visual thinking and its associated tools include Indra Nooyi, Global CEO of PepsiCo…as was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. In fact, they’re also used by top military leaders and sports coaches. Championship-winning NFL (gridiron) coach John Madden used these methods extensively in his coaching career…and continued using them frequently in his post-coaching career as a TV sports commentator and analyst.
The take-home message I want to leave with you is this. To improve your strategic analysis and planning you need to move away from text-laden documents and spreadsheets…and move towards using the visual thinking tools I’ve outlined in this lesson. Doing so will enhance the strategic planning process, improve analysis, and help you to develop more creative strategies and plans.
Next week I will conclude the lessons on the SWOT analysis by outlining the biggest SWOT analysis mistakes that business owners and boards make. And, to finish this lesson let’s take in the wisdom of Sun Tzu, the great Chinese military strategist:
“Therefore I say: ‘Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.
When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.
If ignorant both of the enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.’”
(Sun Tzu – From The Art of War)