If we could measure or asses our ability to think strategically, a lot would be gained. We could, for instance, test the effects of various development programs aiming to improve our strategic thinking. Or, we could pinpoint what each us of more specifically need to develop. And, of course, we could identify the people that should do the strategic thinking for us.

Without a set understanding of what strategic thinking entails, it is clearly impossible to asses the ability to thinking strategically. And we do not have a clear and shared understanding of what it is. Many have suggested definitions – both in academia and in the consulting and guru world. Few, if any, of them, are distinct enough to be used in assessments. One approach is, however, promising. Elliot Jacques, a Canadian researcher, developed a theory known as Stratified Systems Thinking. In his model, he suggested an intuitively appealing continuum from Operational (thinking) to Strategic (thinking).

Operational – in this context – is defined as the thinking required in a spectrum of high certainty, low ambiguity, immediate and clear feedback, and low complexity. It is the one a context of familiarity. Strategic is than, consequently, thinking in the spectrum of high uncertainty, high ambiguity, delayed and unclear feedback, and high complexity. It is the context of the unfamiliar.

This model helps us to come up with one way of understanding the concept of strategic thinking, and it indicates a way of defining the cognitive requirements of strategic thinking. It also provides us with a promising way of assessing the relevant cognitive abilities.

The South African psychologist Dr. Maretha Prinsloo developed a way to measure people’s cognitive preferences when solving unfamiliar problems. The test, called Cognitive Process Profiling (CPP), is a computerized problem-solving test based on her model of cognition. In the test, the tested person is asked to solve a number of problems simulating increasingly more and more complex, ambiguous and uncertain. In other words more and more unfamiliar. The test defines five cognitive domains ranging from Pure Operational to Pure Strategic – indicating a higher ability to think strategically.

We are currently investigating if CPP can be used to asses people’s strategic thinking ability. In a lecture given as a part of the 350 years anniversary of Lund University, I gave a short introduction to the model and the test. Enjoy!