Strategic Thinking for the 21st Century Talent Development Professional

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The National Cancer Institute successfully used strategic thinking to innovate: It switched its focus from finding a cure to seeking a neutralizer for the enzyme that causes cancer. 

What are you doing to spur your strategic thinking in talent development? 

Let’s take a look at an organization known for innovation: Google. How does it apply its innovation to talent development? First, it uses a lifestyle strategy to hire and keep top talent. The company sells potential employees on fun at work, not high salaries and generous vacation policies. A free cafeteria, all-you-can-eat buffets, dog-friendly offices, and quirky seating also attracts the attention of high performers. What’s more, Google also provides their engineers with time to work on innovative and creative side projects—yielding sustainability for Google annually. 

To apply strategic thinking to talent development, you must possess four key competencies.  These competencies will give you the capability to think innovatively and turn your most trivial job responsibility into an exceptional opportunity for your company’s sustainability—just like Google does. 

  1. Discipline your mind like an entrepreneur.
  2. Discipline your mind like a market leader.
  3. Discipline your mind like a kindergartner.
  4. Discipline your mind like an explorer. 

Competency #1: Discipline Your Mind Like an Entrepreneur 

You must consistently search for ideas and manipulate your knowledge and experience.  Case in point: Edwin Land invented the Polaroid camera because his young daughter, on a walk in the woods, asked him why she could not immediately see the pictures he took. 

Strategically create probabilities out of possibilities by looking for a multitude of potential answers to any problem or challenge. Have fun with problems and play with ideas. Take deliberate breaks from regular work. Encourage feedback from a variety of sources in your idea journal. 

Try this exercise to see how it works: Imagine an umbrella and consider the following questions:

  1. What else can it be used for?
  2. What could be used instead of umbrella?
  3. How could the umbrella be modified for a new use? 

Competency #2: Discipline Your Mind Like a Market Leader 

You must build a superior thinking style using analogy to create a comparison between one event or item and something else that has similar elements. Here’s an example of how this sort of thinking works: “Life is like a grapefruit. Just as you start to enjoy it, it squirts you in the eye.” Life and a grapefruit is the comparison.  

Now apply this to your own work. Strategically reinvent your economic environment, marketplace, or image of your role by pinning up pictures, notes, and cartoons on a wall you regularly see. This will trigger your mind to incubate ideas and shape solutions to challenges you face. 

Competency #3: Discipline Your Mind Like a Kindergartner 

If you see a large dot on a whiteboard, how would you answer this question: “What is that?”  Kindergartners would not say “a dot” because they look for lots of possible right and wrong answers.  The rules may not be challenged by you because you are locked into one method, approach, and even strategy. Avoid such thinking as: 

  • “We tried it before.”
  • “It would take too much time.” 
  • “It’s not my job.” 
  • “That’s not how we do it here.”  

Competency #4: Discipline Your Mind Like an Explorer 


You must pay attention to your inner voice. Consider the following story: “The president of a large restaurant chain headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, flabbergasted his staff when he made a decision to build a restaurant in a rundown warehouse area.  Two years later the new restaurant was the chain’s top moneymaker and the neighborhood around it was revitalized.” 

In essence, this is using both sides of your brain:

  • logically define the problem [left brain]
  • generate possibilities and change your wording [right brain]. 

For example, pose the question “What opening can we use here?” rather than “What door can we use here?” The word “door” influences your thinking. 
Finally, do not limit yourself to your own expertise. For example, schedule “exploring time” into your work day or week to read magazines relevant to areas outside your specialty. 

Applying Function Analysis

Organization strategic thinking means creating deliberate innovative change. A function analysis can help you systematically challenge the tasks of a job or steps in a process with an eye toward elimination or simplification. Here are the steps to conducting a function analysis:

Step 1 - Select a job/process to be analyzed.

Step 2 – List the activities/steps of the job/process.

Step3 – List the time and or cost of the activities/steps.

Step 4 – Select an activity for analysis (high cost or time).

Step 5 – Challenge the reason for the activity/step. Consider the question: What would happen if we did not do this activity/step?

Step 6 – Decide if elimination is possible:

Step 7 – If elimination is not possible, can the activity/process/step be simplified? 

  • Can we do it another way? How?
  • Can we do it less frequently? How?
  • Can we combine it with another task? How?
  • Can someone else do it? Who?
  • Can we do it another time? When?
  • Does duplication exist? Where?
  • What step(s) in the process might be a cause of the problem?

Step 8 – Select the best idea(s) for simplifying the activity/step. (This is strategic thinking that innovates.)

Step 9 – Outline the job improvement proposal and benefits of new methods, including:

  • cost benefits
  • safety benefits
  • quality benefits
  • employee benefits
  • customer benefits. 

Step 10 – Obtain approval and support and implement the changes.

Share how you spur your own strategic thinking when managing talent development at your organization in the Comments below. 

About the Author
Carrie Van Daele is president and CEO of Van Daele & Associates (, which features her Train the Trainer System for trainers and subject matter experts. Her company was founded in 1996 as a training and development firm in the areas of train the trainer, continuous process improvements, and leadership. It is a Certified Woman-Owned Business. Carrie is the author of  50 One-Minute Tips for Trainers. She is also a public speaker and a featured writer for several publications and organizations, such as the Association for Talent Development,  Women of Achievement magazine,  Quality Digest magazine, and  FM & T magazine. Her degrees include an AA from Evangel Bible College, a BS from Indiana University, and an MSM from Indiana Wesleyan University. 
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