Research by the American Management Association, which surveyed almost 2000 global executives for insights on leadership competencies, found that – while most rated strategic thinking as the most important quality needed in a leader – this is not translating into good strategy on the ground.

Dr Grant Sieff, programme director of a new programme, Strategic Thinking and Execution for Growth, at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) says that the most remarkable thing about strategic thinking today is that it doesn’t happen often enough – and this does not bode well.

“We’ve come from a world where we used to plan for a stable future, but today everything is more volatile. And in this context strategic thinking and implementation are vital. Good strategic thinking uncovers opportunities for creating value and challenges assumptions about a company’s value proposition, so that it can capitalise on these.”

Dr Sieff says in South Africa, as in most developing economies, the volatility is more extreme – but so are the opportunities.

“South African businesses have the opportunity and tyranny of having to grapple with both the developed world and the emerging market. The problem with the developed world is that growth is slow, it’s beset with recession, but on the other hand, the developing world, with faster growth rates, is beset with infrastructure challenges. We have the opportunity to strategically leap frog – to overcome the problems that may exist because of a lack of infrastructure – through the use of technology, or new products, or services.

“Our strategic playing field is bountiful. We just need to skill up the people in our organisations.”

In response to this, Strategic Thinking and Execution for Growth at the GSB assists business leaders reposition ideas and strategy as an integral part of their business models.

“We have to strategise while we execute – deliver to customer needs in changing circumstances and engage with strategic option –it is a process orientation to strategy, which is what  strategic thinking is all about in a changing world,” says Sieff.

“Business needs to wake up and grow the 4% of strategic thinkers to 100% – and not just at leadership level – everyone in the organisation should be a strategic thinker in order to deliver the best possible service and to lift the level of contribution.”