Developing Your Strategic Proficiencies

There is certainly no shortage of articles, texts, and resources dedicated to the subject of developing business strategies. I myself am guilty of adding to this information pile, having just released a book on this very topic. But as we all attempt to decode the magic formulas and frameworks behind best-in-class business strategies, we should also take a little time to understand the skills that are required of the people who create those strategies.

The process of developing business strategies is a creative one¬ – not unlike writing music, painting a portrait, or designing a new architectural masterpiece. Creative endeavors produce creative outputs; and the success of those outputs will be driven not only by skills, but also by some level of proficiency in those skills. Using this terminology, it is useful to think in terms of four “strategic proficiencies” that can be mastered in relation to developing successful business strategies. They are:


In and of itself, this mnemonic of ARIA may appear to be yet another catchy little arrangement of words to help sell more books! And while there may be just a shred of truth to that statement, there is actually both a rhyme and a reason for my line of thinking behind this approach.

When assessing strategic proficiencies, I like to refer back to the four main questions that have formed the very foundation of strategic theory for centuries:[wcm_restrict]

  • Where are we now?
  • Where have we been?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How are we going to get there?

In the simplest of terms, these questions cover the present, the past, the future and the critical path to get wherever it is you want to go. However, stating these questions and actually being able to answer them are two very different things. And being able to answer them is exactly where your strategic proficiencies will come into play.

In order to address the present (“Where are we now?”), you must develop the proficiency of analysis. An analytical person is generally thought of as someone who can take large amounts of data and process it in some logical way. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you have no way to sort through and evaluate that knowledge, it will be about as useful as a disconnected hard drive. Analysis takes both patience and focus but, when mastered, it will provide the means to understand information in the present state and ultimately use that data to help determine your future plan.

The past (“Where have we been?”) can be most appropriately addressed by developing the proficiency of recollection. Nothing drives a successful strategy better than experience. However, the effective use of past knowledge does not only involve retaining information, it also involves selectively recalling and drawing upon whatever pieces of that information will be relevant to your overall strategic story. In this way, you will be able to utilize your experience and knowledge without being overly imitative or without restricting your future thought process by, frankly, “knowing too much.”

If the past and present are about knowing and processing information, then the future (“Where do we want to go?”) will involve using this information to predict what may or may not happen next. This will be driven by the proficiency of intuition. Often times, intuition is looked at synonymously with having a good “gut instinct,” which, in and of itself, involves being able to acquire knowledge through feeling rather than reason. To do this, the keen strategist will learn to quickly and astutely observe trends, and then use that information, practically in real-time, to help predict future responses and outcomes.

Once you understand the present, past, and future, you need to act upon whatever knowledge you’ve acquired about each of these states. Answering the question of “How are we going to get there?” is where the core of your strategy will ultimately live; and that answer can be most effectively found by utilizing the fourth and final strategic proficiency of artistry. An artist is someone who feels something so strongly that he or she absolutely has to find a way to express that feeling to others. Someone who has the passion to change the world will make a strategic expression to do just that, while someone who is just running through the paces of putting together a plan may fail to produce any significantly differentiable results. Artistry is the difference between those two extremes, and it is the final ingredient required for developing a successful strategic mindset, and an equally successful strategic plan.

ARIA helps to remind us that strategic planning is, indeed, a creative process, and that, like most creative endeavors, you must balance your knowledge of the present, past, and future with some level of passion and creativity in order to turn your plan into an actionable result that will actually make some difference in the world.

Adapted from the new book Creative Strategy Generation: Using Passion and Creativity to Compose Business Strategies That Inspire Action and Growth (McGraw-Hill, 2015), by Bob Caporale, President of Sequent Learning Networks.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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About the Author

Bob CaporaleBob Caporale is the author of Creative Strategy Generation: Using Passion and Creativity to Compose Business Strategies That Inspire Action and Growth (McGraw-Hill, 2015) and the President of Sequent Learning Networks. His goal is to help business practitioners infuse more passion and creativity into their jobs. You can learn more about his work by visiting

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