Ever heard the phrase “creative strategic planning”? Surely you have, though it may have simply been thrown around in a business meeting. Or maybe you’ve seen it scattered across the internet, a vague catch phrase get-rich-quick schemes use to lure people in. Either way, this is one thing you definitely need to pay more attention to.

Strategic planning refers to defining a specific goal and then laying out a necessary strategy to reach that goal. Basically, strategic planning makes sure your short-term decisions work in favor of your long-term goals. To begin, a strategic planner needs to answer these three questions:

1.) Where are we now?

2.) Where do we want to be?

3.) How can we move one step closer?

Sound simple enough? Almost. The first two questions should be answered with as much specifics as possible. Let’s say you own a business. Your goal is to raise profits by 10% by the end of next year. So you might say:

1.) Where are we now?
        - Our current profit margin is ___.

2.) Where do we want to be?
        - We want our profits to be raised by 10% by December 31, 2013. Therefore, we need our profit margin to be ___by December 31, 2013.

Now comes the creative part, which is question #3. There are a number of theories floating around that provide the best way to start the creative process, but we feel Wallas’s creative process makes for a great fit. There are four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.

Preparation is the stage of gathering all your possible information. After all, you won’t be able to give yourself options if you have no idea of what you’re working with, right? So look at all your sources, all the people you know and all the possible pathways to reach your goal.

Next is incubation. So take a break; set the problem aside for a bit to clear your head. A disorganized mind creates a disorganized reality.

Step 3: illumination. Identify potential solutions. This is when working as a team really comes in handy, as everyone will be looking at the problem through a different perspective. Have brainstorming sessions to present as many solutions as possible.

And finally: verification. Refine your ideas. There may be a number of ideas on how to increase profits by 10% within the given time frame, but each idea needs to be refined and clearly laid out before a decision is made.

It’s completely understandable if this still sounds a bit complicated, but that’s why we’re here! Schedule a meeting with Canvas Creek today and we’ll show you how to get on track in your creative strategic planning process. We’ll even be with you every step of the way. 

 
 
With the ever expanding world of the internet, it can be quite easy to see how business relationships may fall to the wayside. After all, instead of calling customer care, people are directed to an online question and answer forum. Instead of turning in job applications directly to human resources, people are asked to submit theirs online. Even ordering business supplies over the phone is a thing of the past; sure, you can probably do it, but not without hearing about how convenient their new online ordering system is from the person on the other end of the line. Do they know a website has the potential to put them out of a job?

Nonetheless, with so many essential business moves being made over the internet, one might think we were living in a world where human to human interaction was not the preferable option. However, relationships in business are more important than ever. And no matter how much work is done online, there are a few things you need to know:

1.) Nothing can replace excellent customer service. Ever get to a website and find that you can’t find a phone number? Anywhere? It’s frustrating to have to sit at a computer and try to decipher what someone else has already deemed the appropriate response to your problem. Maybe that solution isn’t working, maybe that’s not your problem, and maybe you just have no idea what the words in front of you mean.

Having a relationship with your clients means being there for them in a time of need, and refusing to have a help number on your website is not being there (neither is requiring them to go through 46 steps to reach a human being on the other end, contrary to the opinion of Verizon, but who’s counting).

2.) Do what you say you are going to do. When a customer has contacted you with an issue, it is up to you to resolve it. Relying on them to remind you of the problem or giving them a list of things they should try and then call you back is lazy. Sure you can teach a man to fish, but in the business world it’s appreciated if you give that same man a fish or two while he is still learning. Don’t leave your customers out on a limb; once they’ve contacted you take the problem off their hands.

Oh yeah, and fix it.

3.) Facilitate connections. I work with a local photographer here in town, and one day I asked her how much money she spends on advertising for her business. Her answer: $0.00. All of her clients are from colleague recommendations, word of mouth, and social media. Folks all these client sources are facilitated through favorable relationships. If no other photographers in town respect her, if her clients aren’t happy with her work or she ignores the growing trend of social media, her business dies. It’s as simple as that. 

