Strategic Intuition vs. Strategic Planning: Chapter Summary

I co-host a leadership book club called the High Impact Reading Challenge with Positive Psychology Coach, Lisa Sears. The last book we read was Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement by William Duggan. While it didn’t turn out to be the group’s favorite book of the year, I found chapter 5 incredibly insightful and interesting from a historical and strategy-nerd standpoint. As such, this article is a brief overview of my takeaways from that chapter.

In his book, Duggan describes two basic approaches to strategy that are similar yet fundamentally different. One approach, which he calls “strategic intuition,” is described as “a flash of insight from intelligent memory”. The other approach is “strategic planning.” You are likely already familiar with this approach;  It involves defining where you are, where you want to go, and how you’ll get there.

In this chapter of the book, Duggan utilizes the career of Napoleon Boneparte to demonstrate the distinction between the two approaches. He describes Napoleon as an example of a person who used strategic intuition throughout his successful career. In contrast, he described  the general in charge at Toulon, France who failed to listen to young Napoleon’s advice, as one who used strategic planning and failed. 

The author makes a compelling case for strategic intuition. On the surface, these flashes of insight may seem like little miracles. However, in reality, these insights don’t just happen by chance. Napoleon researched, studied maps, and applied previous experience and observations, all of which feed into strategic intuition. In today’s strategic planning process these relevant details are sometimes referred to as inputs.

Napoleon’s preceding general must have been successful on some accounts throughout his career to have gotten where he was. I think whether he lost at Toulon (1793) because of the strategic approach or because he was poorly executing strategy at that time in his career is questionable. Ultimately, Napoleon meets his same fate; forcing a battle decision without considering new information (something his younger self would not have done) that leads to defeat (Battle of Waterloo, 1815).

Both examples demonstrate that neither of these approaches are failsafe, as such, they are best used in conjunction. Focus on instilling strategic intuition into individuals while applying strategic planning and voilà, you have strategic operations.  When you shift from strategic planning to strategic operations, you incorporate the situational info and other inputs that make your “A-ha!” moments feel like intuition when really, your past events led you there. 

My takeaways from Strategic Intuition, Chapter 5, are these:

  1. Adopt strategic thinking
  2. Intentionally do nothing at times
  3. Read and research history, examples, and latest technologies in your area of expertise or niche
  4. Shift from strategic planning to strategic operations (continuously feeding inputs into your decision-making) to maintain flexibility 
  5. Utilize a system to capture your ideas and those of your team 
  6. Strive for strategic operations rather than ad hoc or one and done strategic planning

One of my favorite services to deliver is strategy meeting facilitation. Whether your company or team would like to start fresh or start from scratch, visit my website at and submit a request for a quote today. 

To learn more about the High Impact Reading Challenge Book Club visit: 




Laura Thorne specializes in strategy and execution through workshops, coaching, and other services. Click here to learn more about Laura’s consulting partnership with MACNY.

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