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. 

 
 
We’ve all been there; that moment when things have gotten so bad that it becomes difficult to see how they could ever get better again. Maybe you’ve lost your job and bills are piling up, maybe you’ve just ended a long term relationship and thoughts of eternal loneliness are flooding your mind; either way, there has to be something you can do to get back on track. And as a matter of fact, there is.

1.) Take one day. When it feels like your world is ending it can be tough to think about anything else, so do what you need to do to clear your mind. However, you need to put a time limit on your groveling or you could end up wallowing forever. If that means sleeping in bed for an entire day, do it. Maybe it means going for a run or watching your favorite movie on repeat. Whatever it is that you need to do, take a day to completely absorb yourself in whatever situation you’re in, then wake up tomorrow, and begin to move on.

2.) Comprehend your new reality. Constantly saying “If only this hadn’t happened…” to yourself won’t get you anywhere. This did happen. If you lost your job, you need to stop and look at your current situation without your mind getting carried away. So sit down and take a look at your finances. What are your necessities and what will it take to pay for them (and no, cable television is not a “necessity”)? Exactly how much money do you need to make to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly? 

3.) Make a plan, in writing. And don’t generalize. Saying, “I’ll find another job,” isn’t going to help you right now. Of course you will, but how? Writing down a serious of steps leading to a job would be much more constructive. Something like: 1.) Talk to everyone I know to see if they know if their current job is hiring, 2.) Search the want ads, 3.) Update my resume, 4.) Go down to the job center to check current openings, etc.

4.) Find the reason (if there is one) and learn from it. Sometimes things happen for no reason, and there really is no lesson involved. Some things, however, do have a reason for occurring. Is there a reason you were laid off instead of your coworker? It may be that you were simply at the company for less time. Finding the reason allows you to either prevent this situation from happening again or absolve yourself from feeling guilty over something you had no control over in the first place.

5.) Appreciate the things you do have. No matter what, you still have some things to be grateful for. A divorce is rough, of course, but you still have you children, right? Try to focus on other aspects of your life that are going well. Maybe this whole situation has made you realize that you have some seriously amazing friends who would do anything for you. 

 
 
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.

 
 
How many times during the day do you think something to yourself? Probably more than you think. The truth is, you (yes, that person in the mirror) are the biggest influence on how your life turns out. And if we can’t change our thoughts, we very well can’t change our actions, now can we? So let’s make sure the following thoughts get shut down before they even start.

1.) I can’t/it’s too late/I’m not good enough/it doesn’t matter anyway/what’s the point. Yes, all of these excuses fall under the same category and all of them are collectively number one on this list for a reason. Don’t sell yourself short because your mental guestimate of your abilities is inaccurate. You are just as capable and deserving as anyone else, and it does matter or you wouldn’t be having this conversation with yourself right now. Your body is an amazing thing; if you want it to stand up, walk across the street and talk to the cute guy in the coffee shop it will do it. The only thing stopping you is your mind. 

2.) I don’t have time. Everyone thinks they don’t have time, but then something comes up and they end up making time. So make time now! Research has shown that the average person can find an extra six hours (six hours!!) in their day if they were to prioritize their tasks and work more efficiently.

3.) I’ll do it someday. Why someday? Putting it off until “someday” conveys the idea that you aren’t able to do it now, and why? Is there really something standing in your way? Right now, at this very moment, you are the oldest and wisest you have ever been, while at the same time being as young and able as you have ever been. Don’t waste time dedicating part of your life to “someday.” Do what makes you happy now.

4.) I could make a fool of myself. Yes, you could. You could also trip and fall walking through the grocery store, so do you stop going to the store? No! And the reason: because you’ve been to the store and not tripped and fell enough times that your mind doesn’t recognize it as a realistic threat. There are many opportunities to make a fool of yourself (many of them you are enormously overthinking), but if you avoided all of them you would be a hermit. Live a little bit and let yourself make mistakes. The fear of being a fool is not keeping you from being one; it’s keeping you from living, period.

5.) It didn’t work out the last time. Circumstances change and people learn, including you. If you let your past determine your future, your future is going to be an exact replica of your past.

6.) Well if so-and-so thinks it’s a good idea… Honestly, it doesn’t matter what so-and-so thinks! It matters what you think! Granted, everyone needs a little advice from someone else once in a while, but constantly needing someone else’s opinion causes you to forget to have one of your own. After all, if so-and-so has a different opinion than you, and you always go with their opinion, what’s the point in even having your own? Do what you want to do, regardless of what others may think. 

 
 
Slumps…we all have them. They’re those little sections of life when things just don’t seem to be going right. Maybe you haven’t been to the gym in a month and no matter what you do just don’t feel like going. Maybe you’ve been behind at work lately and you just can’t seem to catch up. Or maybe it’s your mood; maybe no matter what is going on in your life right now you just feel kind of…blah. These are slumps, people, and once you’re in one it can be hard to snap out of it, but it’s definitely not impossible. Here are some of the best ways to get yourself back on track.

1.) Stop. More specifically, stop thinking. Stop thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, what you forgot to do today, how your mother-in-law is driving you crazy, how you’ve gained 6 pounds since June when you promised yourself you’d lose 10: just stop. Whatever you’ve been doing lately hasn’t been working (you are in fact, in a slump), right? Right, so stop and take a deep breath; you are about to change gears.

2.) Focus. Find a place where you can sit, with pen and paper, undisturbed for a few minutes and think clearly. That means you step away from any electronic distractions (the television, the computer, your cell phone, etc.) and go somewhere comfortable. And don’t let yourself make excuses; the world is not going to explode if dinner is 30 minutes later than it usually is for the love of God.

3.) Write it down. Our minds are constantly running (as you probably already know). Research has shown that when we write down what we are thinking about on paper (how upset we are with a loved one or what we need at the store, for example), our mind can relax a bit knowing it doesn’t need to keep thinking about that information. It’s the same thing that happens when someone gives you their phone number; you repeat it to yourself until you enter it in your phone or write it down. And as soon as you do, you stop thinking about it, right? Problems you are dwelling on work the same way. So take a second and write down what is bothering you.

4.) Refine. After you write down what is bothering you (don’t worry if it’s an insanely long list, chances are you’ve needed to get some things out), take a look at what you’ve written. Did you write “Dan won’t fix those shelves I’ve asked him to fix for 2 weeks” and “Dan didn’t pack the kids’ lunches” and “Dan made work plans on our anniversary night” the problem might not be all of those little things. Instead, the problem might be “Dan and I need to communicate better.”  

5.) Determine a resolution. If the problem is that you and Dan need to communicate better. Write down a time that the two of you need to talk, undisturbed. Not while both of you are running to your cars in the morning, not the second he gets home from work. Pick a time when you can both talk. The same goes for other issues. If the problem is that you’re completely overwhelmed at work, think of a way you can take off some of your workload. Is there a fellow employee that can help you out for a bit (they could be in charge of the phone lines for the day while you work, for example)? Can you speak to your boss about getting caught up on your current assignments before taking on any more projects? If you’ve been feeling unmotivated, think of a way to get motivated. Haven’t gone to the gym in a while? Maybe you need a new pair of running shoes.

6.) Move on. Once you’ve addressed these issues and understand what you need to do, move on. Get up, make the dinner you’ve been postponing for 30 minutes, and stop thinking about it. Enjoy your dinner, watch some television with Dan, and get some sleep. Tomorrow your slump ends

 
 
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.