Ingrained in our daily conversation, we use the words so often that their meaning is diluted. In addition, the problem becomes worse when you consider the end result.
If you’re the leader, what are you asking team members to do – exactly? Is their expectation the same as yours? And if they don’t know, or there isn’t explicit agreement, will they perform as you need them to?
If you’re the team member, will you be able to successfully complete the task if you’re unclear on the leader’s direction or intent? Will you be wasting your time, or worse, look incompetent because your outcome doesn’t match the leader’s direction?
Over the years, I’ve gathered many definitions of strategic thinking and creative thinking. (You can find them using my tag ‘definitions.’) More important than the specific definition, it’s interesting to look at how they vary, and why.
The Differences between Creative or Strategic
Strategic Thinking is the ability to judge whether a specific situation or piece of information is right or wrong, based on its ability to help achieve a positive business outcome, or solve a business problem or issue. Strategic Thinking reduces information down to an insight. How accurately and quickly a person can reduce information to an insight is a useful definition of how ‘strategic’ someone is.
Creative Thinking is the ability to create as many potential ideas as possible, to achieve a positive business outcome, either by solving a problem or issue or fulfilling a wish or a need. Creative thinking expands upon the insight by creating many alternative plans, solutions or options. How many different ideas a person can quickly create is a useful definition of how ‘creative’ someone is.
Strategic Thinking is Left Brain Activity. It likes analyses, comparisons, categories, objectivity – anything that creates order.
Creative Thinking is Right Brain Activity. It likes colour, space, rhythm and images. It prefers to daydream, visualize, generate ideas – anything that stimulates the imagination.
Strategic Thinking asks: How can we organise?
Creative Thinking asks: What else can we do?
Strategic Thinking is convergent: it brings information together.
Creative Thinking is divergent: it shows differing or deviating sides to information.
Strategic Thinking: This side sees trees.
Creative Thinking: This side sees forests.
Editor’s Note #1
‘Left brain’ and ‘right brain’ joined the general vernacular when Roger Sperry won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his concept of the split-brain lateralisation in 1981. That said, I use these terms loosely. More importantly, while some brain functions are controlled by one side, I am not left brained nor right brained, just as I am not singularly strategic or creative.
Editor’s Note #2
From Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work by Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Straus. “The most widely recognised cognitive distinction is between left-brained and right-brained ways of thinking. This categorisation is more powerful metaphorically than it is accurate physiologically; not all the functions commonly associated with the left brain are located on the left side of the cortex and not all so-called right-brained functions are located on the right. Still, the simple description does usefully capture radically different ways of thinking.“)
See Creativity vs. Strategy: The Hour-Glass Figure to explain the artwork.
When someone has told you in the past to be strategic or creative, what did you think they meant?