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The thinking to win (TTW) method is more than a business process–it is a mind-set anyone can develop and apply to any situation, whether professional or personal.



The distinguishing characteristic between businesses that succeed and those that fail is the ability of top leaders to think, plan, and act in a way that moves their companies forward. The thinking to win (TTW) method creates that kind of capability.

Strategic TTW is based on asking what-if questions and taking a long-term view rather than focusing on short-term results. The ultimate determinant of business success is the ability to identify and deliver solutions that delight customers both in the present and into the future as their needs evolve. Narrow thinking that is stuck in the present and based on repeating familiar patterns despite a changing market is a recipe for failure.

TTW is transformational for both organizations and the individuals within them. By equipping individuals with analytical skills that allow them to contribute to the success of their organizations, they will become more empowered and increase their ability to make valuable contributions. An organization that is well-versed in TTW is one in which people have a common goal, feel excited and energized by their work, and share in the organization’s success.

To be effective, TTW must be instilled throughout all levels of an organization. Companies such a Keurig, Jamba Juice, and Procter & Gamble have all generated dynamic growth by creating cultures of strategic thinking that drive business activities.


TTW is a habitual mindset that can be mastered by anyone and applied to any aspect of life. The process begins with applying the following five foundational TTW principles to every situation:

1. Challenge assumptions. In TTW, nothing is a given. Individuals must approach every issue with an open mind.

2. Scope the issue. Situations must be properly scoped so that people understand and are in agreement upon exactly what they are addressing. Inadequate scoping means wasted time and energy and opens the door to scope creep, which occurs when a project becomes larger than it was intended to be.

3. Rely on facts and data. Facts and data (rather than assumptions or persuasive presentations) must provide the foundation for any plan. Individuals must explore the depths and breadth of evidence to ensure there is enough of the right data to make informed decisions.

4. Focus on the vital few. Taking on too many issues at the same time can result in goals not being accomplished properly. Working off the 80-20 rule, TTW postulates that addressing the most critical 10 percent of issues will positively impact 90 percent of the whole.

5. Connect the dots. Individuals must recognize the interrelatedness of factors and elements within a whole and make sure all connections are addressed. A narrow approach is rarely a successful approach. “Linkage, linkage, linkage” should be the mantra for TTW.


Talent, charisma, and serendipity are all great qualities, but they are not the key to winning in today’s marketplace. Rather, the key to winning is effective strategic thinking. TTW drives this type of thinking by integrating the above five foundational principles into a process that results in a winning strategic plan.

The TTW process can be envisioned as an hourglass into which information is funneled, inspiring more specific and focused questions. As data flows through the narrowing of the hourglass, it is refined for specificity, leading to key insights and implications that inform the goals and objectives as well as possible strategies and courses of action that expand into the bottom of the hourglass. The entire process is geared toward answering the following questions, in order:

  1. What facts are known?

  2. What is most important to address?

  3. What is the key competitive differentiator?

  4. What are the key insights that emerge, and why do they matter?

  5. What is the organization’s purpose and position?

  6. What should the goal be?

  7. What choices must be made to achieve that goal?

  8. Was the effort successful?

The first step in the process is creating an umbrella statement, which addresses what the issue is, why the issue is important, the implications of not addressing the issue, and who should be involved in the decision-making process. Effective umbrella statements are clear, focused, and compelling, and they direct the rest of the process.

Once an umbrella statement is defined, data related to the umbrella statement flows into the hourglass. This data can be categorized for manageability according to the seven Cs:

  1. Category.

  2. Company.

  3. Customer.

  4. Consumer

  5. Community.

  6. Colleagues.

  7. Competitors.

Once data is categorized, a SWOT analysis can be performed on the results to analyze strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats relative to the data and the issue. The goal of the SWOT analysis is to identify the strategic competitive advantage (SCA) that undeniably sets a company ahead of its competition. Examples of an SCA include a breakthrough product, superior supply chain, special knowledge or capabilities, or even strong brand equity.

Unearthing key insights takes place at the halfway point of the process (the narrowing of the hourglass). These insights inform the rest of the process and often appear as aha moments, which will not be forgotten once they are realized.

Key insights must be actionable and address the umbrella statement. These insights are critical to identifying the key issues and setting the direction for the remainder of the TTW work. For maximum effectiveness, there should be no more than four to six key issues addressed in the TTW process.

Once the key issues are defined, the implications of those issues must be defined as well. Implications explain the what and why of the key issue and create a bridge to taking action.


A vision is a view of the future–the end state the organization hopes to achieve through its strategic plan. Creating a vision marks the entry into the bottom half of the hourglass, where the convergent thinking that led to key insights and issues transforms into divergent thinking that results in goals and plans.

An effective vision addresses how to position an organization for success. Visions should be simple, concise, clear, and compelling–and ideally come in the form of one sentence that everyone can easily remember. Good visions are unifying and serve to shape an organization’s values and culture.

