Tag Archives | Strategic Planning

Mystery, Horses, Curiosity, and Being Open


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I recently had a profound experience with a group of fellow coaches and the human, equine and canine members of the team at The Flag Foundation for Horse/Human Partnership. (You can read about it here. Go ahead, we’ll wait.)

A central part of that experience was just being present, being totally there, being willing to let go and wonder, What will happen if I do this? Paying attention. Being open. Not worrying if I got muddy or wet or covered with dog spit. That openness made it easier to improvise. To let things happen. What’s going to happen next? And being there for it. Our whole group did that, and our human leaders did that in response to what transpired and what we needed.

* * *

A friend recently called me to talk through a situation with an organization with which she’s been working. We got curious about what she was experiencing, about why she was reacting the way she was, and about her options.

I’ve been in situations like hers, and they call for being curious about the people around us, for seeing what’s happening and yet suspending judgment, for being present in the situation, and for letting go of our egos. For being willing to get muddy and covered with dog spit. To be in a situation where getting stepped on is a possibility, and taking precautions while still being open.

* * *

Which reminds me of  a class I recently taught on strategic management for a group of leaders and managers. One of the things we dove into was why strategies fail. A key factor is the existence of competing objectives, goals that aren’t talked about openly. These can’t be uncovered if we view the situation with judgment; we must explore the situation with curiosity instead. (My objective of connecting with the horses was made difficult to achieve by my secondary goal of not getting sunburned – I slathered myself with stinky sunscreen. Ah. Next time I’ll skip the sunscreen and wear long sleeves.)

* * *

After my experience with the horses someone told me I was brave. No, I said, I was just present. I stayed present with an open heart. It occurred to me later that the root of the word “courage” is the French “coeur,” or “heart.” To have courage is to have heart. (“Ya gotta have heart… all we really need is heart…”) To be courageous is to be… hearteous.

I know, that’s not a word. You know what I mean.

To be courageous, brave, is to show up with an open heart. To be curious. And to act.

Are you willing to show up and be open, to ask, What happens next?

To suspend judgment and really experience What’s happening now?

To dive into the mystery with an open heart?

Would you like to try?

Shoot me an email: susan at susantblake dot com. And enjoy this:


This video was apparently shot when the power went out during a Tommy Emmanuel concert, and he continued – with just two luminarias on stage and someone holding a flashlight in the balcony. In it, he tells the story behind one of my favorite pieces of music.


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Image: bk images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You Are Not a Charity


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Two significant things happened in the last week that have shifted the way I think, and I’d like to share them with you. Maybe you will find them useful, too.

An Experiment

I recently offered to try an experiment with my cohorts in one of my Master Mind groups, and it worked so well that one of them suggested I offer it as a service. I let that percolate for a few days. Then she came back and asked me to do it again – and said she wanted to pay me.

So we embarked on a process of figuring out what was an appropriate price from both of our perspectives. Now, that is really all negotiation is, but it is something that gives a lot of entrepreneurs a stomach ache, especially in service-oriented and creativity-oriented businesses. Negotiating with clients wasn’t that difficult for me when I worked for someone else because I was given pricing guidelines with upper and lower boundaries. Period.

But this was different. I was not only negotiating over my own products and services, but it was for something brand new that I wasn’t really sure how to price.

As we worked through the process, I got an uncomfortable feeling, a feeling like I was accepting charity. Luckily, I noticed right away and held it up to look at it, rather than brushing it off and stuffing it.

Why would that feel like Charity?

In holding it up to look at it, I asked myself, Why would letting a friend pay me for my services feel like charity? Not because I don’t think my time is worth it; I charge a healthy (though flexible) rate for my services. Was it because she is my friend? Was it because I knew she was trying to help me grow my business and develop a new service?

Well, yes. And yes.

And I realized very quickly I needed to reframe it. That she wanted to pay me is a sign of respect and that she values my contribution. (And the process gave me the opportunity to really explore what she found valuable.) For that I feel a different kind of gratitude, and I immediately stopped feeling like a Charity Case.

I also realized that perhaps she didn’t want to feel like a Charity Case either, or a User, and so by negotiating a payment that worked for both of us, we became equal partners in the deal.

That was very cool.

A Challenge

At the same time, I was mulling over a challenge put out by one of my cohorts in my other Master Mind group. The challenge: To spend some time thinking about our Priorities. She commented that she is more of a visual than a linear thinker, so lists don’t always work. It turns out that several of us are very visual, so we all talked about ways to explore this in a visual way. I committed on Tuesday to map out my priorities via a Mind Map…

…Which I finally sat down to do on Sunday.

And something interesting happened.

But first, a note about being an Entrepreneur (or Solopreneur, as the case may be). Unlike working for A Company where it is easy to take stability and a steady paycheck for granted, the price of being an Entrepreneur is the trade-off between stability and a steady paycheck for freedom and creativity. In other words, Stability? Steady Paycheck? Ha!

Will the real Priorities please stand up?

