Michel H. Moussatche

Strategic Thinking and the “Why?”

Before deciding whether Strategic Thinking is a simple concept, one must define the proper definition of strategy and how to describe Strategic Thinking. One difficulty with language is that words can have different meanings depending on the context and purpose they serve. A way to illustrate this difficulty came to mind based on how nicely John Locke puts it; “…how difficult it is to show the various meanings and imperfections of words when we have nothing else but words to do it with. (John Locke, 1979)

If we were to define strategy as a means to an end, it would be a simplistic view which Mintzberg defines as a Strategic Plan in his text “The Strategy Concept I – Five Ps for Strategy,” or as a set of plans or decisions made in an effort to help organizations achieve their objectives (Alex R. Miller, Gregory G. Dess, 1996). In this case, I would have to agree that strategy is quite a simple concept. It becomes clear to me that there is no need for scholars to overcomplicate this idea if we keep this definition in mind. Unfortunately, this is how many managers and companies utilize the concept of strategy, which creates a focused vision to the detriment of peripheral information that can be crucial for decision-making. After reading the material, I was surprised by how easy it is and how companies I have worked for have been sucked into this shallow strategy thought at different times. In hindsight, I now see in some cases that by creating this laser focus strategy approach, we ended up missing opportunities around us that could have been a better option, but we did not realize it at that moment.

With this in mind, I find that I need to understand more about strategy from a perspective of where it is an “ingrained way of perceiving the world” (Mintzberg, 1987), and I must agree that Strategic Thinking, in my opinion, is a much more complicated topic. By agreeing with the statement that Strategic Thinking is a complicated issue, I do not intend to define it as a complex concept but rather as a difficult task to accomplish. Once we determine that Strategic Thinking is how a company perceives the world, it becomes evident that leaders in a company must have a deep understanding of the reason for the company’s existence in order to think strategically. In contrast, it is, in my view, a very challenging task to handle. Therefore, it should and can only be well-orchestrated by thoroughly involved managers with a macro view of the business and a micro understanding of the operation.

A book I have read in the past, “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek, explains the successes and failures of companies based on how they define themselves. Sinek determines that every company has a What (they do), a How (they do it), and a Why (they do it). For him, most managers define their companies by What they do, then by How they do it, and rarely state or even understand Why they do it. For Sinek, this is a big mistake, and he demonstrates his idea with companies that have success because, in his opinion, they know their purpose. For Sinek, the companies that can change the world and inspire people, start by describing themselves by “Why” they do what they do.

I like this “Why” concept, but I bring up Sinek because the reading about strategic thinking and the definition of “strategy as a perspective” from Mintzberg directly connects to the idea of a company being defined by what Sinek calls its “Why.” When combining these ideas, I started thinking that a company that knows why it exists and has a well-defined purpose has a clear path to defining its strategy. By having these clear ideas, this company has engraved in its core values its worldview. It is strategically thinking about every action it might take, as small as it might be, even without a formal written down strategy, as the concept is commonly misused.

Reflecting more on the entire statement, I also cannot forget that a crucial part of it is “…therefore, useless for practitioners.” I must say that when I first read the question, I felt that it was too extreme and should not be discarded by practitioners because the concept is a complicated task. After carefully reading the assigned material and reflecting on what Mintzberg writes about the necessity of understanding strategic thinking, as in the passage below, I reconsidered my initial opinion:

"…capturing what the manager learns from all sources (both the soft insights from his or her personal experiences and the experiences of others throughout the organization and the hard data from market research and the like and then synthesizing that learning into a vision of the direction that the business should pursue." (Mintzberg, 1994)

I agree that strategic thinking is not intended nor possible at all levels of a company. If we consider, as mentioned previously, that to formulate a strategic thought, one must be immersed in the way the company sees the world and aware of the inner workings of the business as a whole, this becomes a task that is too complicated to most. Therefore should be ignored by most practitioners so it is not misused and subsequently causes more harm than good.

In conclusion, my opinion is that Strategic Thinking is, in fact, a complicated issue and, therefore, useless for most practitioners. Thus, company leaders should be in charge of capturing the company’s worldview and defining its why. Using strategic thinking, they may lead their teams to create a strategic plan, or as Mintzberg prefers to call it, the Strategic Program. I honestly hope and plan that in the future, as I have the opportunity to lead an organization, I have the knowledge and capacity to establish a Strategic Thinking culture in the company I lead.

Credit: The original work for this article was done for ADM730 – Fundamentals of Strategic Thinking @ COPPEAD – Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in May 2022


  • Christensen, Andrews & Bower (1965) The Concept of Strategy. Business Policy: Text and Cases, book chapter, p. 107-111.
  • Locke, John, and P H. Nidditch. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.
  • Miller, Alex, and Gregory Dess. Strategic Management (Mcgraw-Hill Series in Management). 2nded., Mcgraw-Hill College, 1996.
  • Mintzberg, H. (1987) The Strategy Concept I: Five Ps for Strategy. California Management Review, 30(1): 11-17, 20-24 (excerpts).
  • Mintzberg, Henry. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning: Reconceiving Roles for Planning, Plans, Planners. New York: Toronto: Free Press; Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1994.
  • Sinek, Simon. Start with Why. Penguin Books, 2011
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