|I’m often asked “What’s the difference between Strategic Thinking and Critical Thinking?”. A search on the internet will offer you a million opinions. Here’s one more.
Comparing Strategic Thinking and Critical Thinking is like comparing running and a pair of shoes. One is an activity and the other is a tool.
Critical Thinking is a toolset, a methodology, and a process that you use during activities such as problem solving, decision making, innovation, leading, negotiating, influencing, and more.
Strategic Thinking is another activity, joining the list above, where you use Critical Thinking as a tool. Strategic Thinking is thinking beyond the specific issue or task at hand. You look at consequences, implications, interdependencies, and indirect affects, all in both the short and longer term. It’s an activity where you look beyond the immediate goal or issue and with the context of the world around you, not just the content of the moment.
For example, take the act of buying a car. You’ll look at the price, the size, the gadgets and features, whether you need four-wheel drive, financing options, gas mileage, and how it feels and rides. Adding to this thinking might be some strategic thinking, such as how long you might keep the car and the resale value, if you’re thinking of moving to another climate and how the car will perform, what the long term maintenance costs might look like, if your kid is going to college in a few years and you’ll need a tow bar to hitch a carrier or even a bike rack, the total cost of the insurance premiums over the life of the vehicle, even if you’re planning a larger family and how that fits in.
In the process of the above thinking, you can use Critical Thinking to be clear on your objectives, and how those match the car attributes, to examine why those are your objectives and understand the priorities and how you should consider those strategic issues during your decision. You’ll look at the assumptions behind those strategic ideas to determine if they are realistic or unlikely. With the use of Critical Thinking, you’ll be able to evaluate the Strategic thoughts in a way that can provide you with a better understanding of how those factors weigh in, and if your “thinking” is sound.
I could use to lose a few pounds. Diet comes to mind. Strategic Thinking applied here would bring up other thoughts about life style changes, nutritional needs, exercise, long term health consequences, how my frequent travel affects my choices, etc. Critical Thinking techniques applied to these strategic ideas will enable me to create a successful plan … even with my love for chocolate donuts.
Can you be a Strategic Thinker without being a Critical Thinker? Another way to ask that question is can you Think Strategically without using the tools of Critical Thinking. Yes, you can, but the likelihood of error, or confusion, or misplaced priorities, or lack of clarity is high if you don’t use the tools that specifically aid there, i.e. critical thinking.
The Takeaway: Use Strategic Thinking when planning and making decisions about things that potentially have long lasting and significant consequences. Always use Critical Thinking as a tool to help you with this. Also, use Critical Thinking as a tool to help you with all the other activities mentioned above.