 
 
It’s fairly common to be unsatisfied with your current situation in life. Maybe you are happy with your relationship but your job is making you miserable. Maybe you just keep going in circles and you can’t seem to break out of your rut. Either way, change often takes time. However, it all begins with that first step, and here are a few first steps that will show a little bit of improvement immediately.

1.) Let go of the past. As wise Rafiki says in The Lion King, “Oh yes, the past can hurt. But the from way I see it, you can either run from it, or... learn from it.” And even though our lives are not lived through animation, the lesson holds up just the same. The past is the past, and dwelling on it isn’t going to solve anything. Learn what you can from it and then let it go.  

2.) Cut out people that hurt you. If you have a relationship that is causing you grief, end it. Just because someone was your best friend in 4th grade or is related to you by blood does not mean you have to keep them in your life. The only people you should have time for are the ones that treat you with respect and dignity and support you when you need it.  

3.) Stand up for yourself. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will? If you feel you are being disrespected in some way, say something. Allowing yourself to be a doormat certainly doesn’t feel good, and the second you stop being one you’ll realize how amazing it feels to be treated with respect.

4.) De-clutter your mind. Have something that’s weighing on your mind? Take care of it! Maybe it’s a huge presentation you feel unprepared for; stop putting it off and prepare for it! Maybe you are avoiding talking to your child’s math teacher for whatever reason; get over it and stop by the school after work! All of those tiny little to-do tasks add up, and it can cause you some serious stress. Bear down and take care of as many of them as you can and you’d be surprised at how amazing you feel knowing all of those little tasks are completed. 

5.) Appreciate how far you’ve come. Goals we set for ourselves often take a long time to achieve, so it’s completely understandable to feel frustrated about halfway through when you feel like you haven’t made any progress. Chances are though, you have made some progress, you just haven’t stopped to realize it yet. Do you have a goal to lose 20 pounds and you’ve lost 12 so far? Good for you, that’s a big deal! So take a second and think about what you’re trying to accomplish and how far you’ve come toward that particular goal

 
 
Ah yes, our passion. At times it can be so elusive, and vague comments from others (“Well, just pick something you like and do that.”) are virtually useless. So here are a few inspirational points that might help you get on the right path.

1.) Often people attempt to live their lives backwards.  They try to acquire more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier.  The way it actually works is the reverse.  You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.

2.) Don’t be normal.  Sadly, normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you financed, in order to get to the job that you don’t really like, but that you need, to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.

3.) If you are passionate about it, pursue it, no matter what anyone else thinks.  That’s how dreams are achieved.

4.) Live by choice, not by chance.  Make changes, not excuses.  Be motivated, not manipulated.  Work to excel, not compete.  Choose to listen to your inner voice, not the jumbled opinions of everyone else.

5.) When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin.  It works not because it settles the question for you, but because in that brief moment when the coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you are hoping for.

6.) It’s not about getting a chance; it’s about taking a chance.  You’ll rarely be 100% sure it will work, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.  Sometimes you just have to go for it 

7.) Nothing you have that much passion for is ever a waste of time, no matter how it turns out in the long-term.

8.) Life is short.  If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.

9.) A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.  This concept can be universally applied.

10.) There are people who live in a dream world and there are people who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.

11.) If you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.

12.) When we focus on leading a passionate, meaningful life, we are also inadvertently creating a spectacular ripple effect of inspiration in the lives around us.  When one person follows a dream, tries something new, or takes a daring leap, everyone nearby feels their passionate energy; and before too long, they are making their own daring leaps while simultaneously inspiring others.

 
 
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a bad relationship, a new venture or just a lifestyle, there are some things in life that just aren’t working anymore. Now it can be difficult to know when the time is right to walk away and try something new, so we’ve made it a bit easier on you. Here are five signs that it’s time to stop what you’re doing and move on.

1.) You’re going in circles. Have you ever heard Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity? Well here it is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you’ve already tried everything you can think of to make it work and are now trying things you’ve already tried, you need to stop. You’re going in circles and it’s time to move on. 

