Even business schools make a distinction between strategy and operations and managers are urged to become more strategic if they want to progress.
However both kinds of thinking draw on socio-emotional reasoning and more so for the more adept strategists. Researchers in the USA asked managers to react to fictional strategic and tactical management dilemmas whilst measuring their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The researchers were particularly interested in how different areas of the brain interacted. The pre-frontal cortex is the executive part of the brain and normally associated with strategic thinking ie pattern recognition, risk assessment, abstract thinking, and anticipation.
Whilst these abilities help managers solve problems the researchers found that in the best strategic thinkers there was less neural activity in that region and more in the areas of the brain associated with instinctive reactions, empathy and emotional intelligence viz the insula, anterior cingulate cortex and the superior temporal sulcus.
The conscious executive function was downplayed whilst the regions associated with unconscious emotion processing was operating more freely.
Furthermore the strongest performers’ tactical reasoning relied not only on the emotional processing part of the brain and that part used for making choices based on past decisions, but also the part of the brain used to anticipate other people’s thoughts and emotions.
So although IQ based reasoning is valuable in both strategic and tactical thinking high performers have the ability to take a more holistic approach by integrating their brain processes. Strategic thinkers may even repress rational thought to allow their emotional and intuitive processes freer reign.
Source: HBR September 2010