Recently I had a chance to catch up with a lifelong friend; he was just finishing a project halfway around the world for a very large firm. My buddy has always been a little “out there”; I remembered years ago when we were travelling together on business, he went to stretch his legs and left the book he was reading on the seat next to me. I picked it up and read the first paragraph five times and could not make sense of it. I knew most of the words; it had something to do with dust particles, the sun’s rays and reverse magnetism, pretty deep stuff.
Peter was always speaking about “strategic imagination” and the difference with strategic planning. Planning is grounded in yesterday and has an unspoken bias that tomorrow will be like it (yesterday). Peter loves to use the visual of Spock, from Star Trek, playing 3-D chess. This game was designed to exercise his mind, to get him to think in multiple planes, not only was he playing multiple games but he had to protect from actions on all levels.
My friend Peter changed his focus from the cerebral, emotionless Vulcan Spock to Alice in wonderland. Remember when Alice asks:
“Alice asked,…would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.“
Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go,” said the Cat.“
—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat.
Peter continued, Often people like to use this piece as a metaphor for you have to have a plan and that’s ok. A strategic imagination requires more than a plan.
Strategic Imagination involves openness to questions, challenges and uncertainty. A sober assessment would indicate that we never possess perfect information. Every strategic decision is a wager—a hypothesis predicated on uncertainty. But imaginative leaders know that risk and reward are tightly correlated. As a consequence, they view uncertainty not as a handicap, leading to a paralysis of judgment, but as an opportunity for innovation, with huge potential rewards for the organization.
If bouncing from Gene Rodenberry top Lewis Carroll was not enough, now Peter brought in Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi. Wow, now I was back reading about dust, light and reverse magnetism. Like his friend Spock, Sun Tzu said we need to plan, prepare and imagine on three levels. He wrote of Heaven, man and ground. We might consider the environment (ground), our Team, our company ( man) and competitors (ground). I was totally lost!
Peter scolded and called me an uneducated, deficient in judgment, good sense, or intelligence; person and asked why I have ever existed so long. He chided, “it’s your job to have a strategic imagination, to be a strategically imaginative leader who can survey past trends and current circumstances in a creative way that enables the organization’s core values to find new and richer expression in the future.”