The Top Strategic Thinking Skills You Can Master From Nero Wolfe (And Other Famous Detectives)

Did you catch my blog about the world of fictional detectives and how they solve complex problems? I’ve had requests ever since that post to bring back these detectives and unpack the strategic thinking skills that make them so successful in solving a wide range of issues.

Below you will find some tidbits of advice from some of our most famous detectives. Enjoy… and more importantly… think!

Fictional Detectives With Real Strategic Thinking Skills

“There is nothing as safe as ignorance – or as dangerous.”
~ Nero Wolfe

The 2017 tax bill that swiftly worked its way through Congress is about 480 pages long. We don’t know how many of our legislators read the whole thing, but we do know a bunch of them (on both sides) said they didn’t have time, so instead they relied on summary information. They can claim ignorance when problems arise – but we will shoulder the brunt of their “mistakes.”

How To Apply: Don’t be ignorant about your responsibilities!

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
Sherlock Holmes

Back in the 1970s we theorized that Japan couldn’t make good cars. Back in the late 1980s we theorized Korea couldn’t make good cars. I’ll bet we’ll do the same thing with China when they come onshore.

How To Apply: Let the data speak!

“Thinking is hard work, which is why you don’t see a lot of people doing it.”
~ Kinsey Millhone

For the past quarter century many businesses have adopted “best practices” because, well, they are best practices. Unfortunately, too few executives spent the time to tailor such practices to their organization. Thinking is demanding work, but many of us are so time starved that we adopt before we think.

How To Apply: Make sense of your decisions before you implement them.

“It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within – not without.”
~ Hercule Poirot

In 2006 I co-authored The Prepared Mind of a Leader, in which we addressed 8 skills that leaders need in order to succeed. One of these skills – reflection – is simply taking the time to honestly consider your role in both your successes and your failures. In the hundreds of workshops I’ve led since my book was published, I often ask participants to name the most underutilized skills in their organization. Reflection is generally in the top three.

How To Apply: We are quick to Google; we hesitate to think.

“Never underestimate a man’s ability to underestimate a woman.”
~ V.I Warshawski

I wish I could strike this one from my list, but even in 2020 we still don’t have gender pay equity!

How To Apply: What the hell is wrong with us “business people?!”

 A reporter has the right to do things an ordinary person shouldn’t.”
~ Nancy Drew (Nancy Drew?! Yep, girl reporter, 1939)

Now why is this so applicable today? Well… it’s because the drumbeat of “fake news” has denigrated the value of good reporting. Reporters should be reporters, not spin masters. Now, go back to Kinsey Millhone’s quote – many of us accept the spin rather than think. Why? Because thinking is hard.

How To Apply: Face it; fake news is our fault because we attend to it. Demand objective reporting!

It Takes Brains

Like all of the detectives above, you can master strategic thinking skills if you are committed to doing the work. MindPrep Resource Center has the educational tools and solutions you need to excel in your company.

You too can become a powerful thinker… and we’ve love to show you how.

Reader Interactions


  1. OW says

    Wow! the Nero Wolfe quote rang like a bell. Very appropriate in today’s pandemic world.
    I also like the Holmes quote. In my folksy past I had heard the same sentiment expressed as, “Data without theory are facts. Theory without data is BS (only BS was full throatedly said as the word not the initials)”. Also, the two regarding the stature of women, I agree with your added sentiment on both – the baby steps that have been taken over the past two years are at least a beginning to get to where we need to be as a society – though in that same time-frame there have been some strong headwinds in the society that still must be overcome.
    These are all good and thought provoking for managers and anyone who wants to do well in business.

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