Governing statements are visions that apply to parts of a company, such as a division. Good governing statements similarly unify efforts in one strategic direction. When Procter & Gamble unified each of its divisions under governing statements, rather than managing products as separate entities, the company was able to achieve 30 percent growth.

Visions and governing statements are living entities, derived from the situation assessment that takes place in the first half of the hourglass. As such, they should regularly be revisited and adjusted to respond to changes in the business environment.

Goals are the natural outgrowth from visions and governing statements. Goals stimulate the action component of the TTW process. It is very important for goals to be balanced across the four elements common to most businesses and institutions:

  1. People.

  2. Organization.

  3. Marketplace.

  4. Finance.

All too often companies focus on financial goals almost exclusively, even though the other three elements can have just as strong of an impact on their success. A balanced scorecard model can help ensure all four elements are addressed.

Once goals are established, there must be methods in place for assessing progress toward achieving those goals. Goals can be assessed through the following three Ms:

1. Measures: What will be assessed, such as sales or earnings.

2. Metrics: The relevant quantifying data, such as growth percentages or financial targets.

3. Milestones: The timeframe for achieving specific targets.

Goals and the three Ms must be explicit. The goals themselves must be challenging, but not unrealistic. Setting too low of a bar will not achieve the desired results. Setting too high a bar will be demoralizing.


Choosing a winning strategy can be risky, but that risk is minimized when a sound strategy development model is used. TTW provides such a model, allowing strategic choices to naturally unfold as a consequence of asking three questions:

  1. Which of the business’s key competencies would be most valued in the marketplace?

  2. What are other unanswered marketplace needs the business could respond to?

  3. What is required to become the market leader?

Even with the answers to these questions in hand, there are still a number of strategic options to consider when it comes to executing in the marketplace. Brainstorming is one method for identifying various strategic options, as are aha moments and spontaneous insights.

Once a number of strategic options have been defined, the next step is further refinement through inquiry. Considerations in choosing which strategies to follow include the level of difficulty in following through, enablers and barriers to execution, and which strategies are critical and which would simply be “nice to do.” Even if a particular strategy is discarded, it is worth documenting in the event it becomes more relevant in the future.


Successful execution depends on a firm grounding of strategic initiatives in the situation assessment component of the TTW as well as strong, coordinated teamwork. Strategic initiatives must be specific in defining what people are supposed to do. Good strategies are not only about asking the right questions, but also about putting the right people in place to do the work. Thoughtfulness in team composition as well as ensuring a collaborative mind-set are essential for driving action that accomplishes strategic objectives.

After objectives are selected, they must be managed to meet scope, time, and costs. These three components must be kept in balance. A change in one variable will undoubtedly create change in the others.

Defining responsibilities ensures the right work gets done by the right people. An accountability matrix can help label individuals in terms of their roles in particular actions. This matrix helps identify whether individuals are accountable, collaborators, or stakeholders.


Successful strategy execution depends on getting everyone in the organization aligned with the process and moving in the right direction to achieve organizational objectives. Compelling and timely communication is essential in accomplishing that alignment and action.

Key messages provide the foundation for strategic communications by answering a few questions:

*What is the current challenge?

*What is the business going to do about it?

*What will the results of these efforts be?

Messages must capture attention, convey a sense of urgency, and clearly describe not only what needs to be done, but also the expected results. Therefore, every key message must address the situation, the action to be taken, and the impact of that action in a compelling way that engages the audience. Key messages should be able to relate back to the SWOT analysis and target only the most important critical initiatives.

Visions are the highest level of strategic messaging. Like key messages, visions must be engaging and compelling, but they must also be unique and concise so they are easily remembered and internalized. Visions can be linked with compensation to ensure people are focused on them and applying them in their performance.

It is very important for leaders to become good communicators so they can provide direction to their organizations. Additionally, communication must be managed on an ongoing basis, beginning with annual meetings and working downward into quarterly and weekly updates. Communication should be an ongoing loop of consistent and aligned information-sharing that informs and engages organizations.


TTW is not simply a process to be cycled through in order to achieve a specific objective or end state; rather, it is a mind-set that should be embedded into every level of an organization. The change TTW brings about is anchored within organizations through unifying symbols and rituals that reinforce its principles.

By providing training and sharing the TTW experience, leaders can create a common language and frame of reference for its principles. Making more productive use of meetings, championing accountability, recognizing TTW successes, and empowering the Human Resources (HR) function to assist in transforming the organization are all methods for anchoring change.


TTW is ongoing. Once one issue is addressed, the process invites leaders to address the next issue, plan for the future, or revisit a previous issue. As TTW competency develops within an organization, the process of asking critical questions becomes second nature. TTW is especially useful in today’s multi-generational work environment. By providing a common language and approach, TTW easily bridges generational differences.

TTW’s fact-based, structured approach encourages creative thinking and can be transformational in the annual strategic planning processes, which traditionally are often not much more than a rehash of previous presentations with a focus on minimizing risk. TTW works well with both for-profit and non-profit organizations and is as useful for individuals in making personal decisions as it is for business professionals charting strategic corporate paths.

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