So I sat down on Sunday morning to spend some time thinking about my priorities. Since building my business is on my mind at the moment, the first two priorities that popped out were Develop Consulting Clients and Develop Coaching Clients.

But as I kept doodling and listing other priorities, such as Be of Service, Grow, Make Connections, and Have Fun, I realized that those first two weren’t my top priorities. But they kept showing up as off-shoots of my other priorities, such as Earn My Keep, Be of Service, Have Fun ->Doing Work I Enjoy, and Have Fun->Working with People I Enjoy. So they were clearly important.

Hmmm.

Last week’s post about letting some things flow out of my life came out while all of this was percolating. So I realized that one of my priorities is to Let Go of Some Things I am doing so that other, higher priority, things can come in. So Let Go went on the mind map as a priority, too.

Profound Impact

This has all had a profound impact on how I look at my business. It affects the way I create my to-do list, which is now shaped around my priorities. It affects the way I talk about what I do. It affects the things I say Yes to or No to. It affects the choices I make about what I want do, who I want to do it with, and what needs to happen next.

I feel a bit vulnerable sharing this thought process with you, in case you held the image of me as a brilliantly wise Consultant Who Is the Fount of Wisdom. Um, no.

I don’t really want to be the Fount of Wisdom* or a Smarty Pants Know-It-All Consultant.

What I am is a wilderness guide who is blazing trails through the woods of business and life and is happy to share those trails with you.

The Lesson

And this week’s trail-blazing lesson is this: I am neither a charity nor a charity case, and neither are you.

If you are a small business person, do any of these things ring true for you?

* Well, OK. Being a Fount of Wisdom wouldn’t be all bad. 😉


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Low Hanging Fruit – Part II


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My spontaneous post on Low Hanging Fruit has spurred all kinds of additional thoughts, and the committee in my head has jumped into the debate. Warning: They have no fear of mixed metaphors or clichés. (Luckily no monsters have shown up. Yet.) So pull up a chair and enjoy some Humble Pie and Resistance Crumble.

Why do I overlook Low Hanging Fruit? Is it because it is almost too easy, and I love a good challenge? After all, that looks so easy, somebody else must have done it already. Or, maybe it looks so easy because it is and no one else will find it interesting?

Or, maybe it only looks easy to you because of your unique superpowers that you take for granted?

Maybe I overlook that Low Hanging Fruit because I can see it up close and I can see the spots and worm holes. But that beautiful shining apple way up at the top of the tree looks perfect from down here.

Yes, and haven’t you learned from experience yet that once you get close to it, That Apple Up There has just as many spots, if not more? The apple is always greener. (Wait, that’s a mixed metaphor.) You know what I mean. Anyway, you can wash off the spots and eat around the worm hole on the apple down here, right now.

Maybe what makes this Low Hanging Fruit hang so low is that it is a little heavier from the weight of needing some resources (as in, help from other people). And being a good Taurus who stubbornly thinks I have to do everything myself, I would rather, well, be stubborn. About Doing. It. Myself.

But wait, this person has already given you some great feedback, and that person has offered to be your proofreader, and that person is really excited about doing the graphic design. What makes you think you’re doing this alone? Or that you have to?

Besides, you’re going to need help building a ladder to get to the top of the tree to reach that supposedly perfect apple way up there. Why not accept the help now?

I’m afraid that what makes that Low Hanging Fruit spotted and wormy is that it is so personal. What if I pick that fruit and hand it to someone and they say, “Eew!”?

Your apples are beautiful and organic and the spots are part of their charm. People want your apples because they are personal. And that’s what makes them different from everyone else’s.

Oh, and one more thing. If you insist on leaving that Low Hanging Fruit, you’re Leaving Money On The Table and someone else is going to Eat Your Lunch! Don’t Throw Out the Baby With The Bath Water! Get picking!

Sigh. I hate it when you’re right.

This slice of Humble Pie was brought to you by the Low Hanging Fruit Pickers Association.

Low Hanging Fruit


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I recently had a very interesting coaching session with a young man who has taken on a new role with a growing organization. He is new to the organization, and the role is new as well.

This is an exciting spot to be in, but it is challenging as well. I once worked for someone who used to say, “There is nothing more challenging than putting a brand new person in a brand new role.” It is challenging because it is difficult to tell whether issues that arise are related to the design of the role or the skills of the person. As any scientist will tell you, a well-constructed experiment only has one variable at a time.

So, he is in a challenging situation. He was telling me about his ideas for initiatives to be undertaken, and he has great ideas! But they are very grand. And all the bright and shiny opportunities are making it difficult to prioritize.

I asked him if he was familiar with the term, “Low Hanging Fruit.” “No,” he replied.

So I explained that an apple tree has fruit all over it, but we don’t have a ladder. We can either build a ladder now, which will take time, or we can pick the Low Hanging Fruit first. We can reach it now, and it is ripe. We’re hungry now, I said. “Yes!” he said, “Hungry and thirsty!”

“Then start with the Low Hanging Fruit,” I suggested. “What are the projects you can start with first and get some momentum, while building a ladder to get to the top of the tree?” And we began talking about the projects he can undertake immediately.

