Editor’s Note: Today’s feature is a guest article by Scott McDowell.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years helping organizations deal with strategic planning. For a group without a crystal clear purpose, it can be a painful, unsexy process. And thanks to the pace of change, economic uncertainties and the democratization of distribution channels, planning beyond six months out, critics say, is a fool’s game.
But as a creative individual you’re immune to all that. Your ability to adapt is one of your biggest assets. Your tolerance for mini-failures and your determination to continue to create no matter what girds you against the perils of planning. In fact, for creatives, Personal Strategic Planning is more useful than ever, strengthened by your knack for making small tweaks in the moment.
The Music of Small Tweaks
I’m a lousy guitar player. I keep a few guitars around because I love to hack away now and then. It’s purely for the joy of it, and maybe to embarrass my kids. I’ll go through periods when I get busy and don’t play at all, but I’ll pick it up again eventually.
I recently pulled out a guitar after it sat dormant for the summer and the neck was warped. The humidity in my house gave it a nasty curve, which makes playing difficult. I should probably just take it to a professional, but I decided to learn how to fix a warped guitar neck myself. Did you know there’s a metal rod that shoots through the length of the neck (called the truss rod) that can be adjusted by turns of a hex wrench? You turn it a quarter rotation, then wait a day and see if the neck is straight.
Quarter-turn, then wait. Repeat until straight.
Work on What’s Next
One of the benefits of strategic planning is prioritization, which really comes down to knowing what to do next. (Priorities easily morph into tasks.) This is where Personal Strategic Planning really shines. Having a master list of priorities to work from provides steady direction like a rudder. Or maybe like a truss rod. Once you have your plan, if it needs adjusting, it’s simply a quarter-turn, then wait.
The steps that an organization takes in strategic planning can be adopted for your own Personal Strategic Plan.
Revisit your mission. You do have a mission, don’t you? Good. Now’s the time to make sure it still fits. Take a look at your what and why and update it if necessary to reflect where you are today and the direction you’re going.
Take inventory. In the strategic planning process it’s common to do a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Determining these four buckets for your work can be very useful, but I find that focusing on strengths is the most advantageous piece of the process.
Make a master list of your assets. I often tell my clients to take an inventory of their assets. (And by assets I mean the stuff you use to do your best work: physical, mental, emotional, metaphorical.) Lay everything out on the figurative table so you can see it clearly. What is propelling you along? What do you have to work with?
Turn your assets into initiatives. Now comes the fun part, transposing your asset list (or SWOT lists) into Stuff You’re Going to Work On. This new list should be the creative initiatives that play to your strengths.
Tease out the priorities. Rank your master list of initiatives in order of importance. Your list of priorities should be short enough to capture your attention and hold your focus for the next year. You can’t get to everything, so be relentless in your editing. You can always add more later (or repeat the Personal Strategic Planning process!) if you complete everything on your list.
That’s it! Your Personal Strategic Plan is complete! Go have a milkshake. And when you’re ready, turn those priorities into action items and implement away.
Planning may still not be that sexy, but with quarter-turns and your tolerance for change, having a Personal Strategic Plan can fortify your projects and help you become accidentally creative.
Image Credit: Bastian Greshake