A good strategy is an innovative strategy. Without the flexibility provided by innovation, your strategy will grow stale and stagnant—and your organization will soon follow.

In my most recent book, Optimizing Strategy for Results: A Structured Approach to Make Your Business Come Alive, my co-authors Ron Price, Professor Tim Waema, and I outline seven stages for building an optimal strategy. Stage three is where the options come in because this stage is where you exercise creative strategic thinking to inform possibilities. This part of strategy is critical—organizations need to know what options are available to them to build the most successful strategy.

As strategy correlates to innovation, this is the Develop Stage of our Six-Stage innovation model. You are working to develop a strategy to move the organization forward. If you are looking to innovate your strategy, use your innovation skills to create strategic options that make the most of your organization’s strengths, take advantage of opportunities, and avoid potential challenges.

What are strategic options and why do we need them?

In the first stage of optimizing your strategy, you defined who the business was. In the second stage, you looked at the environment it exists in. Now, in stage 3, you need to look at what you’re going to do about it—this is your opportunity to think about the future.

Think of options as ideas. It takes a large quantity of ideas to create a great strategy, just like it takes a large quantity of ideas to successfully innovate. Once you have all of these ideas, you can align them within the larger picture of your business strategy and the organization’s goals. This is when you use creative strategic thinking to select the options that will help navigate the organization to the future its stakeholders want.

It’s important to emphasize that without going through the process to create options, companies will just copy their existing strategy, copy the competition, or simply hope. Unfortunately, far too many organizations do this because they don’t want to invest time in innovating their strategy. You must remember strategy is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process that needs continual attention throughout the lifetime of the business. Without this continued work, you risk the strength, stability, and relevance of the organization.

How can you use your innovation skills to create strategic options?

Strategic thinking is founded on four skills: creativity, futuristic thinking, flexibility, and data analysis. These are also foundational ideation skills—something critical for successful innovation. Use these four skills as you gather options for your strategy.

  1. Creativity is key in idea generation, and you can use this skill to both come up with new ideas and to creatively analyze those ideas. With options, you first want to have as many as possible.
  2. Futuristic thinking helps you to envision the possibilities if your ideas are applied—or if they are not applied. You want to be able to think through all of the “what-ifs” to strengthen your conviction on a particular option.
  3. Flexibility is useful in this stage because you aren’t making any final decisions yet. Rather, you’re thinking in, out, and around your current context. You could be combining, contrasting, converting, or contextualizing your ideas. You don’t necessarily need to believe the idea will work; you only need to be open to the possibility.
  4. Data analysis is also critical. With this skill, you can take one idea and turn it into dozens more using tools like SCAMPER (substitute, combine, add, modify/magnify, put to other use, eliminate, rearrange/reverse). This practice helps you look at an idea from all angles and to see new opportunities.

With these four skills, you essentially put your ideas to the test to determine the best strategic options for your organization. I used these methods with a client whose main product was syrup, to great success. Using SCAMPER, the team asked themselves questions like, “How many products can you make with syrup?” “What if people stop using it?” “What do they combine it with?” to come up with more than 15 different uses for syrup—a variety of potential strategic options for the organization’s next strategic move.

Options are the input for your eventual strategy and are the most important part of developing your strategy. This is where the status quo really comes into question because if you don’t create options, you’ll just end up in the past. However, if you’re really creative, can think futuristically, be open to many possibilities, and be able to analyze many different ideas, your strategic options will lead you to the future you want.

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