skip navigation
March 20, 2014

Strategic Thinking with Norma Wong

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the first day of a two-day strategic thinking workshop hosted by Move to End Violence and taught by Norma Wong.

It was an intense day and I felt filled to the brim with information and ideas. Here are the five things that stood out to me from the training:

1. There are so many things to consider! One of Norma’s teaching strategies is to have people experience things physically, rather than just with their mind. As she says, your mind can make stuff up, but your body and other physical things will not. We used this approach to experience what being strategic as a physical stance feels like. To be in this stance, you must do the following: breath low and slow; stand feet hip width apart with 60 percent of your weight on the balls/front of your feet so that you’re in a forward stance and able to move quickly; close (not clench) your sphincter muscle so that your center of gravity is lower; not be tense in your shoulders or arms; have a straight/not arched back, look straight/not tilt your head.

Just see how long you can do all those things at once before falling back into one of our non-strategic stance habits! One of these habits that I fall into frequently is keeping my feet too narrowly together (which makes it easy for me to be pushed off balance) or too wide apart (which doesn’t allow me to move quickly when I need to). Another non-strategic habit is being in a defensive stance with more weight on the heel of your feet and with your arms crossed. While it can feel stable, one cannot advance forward efficiently from a defensive stance and will need to exert much more energy.

Similarly to the physical manifestation, there are so many things and layers to consider when doing strategic thinking that I already feel a sense of analysis paralysis. Some common non-strategic habits are:

  • compartmentalizing strategic thinking or planning so that it is not actually implemented;
  • doing strategic thinking when there actually needs to be crisis management; and
  • dragging out the strategic planning process so that the diminishing returns are no longer useful.

A helpful thing Norma said was that strategic thinking is really a muscle that needs to be developed and continually used. Maybe my inability to maintain the stance is a symptom of some serious muscle atrophy or under development. This gives me hope that with lots of practice, I’ll be able to hold it longer and with less effort.

2. Our ideas and plans grow and shrink in relationship to other’s ideas and plans. This is not groundbreaking news, but it is a critical reminder that we cannot do strategic thinking in isolation of only what we want and aspire too. Because our ideas and plans are in relationship and are affected by others, we have to take into account and anticipate what the impact and possible unintended consequences may be from the intersection of our two (or three, or four, etc.) streams. You have to look up and see what is around you.

Given this, I asked Norma how we can get to know the plans and ideas of others. She told me that it requires use of another muscle: the non-judgment muscle. If you’re able to suspend judgment and observe someone, you can start to understand their motivation. Once you understand someone’s motivation, you can look at previous behavior to predict future behavior. Most people, after all, are pretty predictable if you understand the motivation connecting their actions.

3. Spaciousness is required for strategic thinking. You can’t think in a liberated way if you crowd all of your space. And liberated thinking is required for being strategic. Spaciousness is also required for self-care and sustainability. I’d also argue that spaciousness is required for a lot of relationships. Basically, spaciousness is pretty key to functioning well overall as a healthy human being. And yet, it is probably one of the hardest things for people to do, especially in our current social environment.

There is a great poem that I always think of when I think about the concept of spaciousness. It pretty much says all I want to say about spaciousness, in a much more poetic way. It’s called Fire by Judy Brown and it was shared with me by Puanani Burgess. It goes:

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.

A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

4. The greater your desire, the more risk you have to take. If you leave enough spaciousness (see #3), you can take bigger risks.

And big risk does not mean just BIG. It’s not about scale. It means true experimentation. A played out strategy loses its efficacy.

5. Strategy is always changing. It’s not a fixed destination, but something that comes along with you, changing as you need it to change.

It doesn’t mean your goals are changing, just that how you accomplish your goals may change because of the circumstances of time and space. Most importantly, when you see that a strategy is not working, it means you need to try different strategies, not MORE of the same strategy. Anything with a pattern can be defeated, so you want to move from habit (unconscious repetitive acts) to practice (conscious acts with the goal of getting better).

Relatedly, Norma noted that the best thing to come out of a strategic thinking/planning session is not the plan itself, but the thinking that happens during that session (which ties back to using/practicing the ST muscle – see #1).

These are just a few of the many many lessons and teachings to be learned from Norma’s Strategic Thinking training. I look forward to flexing and strengthening my atrophied strategic thinking muscles as we continue our work to strengthen the movement to end violence against girls and women.

Art by lizar_tistry