Emily Dickinson on Strategic Thinking

THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,For, put them side by side, The one the other will include With ease, and you beside.

  • This blog post first appeared in the Management Help Library.  For more from this great resource, go to http://managementhelp.org/blogs/strategic-planning/

Emily Dickinson’s greatest accomplishment, I think, is that she taught us to wonder. In Part One of her series called Life, the poet has us thinking about the vastness of our collective brain. As of late, the scientists and mathematicians have caught up with this sage poet.

Emily Dickinson on Strategy
Emily Dickinson on Strategy

Scientists have estimated the number of unique and disparate “thoughts” that a person can conjure. By estimating the number of possible neural networks, known as Hebbian webs these deep thinkers have estimated that you and I are capable of thoughts numbering ten to the millionth power! Contrast this number, by the way, to the number of atoms in the known universe, estimated at a mere ten to the 87th power… Yes, in a way of thinking, our brains are larger than the known universe. As Dr. Seuss said… “Oh the thinks you can think!” An even better poet, Dickinson, continues in her poem called Life:

The brain is deeper than the sea, For, hold them, blue to blue, The one the other will absorb, As sponges, buckets do.

And who out there thinks the biggest and grandest thoughts? Why, I’d have to say it is the readership of this column! Strategists, strategic planners, strategic decision-makers and the like…

Remember that strategy is about the big picture. Strategic thought is consideration of the long term future and the vast competitive environment around each person, company or organization.

C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel have suggested that strategic thinkers do three things:

  1. They think about the large-scale competitive environment around them.
  2. They think about the future.
  3. They engage others in doing the same, resulting in a “deeply shared, well-tested view of the long-term future.

To continue your train of strategic thought, do this:

  • Engage those around you in conversations about the future. What will happen next in your industry or competitive space?
  • Talk to technologists and futurists about the ways changing technology will affect your industry.
  • Study enterprises outside of your immediate industry. Look at how competitive advantages wax and wane. Consider ways that your own advantages could erode or disappear.
  • Talk about strategy and how even the most well-considered plans may change as circumstances and competitive dynamics change.

The brain is just the weight of God, For, lift them, pound for pound, And they will differ, if they do, As syllable from sound.