Thinking Like a Natural: A Framework for Personal Strategy

The power of an analytic framework is that it provides a way to understand explicitly things we already do but don’t usually reflect on. A framework like this can be helpful in two ways:

  • In real time or prospectively, it can help you focus on what you’re aiming for — the benefits that come with being in the high-high quadrant. If you visualize the framework as you’re going into or working your way through an ambiguous situation, it can help you get to a good strategy.
  • Retrospectively, it can help you look back at your behavior during an ambiguous situation to see why you ended up where you did and what you could have done to perform more like a natural.

Using concepts like “role” and “self” to create personal strategy may seem contrived, yet the ability to do so is exactly what we admire in the peers we consider to be naturals. We tend to think of naturals as existing apart from their roles. In reality, the opposite is true: Without a role to play, naturals would have nothing to be naturals at. Naturals are impressive precisely because they have mastered their role, not because they ignore it. They understand where their role fits in the larger work system, what it demands from them, and how to perform it in light of their own talents. Their personal strategies are informed by both high role-awareness and high self- awareness, each of which has its own benefits. Taken together, these benefits increase the chances for devising effective personal strategies. While naturals maintain and harness this dual awareness intuitively, the rest of us can do it deliberately.

Role-Awareness Benefits
Focus – You know what’s important in your work, even when you’re in confusing or ambiguous situations.
Accountability – Focusing on what’s important makes you feel accountable for achieving what’s important.
Efficiency – More focus and less confusion mean fewer detours and distractions, or more work accomplished.

Self-Awareness Benefits
Commitment – Putting your self at the service of your role is committing to what’s important.
Collaboration – Commitment itself can engender collaborative work, especially when you also mobilize personal assets — like candor, empathy, or warmth — that make it easier for people to trust you.
Learning – Personal curiosity, passion, and openness — all aspects of self — support learning.


Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Personal Strategy.