In doing my research for the most recent MEGATRENDS presentation, it became very clear that strategic thinking and overall 'shrewdness' are totally underrated and neglected as valuable attributes for successful businesses.
Increasingly this neglect is going to result in a number of organisations and whole industries to become uncompetitive and lethargic...perhaps worse.
(In South Africa we've seen the sad outcome of this kind of stuck thinking many times before; remember the clothing manufacturing industry that once employed thousands?)
Perhaps a good question to ask of this realisation, is 'why'?
Why is it that a lot of South African organisations are not more strategic in their thinking?
Firstly however, what exactly is 'shrewdness'?
Shrewdness is defined as 'having the capability to act in wily and artful ways, making use of foresight, timing and informed judgment to gain an advantage.'
Acting in a shrewd way means that you are actively and purposefully seeking ways and means of gaining ground on your competition, given a deep understanding of your current circumstances and based on insights that are not apparent to all.
So then, what is it that makes so many business leaders so predictable and unimaginative and lacking in shrewdness in their quest to grow?
The answer is obviously not a simple one, but perhaps there is a pervasive misconception that 'tomorrow will look very similar to today', so there is a lack of urgency to adopt a more agile, strategic mindset when it comes to business planning and execution.
Having always operated in a seemingly 'sheltered marketplace' here at the Southern tip of Africa, there is perhaps an assumption that 'things are different here, we don't need to be as innovative and competitive as organisations in the US or Europe.'
Big ships take a long time to shift their course - and this kind of status quo thinking opens organisations up to significant risks when conditions change and the future becomes more uncertain, which is amplified by their structural inertia and internal bureaucracy.
You just need to see how painfully difficult it is for large organisations to transform their legacy IT-systems for credible evidence as to how this risk plays out.
Throw into the mix a world that is rapidly changing; often in chaotic and unpredictable ways, heightened competition (Amazon in coming to South Africa in March 2023) and an advancing technology landscape that is accelerating development of all kinds of disruptive innovations - and you've got the perfect conditions for 'predictable thinkers' to be delivering unremarkable progress.
Shrewdness is an active choice, a state of mind, a developed culture that is created out of a belief in oneself and a hunger for better.
It's totally underrated - and maybe because of this, is a glaring opportunity.