Tapping a world of collective intelligence

otto-scharmerTerrorism. Economic crises. Poverty. “We probably have never lived in a time when strategic thinking was more crucial,” says MIT Sloan lecturer Otto Scharmer. “Yet, the currency and quality of strategic thinking is actually plummeting. It’s an interesting—and frightening—contradiction.”

Scharmer is cofounder of the Presencing Institute, a revolutionary action-research community that creates holding spaces for strategic thinking around profound societal renewal. He believes that a key reason that leaders aren’t taking the time for conventional strategy work is because they often can’t wrap their heads around such a vague concept. “What exactly is strategic thinking, anyway?”

Scharmer suggests reframing strategy from abstract thought to sensing and actualizing the emerging future. That new framework breaks down into three core activities:

1.    Co-sensing: Get out into the world. Scharmer recommends venturing outside your field to gain a wider pool of experience. “Look at your own business from the edges. Look at what other industries are doing. If you’re in government, look at what companies are doing. If you’re in the corporate world, take a look at innovations in government. Challenge your status quo. If you think you know your own environment inside out, it’s time to step outside of it and into the wider world. You won’t learn by staying within the margins of your own sphere. The world is out there changing without you.”
2.    Presencing: Know thyself. Scharmer says that you can’t have an effective plan if you don’t really know who you are and what you want. Deeper self-knowledge, he says, is key to success and thinking strategically. He recommends taking time out for quiet reflection and says he has found that mid-career leaders like Sloan Fellows, as well as millennials around the world, are more receptive to asking themselves, “What is my purpose? What am I here for?” Scharmer says that we must ask the same questions of our organizations. “When thinking strategically about your organization, you should consider your role in society. What are you contributing? Why are you here?”
3.    Co-creating: Explore the future by doing. Part of strategic thinking, Scharmer says, is to learn by doing. Reach out for feedback to refine your idea. “When you live in a time of disruptive change, you can’t think strategically in a sealed room. You have to understand the bigger picture, how you and your organization fit into the larger world.”

Successful strategic thinkers, Scharmer says, grow from a place of disciplined awareness and a willingness to explore. “We live in a world of collective intelligence. We need to tap into that. We should embrace our networked world and integrate the knowledge and experience of stakeholders into our strategies. In other words, strategic thinking is not something we can do alone. It’s in the dialogue with people who live outside our own bubble that strategic opportunities are born.”