Train your eyes on the horizon

Humans can love, laugh, manipulate numbers and create, but we lag behind the rest of the animal kingdom when it comes to sensing things beyond our normal field of vision. Peripheral vision, that part of sight outside the centre of a gaze, is weaker in humans for solid physiological reasons. Loss of peripheral vision can lead to tunnel vision, and as any executive knows, that’s a dangerous place to be in a fluid, fast-changing environment. For entrepreneur and author, Paul Schoemaker, cultivating peripheral vision is an essential part of being a genuine strategic thinker. “Every leader’s temptation is to deal with what’s directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete,” says Schoemaker. “If you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff.” Many executives struggle to be “strategic”, he says, because they simply don’t know what strategic leaders are supposed to do. That confusion was reflected in Strategy& research last year, which found a lack of confidence among business leaders that their strategies will actually deliver the goods. Researchers Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi say an “incoherence” was evident in the early findings, with many executives citing “too many conflicting priorities” as their biggest frustration. In Schoemaker’s view, accomplished strategic thinkers have their priorities sorted and do six things well: anticipate, think critically, interpret ambiguity, make decisions, achieve alignment, and learn, especially from failure. “Frankly, no-one is born a black belt in all these different skills,” Schoemaker cautions. “But they can be taught, and whatever gaps exist in your skillset can be filled in.”

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