For some, strategic thinking is an inherent trait that spells early successes while playing board games and on the playground—and later, can lead to military victories, championship titles, and congressional seats. For the rest of us, here are a few strategies to help you maneuver your way to the top (without resorting to dirty tricks).
1. They never stop learning.
The strategic thinker isn’t just someone with a laser-focused, goal-oriented sense of purpose. He or she is also one with an appetite for knowledge. Take Leonardo da Vinci, who not only had a lot of wide-ranging obsessions—flight, the human body, civil engineering, geometry, and painting, just to name a few—but also the kind of shrewd thinking necessary for breakthroughs. Leonardo’s ability to think practically about how to achieve things as seemingly far-fetched as human flight paved the way for his inventions and ideas the world still marvels at today.
2. They are decisive.
Being a swift and confident decision maker isn’t easy, but it’s what wins battles—of both the figurative and literal kind. Alexander the Great’s long-term success against a variety of opponents has been attributed to his ability to adapt, innovate, and most principally, make decisions under pressure. His ability to make the right calls at the right time allowed Alexander the Great to become one of the best-known rulers and military leaders in history, despite his early death at age 32.
3. They identify problems—and find solutions.
The name Margaret Knight might not be familiar to you, but she’s among the most well regarded inventors of the 19th century. In the mid-1850s, when Knight was only 12 years old, she witnessed a machine malfunction at a cotton mill that resulted in the injury of a worker. Seeing a problem that needed fixing, Knight invented a wildly successful protective cover for the machine. She never got credit for her innovation, however, because she was too young to apply for a patent.
4. They don’t take no for an answer.
Decades later, Knight invented a machine that made the flat-bottomed paper bags we still see today. When she went to file the patent, Knight discovered that a man named Charles Annan had stolen her idea. Knight took Annan to court and won, therein finally getting the credit and recognition she deserved. She would go on to file another 20-some patents in her lifetime.
5. They focus.
The thing about crafting strategies is, well, they take time to craft and execute. From Isaac Newton to Michelangelo to Marie Curie (and countless others), many of the great thinkers in history were known for their ability to lock in on a project and concentrate, often to the detriment of their lives outside of work. We don’t suggest taking it to that extreme, but knowing how to keep your eyes on the prize (and not on your phone, the television, or your daydreams) is key to honing your strategic genius.