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Preparing to think fast


I know a guy who comes across as one of the most articulate, brightest folks I’ve met. He seems to always know what to say and states it with aplomb. His ability to think on his feet is amazing – until you ask him about it. You see, his real talent is in disciplined preparation. To avoid thinking on his feet, he prepares for interactions by scripting them and anticipating possible responses.

His intellect is high, but no more so than many others. He’s just prepared. And that planning, especially when combined with years of experience, allows him to respond to most situations quickly, confidently and eloquently.

President Dwight Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”

So it is for my acquaintance. And so it is for business strategy.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman wrote the book Thinking, Fast and Slow. I believe the topic applies to business strategy as well as individuals. To be responsive, to take advantage of speed as a competitive advantage, I believe you must first incorporate some preparation — some slow and deliberate thinking. About what?

  • What technology trends will impact my company?
  • What demographic trends can we take advantage of?
  • What adjacent industries might impact us or vice versa?
  • What skills and competencies will my company need in the future?
  • What will my competitors look like?
  • What will my customers want in the future?
  • How would a more socialistic state impact my business?

If you think carefully about those questions (and many others), you can more easily think fast when an opportunity or challenge arises.

I was just at a thought-leadership conference with some talented colleagues, and we had a dynamic speaker. He talked about the seminal moments in his life that led to his success. It wasn’t so much about brilliance at the precise moment, but rather what he did to prepare that allowed him to identify the moment and do the right thing. The same principle applies to business.

I believe speed can be an extremely important tool in your business, but only if you’ve done the required careful thinking in preparation.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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