Brain Training For Strategic Thinking and Action

Strategic thinking and action lies at the heart of our rationality and intelligence. It also enables us to both creatively conceive and realize our autonomous, purposeful and fulfilling ‘life projects’.


Strategy: Definition & Examples

We will use the following definitions:

Strategic action promotes strategic advantage, and/or implements strategic plans.

Strategic plans are high level plans to achieve goals under conditions of uncertainty.

Strategic vision is intuitive, creative thinking about high-value envisioned futures.


Strategy is a concept with military roots. The words strategía or strategiké, meaning the art or skills of the general, are found in Greek texts dating from at least the second century CE.

In the military, strategy is the planning and directing military operations, specifically (as distinguished from tactics) of maneuvering forces into the most advantageous position prior to actual engagement with the enemy.

Strategy in business is generally – by analogy – maneuvering for competitive advantage. On an individual level, strategy involves positioning yourself to maximize valued futures.

Strategic planning and action can also be related to the notion of ‘strategic vision’ – intuitive, creative thinking about envisioned futures (ref).

Innovation and unconventional thinking that challenges assumptions and creates new mental models is built into strategic vision:

“to discover novel, imaginative strategies which can rewrite the rules of the competitive game, and to envision potential futures significantly different from the present.”



Scientific Basis

Strategic planning and action is integral to what psychologists call executive functioning (review) that includes:

  • Organizing and planning
  • Initiating tasks and staying focused on them
  • Attention flexibility and control
  • Regulating emotions
  • Self-monitoring (keeping track of what you are doing)

The brain’s executive functions make possible taking the time to think before acting; meeting novel, unanticipated challenges; resisting temptations; and staying focused.

A recent theory gives the brain’s hippocampus – which is critically involved in learning and memory – the main role in strategic action. When you think and act strategically – e.g. while building a network at work, or your reputation in your field, or simply in a game of Go – you have to estimate the likely future rewards of your actions. This is tricky because the number of possible scenarios explodes as one looks farther and farther into the future. On the ‘predictive map’ theory of the hippocampus, this brain structure represents every situation you find yourself in in terms of the future situations which it predicts, as well as the associated rewards or costs (ref). 

We can get better at this process through training, and the HighIQPro program is designed to target it.


Mindfulness / Meta-Awareness

Thinking and acting strategically involves being able to develop a meta-awareness of (1) the rewards and costs (and their trade-offs) associated with situations, and (2) intuitions about the kinds of situations and rewards that might unfold from current activities. Less intelligent behaviour results in the relative loss of rewarding futures.

As you go about your daily activities, try to think about the situations you are in, and how they may evolve into future situations with associated rewards or costs. And try to think of prioritized goals as bottlenecks / tunnels that open up future possibilities over the longer-term that are rewarding.


Strategy Exercise 

Experiment with the ‘double loop learning’ process – shown in this model developed in Argyris’s writings (ref).


In single loop learning, the learning you do involves getting increasingly efficient and intuitive with skills and habits that implement your strategic plans based on your overarching purposes and values.  in this process you may benefit from measuring outcomes (e.g. self-quantification) – to ensure objectivity and realistic feedback (not just the story you make up).

When there is need for renewed adaptation, evolution or growth,  or new major opportunities arise, you can engage in more critical evaluation of your values and over-arching strategic plans. This is double loop learning, that sets you on new life trajectories.


Cognitive Capacity (Gated DNB) Training

HighIQPro’s gated dual n-back training improves the brain’s executive functioning. This will help you inhibit automatic ‘default’ behaviours and habits, and enable you to think strategically ‘offline’ in the ways outlined above, and build into your life more consistent strategic action.


I am a cognitive scientist with a joint Ph.D in cognitive psychology and neuroscience from the Center of the Neural Basis of Cognition (Carnegie Mellon/Pittsburgh). At IQ Mindware we develop brain training interventions to increase IQ, critical thinking, decision making, creativity and executive functioning.