Using Strategic Thinking as a Platform for Planning: Before, During, and After

Carole Levine, Principal

Levine Partners, LLP


While strategic planning is a process that results in a concrete, long-term plan for an organization, strategic thinking is a way of working before, during and long after that plan is developed. Strategic thinking is a hallmark for visionary, effective people within visionary, effective organizations.

Strategic thinking:

  • Is an ongoing process/practice – rather than an episodic event
  • Is a creative and powerful skill
  • Involves synthesis, intuition and creatively forming a shared vision
  • Supports and develops an ongoing appetite for change and the vision of new possibilities.

Strategic thinking and strategic planning can be seen as separate functions. But, together they are a powerful tool for building highly effective organizations and people.

Strategic thinking is about:

  • Clarifying the existing work
  • Assessing financial and mission performance of core activities
  • Monitoring trends in the operating environment
  • Testing the assumptions behind strategic plans
  • Adjusting or discarding a strategy
  • Deciding to do fewer things in order to do things better.

Strategic thinking requires leaders (staff and volunteers) to:

  • Take and lead efforts in leaps of faith
  • See and believe in a vastly different, radically better future
  • Create the culture and infrastructure for the organization.

So what is the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking? Strategy is the coordinated action to create and sustain a competitive advantage in carrying out an organization’s mission. Strategic thinking is the actual practice that creates and builds an organization’s muscle to be continuous strategic thinkers. Strategic thinking is the driver and strategic planning is the resulting roadmap. Organizations need to continuously think and act strategically.