The recent arrest of a black Harvard University professor on disorderly conduct charges at the scholar’s home by a white police officer in Massachusetts highlights the fact that being intellectual does not always equate with being strategic. President Obama, arguably one of the brightest presidents in American history, immediately came out with a statement saying the Cambridge police “acted stupidly.” He later acknowledged making the statement without knowing the facts.

As the episode shows, an intellectual assumes he knows the answer; a strategist assumes he doesn’t. Good strategic leaders are continually working to understand the context of their business, assembling as many facts as possible. While knowing all of the facts in every situation is unrealistic, we must adopt the mindset of a continual seeker of insight. Insight comes from diving beneath the surface of issues to assemble the information and data in new ways that lead to new learning’s.

The moment we assume we know the answers to our business challenges, it’s a good bet the questions have changed. Many retailers assumed they had the answer for what consumers wanted when the economy was good. When the economy went south, consumer’s definition of value shifted, leaving many retailers offering little in the way of tangible value. The reactionary result has been to lower prices across the board, with no sense of one’s value equation.

While the restaurant industry suffered its worst quarterly drop in customer traffic in nearly 30 years, Panera Bread has approached its business with a strategic discipline not commonly seen and has profited because of it. Panera’s same-store sales, results for stores open at least a year, were up 3.4 percent while its stock was up an amazing 50 percent in 2008. As many of its competitors sheepishly lowered prices last year, Panera raised prices—twice!

Panera is an example of a strategic organization that has set a proactive strategy by understanding the context of its business and the value equation it’s built on. Does your organization have a firm grasp on the context of its business and the value equation it relies on? If your strategy development efforts receive as much time as getting a burger at the drive-thru, don’t expect your business results to be much hotter than that order of lukewarm fries.

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