Book Review: 'Ahead of the Curve: A Guide to Applied Strategic Thinking' by Steven J. Stowell and Stephanie S. Mead
Ahead of the Curve: A Guide to Applied Strategic Thinking Steven J. Stowell and Stephanie S. Mead CMOE Press (2005) How applied strategic thinking will help you search for future solutions that are more productive and enjoyable”
What we have in this book (published in 2005) is a solid introduction to the fundamentals of strategic thinking but also, according to co-authors Steven Stowell and Stephanie Mead, “how to become a strategic force in [one’s] own work, career, team, or life – how to truly ignite change for the better.” In other words, how to make better decisions that have greater impact now, soon, or in weeks and months to come. Moreover, the material that Stowell and Mead provide can prepare their reader to help others to do so.
To help organize their information, insights, and counsel, they have devised what they characterize as a “Strategic Landscape” overview (see Page 11) that has four quadrants or zones in which one type of thinker is dominant:
Zone I: The Operator who produces, reacts, and expedites Zone II: The Inventor who discovers, improves, and refines Zone III: The Planner who anticipates, prepares, and preempts Zone IV: The Strategist who innovates, designs, and risks
Stowell and Mead realize that different skills must be mastered to achieve success in each of the four, and, that the nature and extent of an answer to a question or a solution to a problem will vary but believe, nonetheless, that the strategic thinking can make that determination. The defining characteristics of the thought process are practical, personalized, future focused, aligned, and emerging. “In essence, applied strategic thinking will help you search for future solutions that are more productive and enjoyable.”
There are no head-snapping revelations in this book, nor do Steven Stowell and Stephanie Mead make any such claim. The process they introduced eight years ago remains as sound now as it was then. In any organization, a capability for firefighting is highly desirable but one of effectively applied strategic thinking is that it can help prevent “fires” or at least lessen their damage.
One final point. Years ago, Michael Porter observed, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” It is imperative, therefore, that the focus of applied strategic thinking be on the right question to answer, the right problem to solve, or the right opportunity to evaluate.
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.