A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a distinction between two types of
thinking – map thinking and list thinking.
In a chance’ conversation this week with a former colleague Mark, we started to explore how these two mindsets might apply to the thorny world of strategy.
To start off, there are many interpretations of what strategy actually is. Without getting into that complicated debate, I turn to my favourite working definition which comes from my interpretation of Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy.
In Rumelt’s work, strategy consists of three key elements: a diagnosis of the current state, a set of guiding principles, and a plan of action.
List thinking, it strikes me, is very difficult to apply to much within the
Rumelt model other than the last part. Planning is often a list-making
To be able to analyse and diagnose a current scenario, however, is surely a map-based way of working for all but the most predictable of scenarios?
I can see how one could describe the sorts of checklists used in the aircraft industry as a diagnostic tool, and similarly things like maturity frameworks can fall into this category. Maybe that’s what maturity frameworks are – strategic diagnostics for list thinkers?
Strategy is going to be a bit one-dimensional, however, if all you can
perceive are linear paths. Good diagnosis comes from the synthesis of data from multiple sources.
When it comes to guiding principles for change, again a multi-dimensional approach is surely required? Its vision plus prioritisation plus an appreciation of multiple stakeholders that need to combine for a successful strategic approach.
If such a thing as map and list-based thinking exists, I imagine that people exist on a continuum, with different preferences in different circumstances.
The key, though, is understanding when your preferred styles might not be appropriate and then acting accordingly.
I think there are also challenges of how to communicate map-type information to list-preferring people and vice-versa.This continues to be a work in progress.
Thanks to Mark Harrison for the phone call that led to this post.