Editor’s note: this guest post is the second in a short series by Ankit Khandelwal, a prolific student of online courses. This article covers free and inexpensive online resources for developing expertise in business strategy outside of a traditional degree program.
Continuing from before
In the previous post, I talked about some of the ways to develop your strategic thinking and apply logical reasoning to what you read on a daily basis. I also talked about how you can create your own database of information on a business sector of your choice. By now, you have practiced examining the available information using the “5 W’s”. Although working these techniques into reading annual reports and newspapers can be a time consuming exercise, it will pay in the end once you start developing strategic plans on your own.
Learning Strategic Framework
While studying news stories and annual reports, you might have seen those pie-charts, graphs and figures presenting information in a very systematic manner. You may be asking yourself, how can I do this? What tools do strategists use to analyze and communicate key information?
Now that you have equipped yourself with a strategic mindset, the next step is to develop your understanding of the theoretical framework and toolkits of strategic planning. These will support you in organizing and presenting information as well as in identifying the root causes of complex situations.
Framework and Tools
Strategic planning is a topic covered extensively by books, videos and courses. With so many options in front of you, which to choose? How to begin? Frankly, I do not have answers to this question. Different materials will work best for different people. I can, at least, list some of the ways that I have gained information. However, you do not have to follow my path and you are free to choose whichever method is suitable for you. (Share your own approach in the comments.)
There are many free and open courses available online from more organizations than I can list here. Among them are:
“OpenCourseWare” (OCW) refers to materials and courses made available by top universities with no need to register (and typically no credit). You can find different types of strategy courses to match your interests (Marketing, Sales etc).
My own interest lies in understanding global strategy for multinational corporations, so I took the course Global Strategy & Organization from MIT OCW. The tool-kits presented in this course were extremely helpful. Among the benefits of OCW are that you can do everything at your own pace, broaden your horizon as much as you want, and all of this without worrying about the final exam.
The wealth of OCW is all discoverable through the Open Education Consortium (formerly Open CourseWare Consortium). Naturally, you do not have to restrict yourself to just OCW’s or to the Global Strategy course – just pick any one as per your convenience or familiarity. The Saylor Academy, for example, offers a strategic management course in its business administration area of study.
Left: MIT OCW’s Global Strategy and Organization (image copyright MIT OCW). Right: Saylor Academy’s BUS501: Strategic Management
Massive Open Online Courses
MOOCs represent a new paradigm in online learning and have become quite popular in recent years. They are more interactive than OCW, providing opportunities for discussions, a globalized classroom, and course completion certificates. What they ask is 5-6 hours per week of your time and the ability to watch lectures and do the assignments. MOOCs are one step further than OpenCourseWare in term of organization and, if you can keep pace, offer a fast-track towards learning. For instance, I have taken Coursera’s Foundations of Business Strategy, created by the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
U.Va.’s Foundations of Business Strategy on Coursera. Image copyright Coursera.
As I have said before, there is no shortage of available material to study strategy. Another approach can be using books, whether of the digital or paper variety. All you need is your search engine and a bit of research (you can benefit from other readers’ online reviews). Books are the original any-time, any-place form of study, usable from a seat on your balcony or traveling on the bus.
I have used The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking, by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler. The Saylor Academy includes Principles of Management and Mastering Strategic Management among its titles.
Do not forget that there are other options for you to investigate, such as webinars, lectures on YouTube, etc. Search for these on an as-needed basis, or use them to supplement or inspire the more structured methods outlined above.
Outcome of your studies
Putting information in proper context
Throughout your studies, try to put your knowledge into proper context, developing your strategic planning tool-kit as you continue to follow business news and trends. You will come across a lot of information and it will be necessary to understand which tools are appropriate to the kind of material you are trying to analyze and present. Sometimes, SWOT analysis is more than enough; sometimes you need to use multiple tools to do a proper analysis. I will elaborate in the next post.
Understanding the root cause
The basic element behind strategic planning is identifying problems and suggesting solutions to mitigate them. Problems can be of any sort, involving growth, revenue generation, employee retention, etc., and the solutions for two apparently similar cases may differ widely. Sometimes, external factors – which can be difficult to identify and control – also play a role in strategic planning. I will talk about those in detail in the next post.
Having further developed your strategic thinking skills and added a few tools to your tool-kit, are you getting eager to put everything into practice? My next post looks at practical application of what you have learned so far.
My name is Ankit Khandelwal. I am from India and a master’s graduate in Chemical engineering from Technical University of Denmark. From May 2012 to June 2014, I worked on my ‘Envisioning 21st century global manager’ project. It was my own invented project, drafted after careful analysis of my interests, future market trends and required skills set to become a global manager/leader in the 21st century. As part of this project, I have taken courses from MIT-OCW (Open Courseware), OEC (Open Education Consortium), OYC (Open Yale Courses), OLI-CMU (Open Learning Initiative- Carnegie Mellon University), as well as from other organizations and MOOC providers (WTO, Copenhagen Business Center, Alison, Coursera, edX, NovoEd, Open2study). Over the past two years, this was my full time work, comprising 20+ courses from different universities (covering general management disciplines as well as interdisciplinary aspects such as trade negotiations, urban planning, public policy, environmental law, functioning of non governmental organizations and EU, design thinking, disaster preparedness, and self-study in three foreign languages, etc.). I have extensively studied newspapers from different world regions to get regular updates on business and market trends while expanding my networks through projects and other outreach. Equally important has been my study of different cultures to grasp local social and political characteristics in my effort to prepare myself for negotiating/working in a multicultural global environment.