It occurs to me this morning that the same is true for developing products.

I am in a “mastermind” or “success team” group that meets, virtually, every week. Our mission is to support and hold each other accountable while we are building our businesses. As part of that, each of us is working on a Product of some kind. We are having some interesting conversations and some exciting breakthroughs!

And we face some interesting challenges, some of which are of our own making.

I wonder, to what extent are we – am I – forgetting to pick the Low Hanging Fruit, overlooking it because it is almost too easy?

Hmmm.

My late husband used to look at me sometimes and say, “I hate it when you’re right.”

This time I have to say, “Gah, I hate it when I’m right.”

What is the Low Hanging Fruit you are overlooking?

Gardens, Birds, Businesses, and Strategic Planning


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My garden, such as it is, is currently carpeted with fallen leaves from the great Valley Oak that stands at its edge. This rust-colored carpet shines with the night’s rain and calls to me, reminding me of chores to be done. Although part of me sees a comforting blanket that protects my sleeping garden from what cold we experience here, another part of me sees the stalwart heads of a few hardy plants that peek out from beneath their covers and hears them calling, “Don’t forget about us!”

My favorite activity of a Sunday morning is to take my cup of coffee to the rocking chair next to the patio doors in my office and sit and drink my coffee and look at my garden while listening to the Acoustic Sunrise on a local radio station (you can stream it online at KFOG.com). After I finish my coffee I will often move on to a mimosa, my Sunday Morning Indulgence.

I love to sit here and watch morning come to my garden and the neighborhood around it, painting the neighborhood trees and the surrounding hills with gold. Eventually the sun peeks through and over the privacy fence around my secret garden and walks across it like the sun through the peepholes at Stonehenge.

Unless, of course, it is a grey day like today, and clouds paint the hills and kiss the trees.

I sit and observe, and contemplate. I watch the birds – house finches and Anna’s hummingbirds are regular visitors, joined by a circus train whose troupes change with the seasons. Right now we have chickadees and white crowned sparrows, but at other times we will have tufted titmice, goldfinches (they always make me smile), and the occasional ruby crowned kinglet, who does not like seeing his reflection in the mirror hanging on the fence. He puffs up his ruby crown and struts back and forth along the back of the bench before the mirror, trying to impress his rival.

I make notes – the bird feeder needs to be cleaned and refilled, the basket of nesting materials can come down, I need to make more hummingbird nectar.

I sit, and rest, and contemplate, and wonder…and plan.

I sit, and rest, and contemplate, and wonder. And consider, and plan. What task shall I tackle first? Is it time to prune roses and cut back the grasses yet? I must remember to make cuttings from the rose geranium. Should I pull out the skeleton of my beloved hardenbergia that mysteriously dropped its leaves this fall (it is normally evergreen, with glorious purple flower clusters in January, but this January it is bare), or should I wait until Spring and see if it comes back with some fertilizer and pruning? What if it doesn’t come back? With what should I fill the gap it leaves? And so on, with variations with the seasons.

I go through a similar process each week around my business when I prepare my new to-do list for the week. As with any garden, I know I can never get to everything that needs to be done, so I must prioritize. What must be done? What will wither and die if neglected too long? What do I do just for the joy of it, and what do I do because I must? Do I put the Joy items on the to-do list, validating the Joy, or steal time for them?

I think some businesses (and jobs) are like low-maintenance yards, requiring only weekly mowing and semi-annual fertilization and hedge-trimming. Maybe some weed pulling. Others are like gardens with plants that come in and out of season, crops that are planted, harvested and replaced, and projects like container plantings that are freestanding and portable. The workshop I am planning – it will initially be a potted plant, but if it thrives I will be able to propagate it and perhaps move it to a permanent spot in the garden. The e-book is like strawberries that will need the right setup and fertilization and attention to get started but will be ever bearing and low-maintenance once established.

There is a difference between making a to-do list and strategic planning.

Strategic planning is like that. But there is a difference between making a to-do list and strategic planning. I can put “pull weeds” and “transplant begonias” on the to-do list, but if I never stop to look at the big picture of how things fit together and whether these little tasks are helping me achieve my larger goals, then I will just have a pleasant mishmash. What do I want my garden to look like? It’s about having a vision, and then making a plan to make it so, and then monitoring to make sure the tasks on my to-do list – and their results – are in alignment with that plan. Strategic planning requires that I pause to observe, listen and take stock, with a realistic appraisal of resources, and with frequent reassessments. Otherwise all I can see are the trees, not the forest.

Each of us can – must – assess where we are and what we are doing.

It doesn’t matter whether you are even a manager or a business owner: Each of us can – must – assess where we are and what we are doing. There are things we can control, even if we cannot control the weather or the seasons.

Strategic planning is that simple, but it can be bewildering if you’re new to it or feeling stuck. Don’t worry – even the best gardeners consult with someone else at times.

Have a thought on the subject? Please leave a comment!

Need help? Email me at susan@susanTblake.com. I can help.

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