What is Strategic Thinking?

Lesson Content

Inquire: Strategic Thinking


Because it takes less effort, it may be more desirable to just “wing” a task and hope for the best. However, this often results in much poorer results than if thought were put into the action a person takes in accomplishing a goal. Thinking about a task and deciding how to act on it is an essential skill for a person to have. In this lesson, students will examine strategic thinking and identify ways to utilize it in their endeavors. Students will also identify ways to improve their strategic thinking skills, as strategic thinking takes just as much practice as anything else.

Big Question

What does it mean to think strategically?

Read: Learn to Think Strategically


Have you ever been assigned a project in a class and waited until the very last minute to get it done? Have you ever been given a challenge that you tackled without giving it much thought? Have you ever found yourself saying “I’ll just wing it” or “I’ll just get it over with and I’m sure everything will be fine?”

This is a terrible idea!

Why run blindly into a challenge without first taking a step back to create a plan? Analyzing a problem and coming up with a solution could very well be the deciding factor in whether one succeeds or fails. Attempting to accomplish something without strategizing how to achieve the goal sets up the possibility of so many circumstances going wrong. If an issue arises, it is less likely it will be fixed, which will only make matters worse. Creating a plan before tackling a challenge can be done via strategic thinking, and this is a skill that all students will likely need to utilize at some point during their academic career.

What is Strategic Thinking?

Creating a plan or strategy is the first major step in ensuring that a challenge can be easily overcome. This is what is known as strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is defined as the mental process an individual goes through to achieve a goal. There are several ways a person can strategize. When tasked with writing a paper, conducting a pre-write (like an outline or an annotated bibliography) is an excellent way of strategizing. In mathematics, there are sometimes multiple ways to solve a math problem.

Deciding which mathematical method to use would be a great first step at using strategic thinking to solve the problem. When driving to a destination, a roadblock or detour may throw a person off their predetermined path. In this case, strategic thinking could be utilized to come up with another driving route to get to the destination. Otherwise, the person could spend the entire day driving around, but never arriving at their destination. Strategic thinking can, and should be, utilized in everything a person does. It can make all the difference when trying to succeed at a challenge or accomplishing a goal.

How to Be a Strategic Student

Students inevitably face a wide variety of challenges in academics. Every assignment, test, quiz, and even extracurricular activity will require students to consider a challenge and find ways to overcome it. This is where strategic thinking can really come in handy. Here are some ways to be a strategic thinker:

  • Take your time. Sometimes, taking a bit of time to think about the problem and examine it can make all the difference. Never rush into something without thinking about it first. What if you forget about a piece of the assignment, and this impacts your grade? What if you didn’t read the prompt of the essay well enough and now you’ve written a paper that has little to do with what the paper was supposed to be about? Really taking the time to go over the requirements and consider the challenge can go a long way in helping to make the right decisions to achieve greatness. Be sure not to take too much time, though. Strategizing is necessary, but so is acting on it!
  • DecorativeThink creatively. The solution to the issue may not always be obvious from the start. It may take some thinking outside of the box to come up with a solution that not only overcomes the challenge, but works best for you specifically.
  • Consider your own strengths and weaknesses. There may be a few solutions to a problem, but one solution may be better than the others simply based on your own skills and abilities. For example, when doing a multiplication problem, you could use the old method that you are used to or a newer version that was taught more recently in schools. Depending on your experience solving math problems, you may determine that you would be much better off trying to solve the problem with the method you know best, rather than the newer method. Knowing yourself and being honest about your own capabilities is a major asset as a student.

Reflect: Where Do You Strategize the Most?


Whether or not you are aware of it, you think strategically about various tasks in your life when trying to overcome them. Where do you most often find yourself thinking strategically?

Expand: Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills


No person can be expected to be an expert at strategic thinking. Strategic thinking isn’t a gift that certain people are born with, but rather, it takes practice to improve this ability. If you feel like your strategic thinking skills are not where you want them to be, have no worries. This section will provide some suggestions on how to improve your strategic thinking skills.

Improving Strategic Thinking Skills

There are several ways a person can improve their strategic thinking skills. These skills take work, but are ultimately so worth building and possessing. Here are some ways to work on building strategic thinking skills:

  • Practice thinking. The more time you spend thinking, the more likely you’ll be able to think strategically about challenges. Think about anything. Think about your day or your interests. Try to make connections between ideas as often as possible, as this can act as a sort of mental exercise to get better at thinking overall.
  • Practice creativity. Often, people get stuck in habits because they’re comfortable and predictable. However, trying something new every once in a while can make you a more mentally flexible person. If a person takes the same route to work every day, they should try another route every once in a while just to keep their brain active and motivated. Try thinking of new ways to accomplish goals you already accomplish every day, and you’ll find that thinking outside the box and creating plans becomes easier with this type of practice.
  • Consider other points of view. When talking with someone and sharing stories and opinions, try to imagine being in the other person’s shoes when they speak. Can you understand where they are coming from and why they have these opinions? Could you relate if you were in their position? Sometimes, it really helps to understand that there is always more than one way of viewing or understanding something, and this can help with making plans to accomplish goals.

Check Your Knowledge

Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.

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Additional Resources and Readings

Strategic Thinking: 11 Critical Skills Needed

An article providing 11 skills used for successful strategic thinking

6 Ways You Can Improve Your Strategic Thinking

An article listing six ways to improve strategic thinking skills

How College Students Can Gain Strategic Thinking Skills

An article discussing strategic thinking skills for college students

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License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Kody Long for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0

Media Sources

Think outside of the boxKaboompics .comPexelsCC 0
Thought IdeaTeroVesalainenPixabayCC 0
Driving Steering WheelFree-PhotosPixabayCC 0
DecorativeHomework School ProblemtjevansPixabayCC 0