2.) You’ve already learned the lesson. Let’s say you’ve been in a horrible relationship for 2 years. Now let’s say you break up and move on to date an amazing person and you’re happy. You’ve learned your lesson about the bad relationship, right? Now if you had been in that bad relationship for four years instead of two would you have gained anymore wisdom? Probably not. Once you’ve learned the lesson there’s no point in hanging on. Now you’re just wasting time.

3.) You’re crossing lines you originally set for yourself. Whenever you start a new endeavor, there are always lines that are set. Maybe you don’t necessarily write them down, but they’re definitely there. Something like, “Well as long as he doesn’t cheat on me we can still work on things,” or “I’m going to run this business for six years, and if it isn’t gaining a profit by then I’ll be done.” These are good boundaries to have, but as soon as they are crossed, you’re just kidding yourself. If he cheats on you or it’s been seven years and the business still isn’t turning a profit, it’s time to cut your losses.

4.) You’re missing out on other opportunities. Here’s an easy way to look at it. If a chance for something comes along and you consider it a missed opportunity, than it probably is! Let’s say you’re a chef running your own restaurant. It’s not exactly pulling in a huge profit, but you’ve only been in business for a year. A café down the street offers you a great job and you turn it down. You’re happy with your decision. Now let’s say you’ve been a chef for five years at a failing restaurant and you’re offered the same café job. You turn it down again, but this time you wonder if you made the right decision.

In the first scenario, taking the job at the café would have meant you missed out on the opportunity to own your own restaurant. So you turned it down and continued on your path. But in the second scenario, you see turning down the job at the café was a missed opportunity to have a decent income, and you missed it. If you think you’re missing opportunities, it probably means you know longer see what you’re doing as the right choice.

5.) You’re unhappy. It’s as simple as that. If you’re unhappy in your situation (with your current job or a relationship) and you’ve tried everything to improve it (talked to your boss, been to relationship counseling) but nothing has worked and you’re still unhappy, you need to get out of that situation. 

 
 
No matter what group of people you’re working with (your family, your coworkers, your intramural teammates, your church group), an open and effective line of communication is key. But that phrase, “effective communication”, tends to get thrown around a lot doesn’t it. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot to effective communication. There’s listening, using the appropriate tone and hand gestures, and various other things we do while talking. However, in most groups of people there are bound to be one or two shy folks, so how exactly do you get them talking? Well here you go; three ways to get someone engaged in a conversation:

1.) Say statements instead of questions. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Asking someone a question demands a response. And not just any response, but one that is on subject and within a socially acceptable time frame. You’re putting pressure on someone without even knowing it. Statements, on the other hand, demand no response, allowing the other person to answer when and if they feel comfortable or not. A question also provides you the opportunity to judge them depending on their answer, while a statement simply says something about yourself.

For example, say you sit down next to a co-worker during lunch break and they are eating something that looks very spicy. The question, “Wow, what is that? Is it really spicy?” can seem innocent, but it’s more difficult that you might think. The statement, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy!” is much easier to handle. The listener is required to do nothing, you were simply making a statement that their food looks spicy.

2.) Compliment them. Just as the above example indicates, the listener appeared to be “brave” when eating spicy food, not “crazy”. In addition, a compliment can open the door to letting them feel comfortable in their own skin. A simple, “Wow, you have beautiful handwriting!” can give someone that tiny boost of self-confidence they need to open up a bit more.

3.) Say something about yourself. People don’t, in general, willingly open up to strangers. Therefore, if you want someone to open up to you, you’ve got to make yourself seem a little less like a stranger, and a great way to do that is to say a little bit about yourself.

Take the above example in the break room. You can continue the conversation to say something like, “Wow, you must be pretty brave, that looks spicy! I never could eat spicy food, though I do keep trying!” In just one sentence, you have gone from “Stacy, the lady who sits at the west desk,” to “Stacy who wants to like spicy food.” It’s a small change, but a significant one

 
 
Morale tends to be one of those tricky words thrown around meetings. Every company wants good morale around the office but very few companies actually go through the trouble of determining how to achieve it.

