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Can Strategic Thinking Be Learned?

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Can strategic thinking be learned


1. Start with the right questions.

If you are working in a theme park or running a prison, what business are you in? If you answered running attractions and rides or holding convicted criminals, then you are not really answering the question, ‘What business are you in?’

Looking at the business from a higher perspective, what do theme parks do?

They bring fun and joy to people. You are in the business of delivering fun and happiness. That's how Disney defines their business.

2. ‘What is the game you are currently playing?

What is the sandbox and what are the rules of the game?’

Winning in any game, requires players to visualise a strategic outcome, a desired strategic position that will allow them to beat their competitors. This requires players to strategize their moves, placing their resources according to trade-offs and determining specific actions to achieve the desired strategic position.

Many people see their job role as defined by their job description. They have defined their ‘sandbox’ strictly within the boundaries of the job description and refused to do more. The job description is the minimum expectation and requirement to work in the organisation. No boss will expect their staff to do the minimum.

The job is not the game. What then is the game for individuals?

For some, up is the only way while for others the game is a productive and meaningful career and worth. Pick your game wisely or be trapped in a job ‘sandbox’. Instead of just following what has been done previously, take the opportunity to push the job boundaries, redefine what the job requires and examine what brings value to the organisation.

3. Ask, ‘What are the rules in this game? Businesses are always governed by rules and regulations.

All organisations have overt and tacit norms, and rules which form the culture of the organisation. Surviving in any organisation involves understanding what and how the rules are being played.

I remember I worked in a startup in the early 2000 and on the first day of work, I was preparing to leave the office at 7 p.m. and one colleague made a snide remark, ‘Wah, can leave so early.’ In that start-up, people were either in long meetings or having long lunches. They would stay back very late at night showing the bosses that they were hardworking. That’s the culture and if you want to be noticed you must stay back late and pretend to be busy.

One must be able to navigate the rules of that game in order to thrive in that sandbox.

Organisational and individual success depends on working out the business you are in, playing the right game and mastering the rules of that game.

Connect with us if you want to know more about other key questions and processes in strategic thinking.


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