What are the characteristics people who think strategically? Are there elements of their personality that facilitates their use of strategic thinking?
Curiosity, ambition, and pragmatism (CAP) are three important traits of strategic thinkers. These traits do not define strategic thinking nor strategic thinkers, but they provide a form of energy that motivates them to acquire and practice effective strategic thinking.
Strategic thinkers are intellectually curious. They ask questions in purposeful kinds of ways. Here are a few quotes that illustrate curiosity as a trait of strategic thinkers.
- “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein
- “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney
- “I have never read for entertainment, but rather for understanding and to satisfy my eager curiosity.” Bryant H. McGill
Strategic thinking is hard work for most in that thinking strategically takes people out of their comfort zone. The ambition of the individual is a driving force in overcoming the status quo. Here are just a few quotes by accomplished people on the importance of ambition:
- “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” Salvador Dali
- “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.” Bill Bradley
- “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.” Abraham Lincoln
- “If the leader is filled with high ambition and if he pursues his aims with audacity and strength of will, he will reach them in spite of all obstacles.” Karl Von Clausewitz
Pragmatism is more than simply being “practical.” Pragmatism is the balance of action with reflection, as I explained in this article, action without thought is impulsiveness and thought without action is procrastination. Pragmatism is concerned with innovation and it is concerned with what works.
Pragmatism says to the prior two factors of ambition and curiosity, “Don’t go overboard. Keep perspective.”
For example, unmitigated ambition can be dangerous. Many tyrants and despots have the ambition for power, but not the ethical framework to apply their power for a higher-order principle.
Curiosity, too, can be taken to an unproductive extreme. Some people are nothing more than dreamers, accomplishing little. We want to strive for a balancing of thought and action. Consider this quote from the musician Bono.
- “You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong.” Bono
Pragmatism tempers the tendency to get lost in conceptualizing and moralizing. It adds purposefulness to dreaming.
Do you agree that ambition, curiosity, and pragmatism are three traits of strategic thinkers?