But really quick, before we get into how to destroy morale (and why this would be a horrible thing to happen), what exactly is morale?

Morale can be loosely defined as the level of confidence or optimism felt by an individual or a group. It’s the feeling a person gets that they can make a difference in their environment; that they matter, and that they are valued. A high morale gives you employees that are committed and motivated to their task. Low morale gives you apathetic, uncaring employees that are probably searching for other jobs during their breaks. Which would you rather have? Exactly.

So if you’re looking to have the most productive environment possible, here are the top five things you should avoid:

1.) Embracing ignorance. The old phrase, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them” has no place in a workplace environment. Essentially, it means you’re rewarding poor communication and giving them an excuse for a low level of motivation. Don’t just explain the project to your employees, explain the reason for the project, allowing them to become invested in it as well.

2.) Assuming. How’s it go? Oh that’s right; assuming just makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’. It all comes back to communication. How many movies have there been made based on a simple plot of miscommunication and assumption? Too many to count. Don’t let your workplace turn into a shenanigan-stuffed Hollywood comedy. 

3.) Fault-finding. There’s a difference between giving out constructive criticism and finding faults in every little thing. Believe it or not, sometimes someone just does a good job and they should be recognized and awarded appropriately. Everything does not need to be a learning experience.

4.) One-Upping. Everyone has been guilty of this at one point or another, and most of the time we probably don’t even realize we’re doing it. But when an employee comes to you describing a certain success they’ve had (maybe they finished that 12 page report in only three days), explaining how you once finished a 50 page report in only four days isn’t going to be an amusing story, it’s going to downplay their success.

5.) Not caring. As much as people want to keep work and personal life separate, the fact is the two tend to mix at least a little bit. Things are going to happen at home that affect a person’s performance at work (perhaps a loved one has just passed away) and things are going to happen at work that certainly affect a person’s home life. Plus, most people spend even more time at work than they do with their own families. Remembering little things, like birthdays, or asking how someone is doing after they have suffered a loss or tragedy can give a much needed boost to a low morale environment.
 
 
As much as we would all like it to, the concept of teamwork does not simply “happen.” Instead, it takes a great deal of time working through details to make sure a team works together effectively. But some businesses and families are one step ahead of the game; by creating a culture that facilitates teamwork, constantly, a groups’ members are already comfortable with the idea of working together. So how can you achieve this in your home or place of business? Read on!

1.) Reward and value efforts of teamwork. The lone employee has their place, but placing a large amount of reward on something an individual employee does on their own can often give the impression that an individual can be valued more than the group. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of personal recognition, of course, but try to keep larger rewards (bonuses, compensation, etc.) distributed to groups of people as a display of a team working together successfully.

2.) Build teams to solve issues. If you are constantly forming teams to resolve issues that arise, people are going to start doing it on their own. If you typically ask for a group of volunteers to solve a problem, the first time a problem comes up while you are out of town group members will follow the protocol; which is to form a team and work through the issue together.

3.) List a teamwork culture as an identifiable value. The concept of teamwork shouldn’t be inferred, it should be openly accepted. Make sure the idea of teamwork is added to employee handbooks or written agreements so group members understand that it is a priority.

4.) Bring up topics that were solved by teamwork. I used to work at Billings Clinic, and I remember when they were given a Magnet rating (the top rating for nursing in the country; very few hospitals have achieved this), credit was given to the committee that worked tirelessly to make sure the hospital met specific qualifications. No single individual was acknowledged; it was considered a group effort.

5.) Exemplify teamwork at the executive level as well. As parents, it’s tough to expect your family to run as a team if you and your spouse do not act as a team as well. The same goes with a business. If Mom is asked a question, saying “I’ll run that by your father” shows that teamwork happens at even the highest level. Make this a practice in your business as well. 

 
 
In a perfect world, all teams would work perfectly together; meetings would run smoothly, problems would be easily ironed out and everyone would be happy. However, as we all probably already know, we don’t live in a perfect world. And while one person may believe a team is functioning as well as it could be, another member may have a different opinion. The fact is, just as every other aspect of a business needs to be evaluated, and so does the collaboration process of the actual team.

