Roger Martin wrote an interesting blog post some time ago for Harvard Business Review. In the piece, Martin explained why smart people might have a difficult time in the strategy formulation process. He described strategy as "making choices about an uncertain future." The strategic decision-maker must cope with high levels of ambiguity, and they operate in an environment where no single right answer exists in many cases. Martin explains how intelligence affects strategic choice:
The essential qualities for this type of person are flexibility, imagination, and resilience. But there is no evidence that these qualities are correlated with pure intelligence. In fact, the late organizational learning scholar Chris Argyris argued the opposite in his classic HBR article Teaching Smart People How to Learn. In his study of strategy consultants, Argyris found that smart people tend to be more brittle. They need both to feel right and to have that correctness be validated by others. When either or both fail to occur, smart people become defensive and rigidly so.
What's the implication for strategists? In a world where no single right answer may exist, decision-makers need to be careful about analysis paralysis. They must resist the temptation to try to gather every last bit of data possible, thereby slowing the decision process to a crawl. Analytical decision-makers must add intuitive and creative types to their team. Moreover, they must be willing to conduct rapid tests and experiments, rather than becoming entrenched in lengthy planning processes before moving to implementation.