Clarify Your Thinking

Finding it hard to think straight with all of the noise and distractions? Feeling stuck in indecision mode and analysis paralysis?

Let’s explore the concept of critical thinking, and how to think and plan more strategically, so you can take decisive action and make more effective long-term decisions.

[Full Transcript]

Finding it hard to think straight with all of the noise and distractions? Feeling stuck in indecision mode and analysis paralysis?

Let’s explore the concept of critical thinking, and how to think and plan more strategically, so you can take decisive action and make more effective long-term decisions.

Defining “Strategic” Thinking

We all think, right?

True. But not all thinking is equal. Strategic thinking looks very different from the typical day-to-day reactive thought loops many entrepreneurs are stuck in. In order to start thinking in a way that leads to better outcomes, you need to rethink how you think.

Strategic Thinking Vs Reactive Thinking

Let’s start by clarifying what “strategy” actually is. In business, the word strategy gets thrown around a lot, and used in ways that are actually a bit misleading, distracting, and counterproductive.

For example:

“Our strategy is to become the number one provider of XYZ in our market.”

“We’re attending a strategy session to set our financial targets for next year.”

“My strategy is to open up a new satellite office every few months as we continue to grow.”

Becoming the number one provider or opening a new office isn’t a strategy, it’s a goal. Likewise, setting targets for next year isn’t a strategic conversation, it’s a goal-setting conversation.

Why does it matter if we use the word “strategy” in the wrong ways? Because it prevents us from using it in the right ways. And when used correctly, strategy may be the most important business tool you’ll ever have.

Good strategy has three main components, according to Richard Rumelt, author of Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, and The Crux: How Leaders Become Strategists.

  • A clear diagnosis of the challenge being faced.
  • An overall guiding policy explaining how the challenge will be met.
  • A set of coherent actions designed to focus energy and resources.

The key differences between this framing of strategy and the typical use of the word “strategic” are the focus on challenges, specific approach, and actions—three things that are often missing in far too many business conversations.

Worthy business goals, by definition, are not easily achieved. If you already knew the exact actions to take to achieve them, you would have likely done so already. What constitutes as “strategic goals” are usually just company initiatives—with some superficial action items thrown in.

But true strategy involves taking a step back, honestly assessing the obstacles that stand in the way of your goals, and figuring out specific solutions to those obstacles.

To be “strategic” doesn’t mean simply throwing some numbers and financial targets onto a slide deck, and sketching out a few action items for reaching those goals. To “become the number one provider of XYZ in our market” is a meaningless target, unless it’s supported by much deeper (and honest) thinking about how you’ll actually reach it.

Why Strategic Thinking is Critical For Entrepreneurs

Strategic thinking is all about problem solving. And to solve hard problems, we need to go beyond just changing what we think. We need to fine-tune how we think.

The quality of your thinking determines the quality of your results. By improving your ability to think strategically, you’ll improve your odds at success in your business by:

  • Minimizing habitual reactions to challenges.
  • Tapping into a deeper source of intelligence.
  • Taking control over what you can (your focus, motivation, and intention).
  • Maximizing your creativity and ability to solve problems.
  • Prioritizing your options and actions, and focusing your effort on what really matters.
  • Maintaining focus on the long game, and making better long-term decisions.
  • Improving your understanding of the entire playing field by seeing it from multiple perspectives.
  • Making your plans more manageable by breaking down complex goals and challenges into smaller, focused steps.

What’s Blocking Us From Thinking More Strategically

Group Think

When we habitually follow the herd, we short-circuit our ability to think critically.

  • Instead of consciously setting our own agenda, we rely on other people or external forces to do it for us.
  • Instead of questioning first and then taking the most appropriate action, we automatically comply without considering other options.
  • Instead of leading, we follow, trading our agency and autonomy for popularity and acceptance.

Many entrepreneurs start a business for the freedom to make their own choices. But the potential to succumb to group think still lurks around every corner. One example is the tendency to look to thought leaders and experts for advice, without considering whether that advice is actually relevant or even true.