So gather your team members together, provide a few snacks (a few cookies work wonders for cutting tension) and explain that a simple evaluation needs to be done. Make sure all evaluations are anonymous, and have each member rate the team against the following criteria:

1.) Clarity of team goals. Is it clear what the team is actually trying to accomplish? Is it clear who exactly is benefitting the most from the accomplishment of the team’s goals? If a member from one department feels accomplishing the stated goals only benefits members from another department, it could mean that some of the team’s goals are too narrow or that they aren’t being explained properly.

2.) Clarity of individual roles and responsibilities. A friend of mine works as a coach for a university softball team. When the university was hiring new athletic trainers, they informed her she had been nominated as the chair of the committee. However, no one explained her responsibilities. People would just call her office asking if she turned in “that review” or had completed her “recommendation rundown” and she had no idea what they were talking about. Encourage your team members to describe times they have felt like this.

3.) Efficiency of time and resources. Ever been to a meeting that was a complete waste of time? One that was simply a gathering of people so your supervisor could hear herself talk? Hopefully your team meetings aren’t like this, but if they are it’s an incredible waste of resources. Have team members list ideas to make meetings more efficient. Maybe a memo could be sent out before hand with a list of required paperwork or the itinerary could be emailed out letting people know exactly what part of the meeting will be relevant to them.

4.) Facilitation of ideas. Do your team members have a voice? If they suggest something, do you get defensive or hear their ideas? Are they constantly interrupted by other teammates? Is the environment conducive to a productive meeting or is it absolutely freezing and they can’t wait to get out of there (don’t scoff; a comfortable room temperature is actually very relevant to productivity)?

5.) Rewards and general concerns. While accomplishing a specific goal sounds like it should be enough, more often than not, it isn’t. Encourage team members to list possible incentives or ways productivity could be increased. In addition, have them list any general concerns they may have about how the meetings are run. This could be scheduling or even fairness. I worked nightshifts at a previous job, and until someone mentioned it all meetings were held at 3:00 in the afternoon. That’s great if you work day shift, but it’s an awful time for nightshift. Everyone was much happier when meetings were changed to 8:00 in the morning, right between shift changes. 

 
 
When you are running a business, it’s perfectly natural to want to do everything on your own. You’re looking to cut as many costs as possible, so doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision.

Let’s read that again, this time with the correct emphasis.

Doing your own books, taxes, advertising and anything else seems like a reasonable decision. See where I’m going here? The fact is, you can’t do everything yourself, nor should you. Here is a list of people you should consider hiring if you want your business to have the best chance of success.

1.) Professional Accountant. Taxes are nothing to joke about. One slip-up could cost thousands of dollars in fees and wasted time, not to mention legal issues and a damaged company reputation. Get your taxes done right by someone how knows what they’re doing. 

2.) Lawyer. And speaking of legal issues, a decent lawyer is essential. Your company may be held liable for a number of things, and in the unfortunate instance that a problem should arise, every contract or written agreement is going to be gone over with the most intense of scrutiny. It would be wise to do this while drafting up the contracts. You’ll want to make sure any potential issues are discussed long before you find yourself in hot water. And if you do find yourself in hot water, you’re going to want a good business lawyer on your side, especially one that already knows your business inside and out.

3.) Professional Web Designer. If you don’t have a website, you’re already behind, plain and simple. Did you know over 64% of adults under 25 years old don’t even own a phonebook? And why would they, they can find everything they need on the internet! You need a website, but a site that is messy and difficult to navigate won’t do you any good. A professional web designer will give your business the web presence it needs to be successful.

4.) Social Media Expert. The phrase, “adapt or die” hasn’t been around for nothing, and in this day and age social media is an essential part of business. Not only does it provide free marketing to a constantly growing and evolving audience (it costs nothing to have your own Facebook page or Twitter account), but it also gives your customers additional ways of interacting with you. Hiring someone who is proficient in the ways of social media helps give your business the identity and presence you want it to have.