How to Teach Strategic Thinking

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Recently in a conversation with a faculty at a reputable law school, I was asked what I saw as the biggest shortcoming in recently graduated young lawyers. I shot the answer out lickety split–no question about it–they completely lacked the ability to think strategically. The question that followed was–well, one naturally to be expected: Would you be willing to conduct a lecture as part of a post graduate offering, on how young lawyers can learn to think strategically?  Again, my answer was far too quick. Flooded with the a rush of self congratulation over the invitation, the answer oozed out of me as smoothly as a salted  caramel from chocolate on a hot day…” I’d love to.”

Thirty days into the process of designing the itinerary for the self-discovery journey to strategic thinking, apropos of the subject, I find myself murmuring: What was I thinking? Was I thinking at all? One thing for certain there was nothing measured or tempered about my enthusiasm to take on the challenge. Dare I say–nothing strategic about that decision.   So on this glorious weekend summer’s day  in a small Connecticut village that New Yorkers kill themselves to get to negotiating I-95 every Friday night, I sit. At my computer. An intentionally made-to-look-retro fan keeps me cooled while its rattle drowns out  bird tweets and competes with gentle breezes. “Help Me Rhonda” fittingly plays in the background.

In the last thirty days, I have spent most of my discretionary time reading everything in sight and googling every conceivable variation of the phrase “how to teach strategic thinking”…to adults, to millennials, nay even children. After querying  colleagues and daughter MBA candidate came the flood of recommendations… Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” and Covey’s classic, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” A trip to the book store lured me with no fewer than ten different volumes of HBR (Harvard Business Review) compilations–promoted as “must reads.”  I got the one on “managing people” possibly influenced by  the tag line “If you read nothing else on managing people, read these definitive articles.”  Sold.

So, in these intervening weeks since the caramel oozed out of my chocolate,  my world has become an exploration of mastering outside the box inventiveness, analyzing human effectiveness and managing intuitions and interventions.

For those of you who are regular followers, this is the part of my blog where I pull something out of the hat of my past and draw an connection that most assuredly seems to have little to do with the blog topic. My personal paraprosdokian literary widget.
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Not too long ago  on my way home from work, I passed Tate Modern and read a poster about an exhibit of Matisse’s cutouts. It was there, on the south bank looking up at the billboard promoting the exhibition, where I  learned, for the first time, that my favorite Matisse art piece was actually a collage fashioned from cut out pieces of paper. How did I not know that in the 40 years since my first encounter and subsequent love affair with the piece? Now come to find out, he didn’t paint or even draw my favorite blue nude–he pasted it.    I believed I knew a Matisse  painting when I saw one.  Turns out, I didn’t. As for pornography and knowing it when I see it–I’m going to have to reconsider that as well.  Which brings us to strategic thinking…right now I can’t quite pin down for you what it is or how you can acquire a knack for it, but I can tell you this: if you work with me, trip up and make that strategic fail and I can be all over you like a wet t-shirt.





Managing Change and Transition …Put one foot In front of the other (and don’t look back).

In life we learn through literature that there is big stuff and small stuff, as in “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  There are things that are key, critical–that go to the coreImage. In the “small stuff” column we find the discretionary, optional and elective.  Among the “core” things in life, and possibly one of the most critical one can master on this planet, are transitions. The ability to transition from point A to B, or to put in its simplest terms, to move on. 

You’ve heard often about the person who “doesn’t handle transitions well.”  At the same time, we’ve all witnessed people who have faced seemingly overwhelming odds, yet have managed to reinvent themselves, transition and emerge no worse for the wear.

As I scoured the web for visuals that represented transitions–it was interesting how many aspects of life involve transitions. That was only matched by the realization that the person who hasn’t mastered transitions, or the ability to finesse one gracefully,  likely faces an uphill climb over and over again. Transitioning affects us all, more or less, depending upon our circumstances.  The spectrum in which it presents is broad: in or out of a relationship, quitting or leaving a job, losing a loved one, going to school, leaving school, changing school, moving out of one house and into another, divorce, retirement or other fundamental passage.

In an earlier post, I wrote about people plagued by inertia–but I may have to stand corrected. It may not be so much the inertia, but a fundamental inability to manage change that is at the root of the paralysis. I didn’t spend much if any time reading or studying Kierkegaard in my years studying philosophy, but this “inspirational” quote seems to get to the heart of the matter.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Moving-On-in-Life-QuotesAt a relatively young age, I was confronted more than once with some of life’s  “fundamental passages.”  In later years, but well before adulthood arrived, I was exposed to adults who represented both extremes on the transition scale. On the one hand a parent who was entrenched in past recriminations and regrets , on the other hand a grandparent, who at the drop of a hat, could transition into a new plan if any part of the present was presenting an obstacle, literally and figuratively, to where she wanted to be or where she wanted to go.

Perhaps the exposure to these two approaches, paired with the several transitions I was exposed to at so early an age as to think them natural,  is what influenced me and my outlook on life. Whatever the source, that outlook has served me well. Confronting passages and transitions without paralyzing fear, regret or apprehension and harnessing the ability to manage expectations grows confidence in one’s own wings. Confidence prevents the kind of procrastination that is responsible for so many of life’s missed opportunities.  Good timing then, often mistaken by onlookers as “good luck,” generates positive outcomes.

But this process, and it is a process, requires conscious thought–no bumbling about, being buffeted by the “slings and arrows” of life.  It requires that one acquire a penchant for flexibility, adaptability, willingness to consider change and acquire a zest for the anticipation that transitions generate. In the end there are two types of people, those who become fluent in the art of transition and change and those who are simply, sadly, stuck in the past or the memory of it.

Like any one of a number of habits one might want to kick, I suggest this as a first step in learning how to transition gracefully:untitled

When you find yourself looking backwards, standing still, frozen in your steps or seized with apprehension–in words that aren’t mine, but have a simplicity I love: 

Put one foot in front of the other…and, I might add,  don’t look back.

If it helps, whistle the tune below, or in the manner of Jimmy Fallon,  grab a bunch of muppets and sing your way through the transition.

Either way you’ll be off to something of a start.