Thursday, June 5, 2008

Strategic Imagination

Innovation, changing from old ways of doing whatever it is that you do, is difficult for many reasons. One of the first reasons is because most people really want to do a good job and they have arrived at what they believe, what they do, how they do it through a convincing process and have worked it, perfected it, lived it, and strived to do it very well, whatever "it" is. To change from all that, to innovate, is a process that takes strategic imagination. And, it takes leadership. And, it takes time to move into the new thinking and doing positions that you want people to adopt.

Strategic imagination is a marriage of very different skills. It is paradoxical. When planning into and for the future, imagination and creativity are critical. You can't know the future for certain. You can research trends, imagine what the future will be by collectively considering the impact of the emerging trends and how they impact each other. Using your imagination combined with your expertise and knowledge of your industry to paint your driving vision is a critical step and effects the rest of the whole process. The more people that are brought in to this step, the better they are led and challenged to think expansively, the better the vision becomes. Envisioning must be a full, expansive process, not a edict handed down whole.

Strategies follow from vision, and the better the envisioning process, the easier the strategies are to see. The strategies become logical, an obvious bridge, between where you are and where you have decided you want to be. Key to this step is to be realistically aware of, beyond the surface, where you are. You have work to ease people out of denial regarding what you are currently like. You have to look under the rocks in each division and department, beyond the fact that things get done, and look at the individual pieces, people, processes. It is hard. It is messy. It takes tremendous desire and belief in the vision. And, it takes radical, sincere, courageous honesty among all parties.

Two additional skills needed to define strategic imagination are flexibility and reflection. I see these two skills are interconnected. Reflection is key from the very beginning - sensing a change in necessary, surmizing where you are currently, identifying what parts need to be done differently. Many people, and many, many organizations are not reflective. They apply very little critical thinking to past beliefs, assumptions, endeavors. Reflection provides the insights. Reflection provides the honest perspective. Reflection reveals the gaps. Reflection provides the intellectual and emotional growth. The more and better you reflect, the more you will reveal and grow. With each new insight, you need the skill of flexibility to allow it into the vision. You must maintain vision yet flexibility within as you work to fill the gaps and voids. And, flexibility allows you to create as you go based on the newest information at hand from within and from outside. Flexibility helps you create to fit a situation, to improvise as needed.

In the process of innovation, paradoxes prevail. There must be planning with flexibility, creativity with logical thinking, vision with past awareness, leadership that inspires others to leadership to an extent that all are at once leaders and followers. And, a uncomfortable sense of nagging urgency that must be balanced with patience that is also forward focused. And, don't let anyone be fooled, work to help everyone learn this early -- innovation has no end.

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