Recently I caught up with a friend and colleague of mine – a very talented creative performer – who had entered in to the world of coaching, speaking and running seminar training events.
She was telling me how a short while back she had been involved in a strategy planning session. During the session she had been filled with creative energy – mapping out her goals, deciding what she would accomplish, and detailing the exact steps that would take her there, and what she would have to do by which dates.
But subsequently, when she tried to execute the actions as she had laid them out in the plan, she felt like she was dragging her feet – she told me “it felt like moving through mollasses!” The plans that had seemed so exciting to her just a few days before didn’t seem to motivate her to take action.
Then her ‘inner voice’ spoke up and started asking “what is wrong with me”, and she started doubting: “maybe I won’t succeed, maybe I can’t do it!”.
It turned out that this had happened a few times, following different strategic planning sessions. Each time, during the session she was charged with creative energy. After the session it was hard to follow through and implement the actions.
Eventually, she found that she could get in to action – but not by following any of the actions or tasks laid out in the plan! She needed to invent new actions or tasks to engage herself and keep moving forward.
So naturally enough, when we caught up, she was wondering: what was going on?
I felt an immediate sense of recognition. I’ve been there too. And I’ve been thinking about this problem, and its solution, over the last 18 months.
So, what was going on?
My friend is highly creative. In her strategic planning sessions, she was excited about the possibilities, she was in the moment – the creative forces were moving her, and moving with her. There was a world of opportunity opening up, and decisions being made. She loved it! It drew on what she loved doing best. The strategic planning session was one of the highlights of her week, and of her month!
But then those decisions were made, and written down. And they were good. She had the plan, all she needed to do now was follow it.
And therein lay the problem. One of the core assumptions underlying traditional business planning is that you can create the strategic business plan, and then execute it. We spend maybe two days a year in an executive strategic planning retreat, and then we spend the rest of the year executing the strategy. Or we spend a day or two in a strategic planning session and then we only revisit and update the plans quarterly or monthly. We go quickly from a highly creative, strategic outlook, to a practical business-as-usual getting-it-done mindset. We go from 2 days working on the business, to 218 days working in the business. In short, we go from a highly creative period of planning, to an extended period of work.
In other words, all the creative, strategic activity we undertake is focused in and concentrated into just two days of planning. After that, we have work to do. We have a plan to follow. We don’t need to think. We don’t need to be creative. We just need to do it.
And that’s not very exciting at all for the creative spirit who is running their own business or seeking professional challenges. The creative individual doesn’t get out of bed each day saying ‘what work do I have to do today?’. Instead, creative spirits get out of bed saying ‘what am I excited about creating, expressing, doing today?’ It’s a very different orientation.
With their work laid out for them for the year, and when to do it, and how to do it best, that creative spark can feel like it’s gone. That creative part of them is saying ‘well, what is there for me to do? What new creative directions or new ideas can I help with and get excited about’? So, the creative spirit disengages from the work – or, worse, it actively sabotages the work by creating new diversions and exciting side projects instead of working on executing the plan.
There has to be a better way!
And there is.
Rather than bunching all the creative work up in to two just days of strategic planning, the creative spirit is better served by making every day highly creative. So instead of working to define tasks and activities and schedules and deadlines, the creative spirit only seeks to set out the big picture vision – their choices about where they want to go – during strategic planning sessions.
Then, during the strategic planning session and afterwards, they just need to ask 3 simple questions:
- Where am I now?
- Where do I want to go?
- How do I want to get there?
The creative spirit can ask those same questions during the strategic planning session, the day after the strategic planning session, or every morning of every business day throughout the year, and the end result is always the same – after asking these questions they tap right back in to that powerful creative spirit that knows exactly what it needs to do know and has the energy, passion and capabilities to get there.
That is a different way of strategy execution. It is a way that engages the creative spirit, it starts each day with energy and momentum. It allows for flexibility, for new decisions to be made on any day – and still progress strongly towards the vision and destination.
Of course, traditional business planning activities such as writing a business plan (complete with market research and cash flow projections and the whole works) are still very useful – because the thinking you undertake during the process helps you understand your business better and be better prepared for eventualities.
On a day to day basis though, I suspect the creative person is going to be better served by waking up and asking and answering the three strategically creative questions above than they would be by waking up and grabbing a copy of the business plan with attached notes from the schedule outlining what they need to be doing today.
This new orientation is something I try to build into my daily workflow. It works well for me.
My friend and colleague I mentioned above thinks this is great, it has changed her focus completely – and allows her to play to her strengths each day.
Are you a creative person? If so, I’d really appreciate it if you drop a comment here to let me know how and if this is useful for you. I never know how useful this is and whether this helps you unless you tell me, and so any comments are much appreciated!
Also, I think this message is really important for creative people, so I’d like to try to share this widely.
Do you know a creative person? Please send them a link and invite them to visit. I’d love to start some real discussion around this. Is this topic important? Do the three questions work as well for you and for other creative people as they have for me and for my friend?
Do you have a website or blog? I’d love to share this message with creative people everywhere – particularly creative business people and creative professionals – so if you are happy to drop a link back to this page it would be much appreciated.