Subscribe to Nebo's Reflections

Strategic Imagination: The Breakthrough Mindset

What sets today’s iconic companies and organizations – Apple, Starbucks, Amazon, Netflix, Wholefoods, AirBnB, Uber, etc – apart from others? According to two business professors, it’s the strategic imagination of their founders and leaders.

Luis Martins, director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, and co-author Violina Rindova of the University of Southern California argue in a paper published in Advances in Strategic Management that the key to innovative business strategy lies in the leader’s ability to use a future-focused imagination.

A Future-focused Orientation

They describe strategic imagination as the ability to identify emerging social, technological, and economic trends – and how they may intersect – to conceptualize new markets and opportunities such as the launching the iPhone, globalizing café culture, and pioneering organic supermarkets. Strategic imagination means challenging deep-rooted assumptions and rejecting the tendency to assess new innovations and opportunities by our current systems and standards.

However, Martins and Rindova point out that the standard curriculum in most MBA and leadership programs place little to no emphasis on strategic imagination. Programs often rely heavily on the case methodology whereby students analyze the past to draw insights for the present. In contrast, they argue leaders should imagine into the future rather than re-enacting the past to visualize breakthroughs.

A Learnable Skill

Most importantly, Martins and Rindova believe that strategic imagination is a learnable skill for leaders. They cite anticipatory thinking, analogical reasoning, and design thinking as approaches that can be learned to develop the three mindsets – past, present, and future – of strategic imagination.

At The Nebo Company, we have a long history of working with leaders across industries to help them imagine the future. Using our three-story narrative strategic visioning process, an approach that combines elements of anticipatory thinking, analogical reasoning, and design thinking, we have helped leaders re-imagine their companies, industries, and communities. It is some of the most exciting and impactful work we’ve done with our clients.  Strategic imagination can be learned and is an essential leadership skill in a rapidly changing world.

Contact us to learn more.

Photo by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

< PREVIOUS

Join Our Team

NEXT >

Backbone and Heart: The Dance of Coaching