Strategic Thinking versus Strategic Planning

Strategic thinking and strategic planning are different but complementary concepts. According to Mintzberg, “strategic planning and thinking involve two distinct thought processes: planning concerns analysis – establishing and formalizing systems and procedures; thinking involves synthesis – encouraging intuitive, innovative and creative thinking at all levels of the organization” (Graetz, 456).
Strategic thinking is the initial and most challenging step in any planning effort (Sanders, 6). It has two major parts: “insight about the present and foresight about the future” (Sanders, 10).

Scholars assert that there are generally “five formal definitions of strategy: plan; ploy; pattern; position; and perspective” (Graetz, p. 456). Of these five formal definitions, strategic planning would be associated with planned strategies that are “premeditated and deliberate”. Essentially, strategic planning deals with the step-by-step, rational, systematic, logical process. Alternatively, strategic thinking can be viewed as a pattern, which suggests “unplanned, emergent strategy patterns or consistencies that are realized despite, or in the absence, of intentions” (Graetz, p. 456).

Simply put, strategic planning reflects “left-brain thinking” or the planning, logical, systematic aspect of strategy making and strategic thinking reflects “right-brain thinking” or the creative, innovative, intuitive, dynamic and entrepreneurial aspect of strategy (Graetz, p. 456).

Sanders,T. (1998). Strategic thinking and the new science. New York, NY: Free Press.

Graetz, F. (2002). Strategic thinking versus strategic planning: towards understanding the complementarities. Management Decision, 40(5), 456-462.

Mintzberg, H. (1998). Strategy safari. New York, NY: Free Press.


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