Our advice-driven social media economy has created an echo chamber of marketing, sales, and other business “best practices.” Statements like “I did XYZ, and got this great result. So you should do XYZ too!” lack context. Just because something worked in one situation for one business, doesn’t mean it will work in others. Business advice (including the advice I share in this blog) is most useful when it’s a starting point for critical thinking, not a replacement for it.

Clinging to Certainty

Ambiguity and uncertainty can be extraordinarily uncomfortable. We’d much rather “know” than “not know.” So instead of facing the discomfort of not knowing, we look for a sense of certainty by sticking with what’s familiar—our past experience, conditioned beliefs, and assumptions about the world. We then jump to conclusions based on a very narrow understanding of the situation, and take impulsive action based on these mental shortcuts.

But that rush to action keeps us stuck repeating the same tired patterns over and over. Building a business is a dynamic process, with countless moving parts to contend with on an ongoing basis. The truth is that we can never be completely certain of anything in life or in business—the world and everything in it is in constant flux.

By clinging to the known, we create an artificially narrow and limited view of our own potential. We play small and keep our minds closed to different ways of approaching the challenges and opportunities in front of us. Our own scope of vision gets smaller and smaller, and our business aspirations follow until there’s not much left to work with.

Addiction to Busyness

Thinking deeply requires us to carve out space in our days. Quiet time to reflect on challenges and explore ideas for overcoming them.

Our best ideas may not come to us during those moments of stillness—instead, they may hit us as sudden “aha!” moments and insights while driving, playing with our kids, or showering. But in order for us to have those moments where these types of quality answers just hit us, we need to set the right conditions for those breakthroughs by first creating space to think.

Unfortunately, addiction to distractions, noise, and constant busyness seems to be at an all time high, and getting worse every day. Rather than face the temporary discomfort of being alone and quiet with our thoughts—or even (god forbid) feeling bored for a few minutes—we instead fill every moment of every day with constant external input, activities, and meetings.

We rush from one problem to another, spending each day putting out fires, but rarely slowing down long enough to deal with the sources of those flames. Worse, our hustle culture seems to reward this frenetic “doing.” We may complain about our back-to-back Zoom meetings or the fact that we rarely get the chance to eat lunch. But in a weird, twisted way, such self-abuse is almost a badge of honor.

Customers might not be able to tell how much talent you have at your chosen profession. But they can see that you’re booked solid morning to night. And that busyness is a signal to them (and to ourselves) of how in-demand, how valuable, we really are. It’s all a type of performance, a persona we’ve created, that distracts us from doing the really hard work—high-quality thinking.

How to Turn Things Around

Changing how we think is largely about changing a few key habits. We’ll dive into more details about strategic thinking in future posts. But for now, I want to ask you to “think about your thinking”—specifically the following habits—and just bring these mental tendencies into your awareness.

Which of the following statements resonate most with you? (Be honest with yourself, even if it means you’ve gotten caught up in some bad habits in the past. This is your opportunity to start turning things around.)

Status Quo Bias

A. I tend to question things and think for myself.

B. I tend to rely on group opinion, status quo, and established “best practices.”


A. I trust my internal guidance (gut feelings, insights, conscience).

B. I rely on external sources to make decisions (data, best practices, group consensus).

Space to Think

A. I regularly carve out quiet reflection time in order to do my best thinking.

B. Setting aside time to think is a luxury I don’t have.

Capturing Ideas

A. I use tools like white boards, note taking apps, or a journal to capture and work through my ideas.

B. I do all my thinking in my head.


A. I try lots of different things and then keep what works, testing my plans and strategies in the real world by making small, intentional bets rather than going all-in right from the start.

B. I wait until I feel certain about my plan, and then I “go big.”

In the next post, we’re going to move on to the topic of maximizing your impact. We’ll explore how to focus your time, energy, and attention on what really matters so you can accomplish more without burning out.

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