This month's issue: Strategic Planning.
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Simple. Powerful. Elegant.

A Newsletter from Creative Ventures

Issue #115

Big News

Yep, it’s already the dawn of the 4th quarter, and for many, summer is becoming a faded memory.
At Creative Ventures, like many other companies, we are beginning our planning process for 2016.  Combine that exercise with a heavy travel schedule full of exciting BRAND NEW IDEAS, and things are hoppin!

  • Over Coffee Videos continue to roll.  Here is the latest in case you missed it.  This idea has spawned a number of clients embarking on small, quick video projects.  For example, we’re working on two video strategies for clients around short success stories and quick education tips!
  • We are really excited about a brand new strategic platform around the future of the client experience and the role of the sales professional.  We will be introducing the program in October, and it should be ready for everyone in November.  
  • We also have a grand experiment on the schedule, where we will be doing a kind of simulcast program with our standard powerful visual journey connecting to our content, BUT we are adding a new aspect in which Colin will be using his sketchnoting skills on stage, connecting a powerful new way for the audience to participate in our content.
  • We have a brand new educational class on PLAN EXECUTION that debuts in early November.
It’s so much fun, it’s hard to catch our breath!




The Notorious Strategic Plan

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." 

- Winston Churchill

As the leaves change color and the planet tilts toward our winter, the corporate alarm goes off, and it’s time to start the 2016 planning process.  It is a rite of organizational autumn that we gather our folks in conference rooms and pretend to become predictors of the future.

For over 2,500 years strategy has been a player in success or failure.  Early military leaders used it to instigate or prevent war.  The earliest businesses wanted power and monopolies.  All had the idea that if you plan your actions, you can achieve your desired outcome…sometimes.
In our sacred Creative Ventures simplicity thinking, strategic planning is about only three fundamental things:
  • Knowing where you are.
  • Knowing where you want to go.             
  • Defining how to get from where you are to where you want to go, with small impactful steps.
The problem is, as simple as this format sounds, it is incredibly hard to do.
Over 70% of all companies fail to achieve their strategic plans.  A study by Norton and Kaplan yields my all-time favorite strategic planning statistic:  only 5% of those involved in the execution of the company’s strategic plan even understand or can articulate what the plan is!

So if most strategic plans end in failure, why is this exercise in apparent futility as ingrained in business practices as accounting?  Good question.  Maybe they plan for the sake of planning.  Maybe they do it because they have always done it.  Maybe it is expected of them.  The real question is why they continue to strategically plan the same way they always have when the results are so demonstrably poor historically?
During a recent project we were working with a company’s national sales team, who had been having trouble executing their sales plan.  I spent half a day with the team listening to explanations of key issues.  A couple of pages of sketchnotes later, it became apparent that execution against plan was simply not a priority.  In an only half-joking manner, I suggested they scrap the highly detailed and complex sales strategy and substitute this:  GO SELL MORE STUFF.  You could even modify it to GO SELL MORE STUFF THAN LAST YEAR.  It would have been one hell of a lot simpler to measure and execute than the convoluted plan they were trying—and failing—to implement.

Most companies use a very similar template for their planning process.  They look at history, the market, and the competition.  As they examine this trifecta, the first robber of outcome and results starts to slip in, the idea of MORE. Our plan needs to be more robust.  We have to defend our jobs with lots of stuff to do. Companies tend to feel bad about small but significant strategic plans.  They fear the appearance of not doing enough.  The gravitational pull of “more” is really strong.   We simply want to do more, and more always leads to complexity.  The more complex something is, the harder it is to execute the plan.  For a plan to be successful, execution is everything, everything!  Planning is an intellectual exercise, but execution is the result of focused action.

Companies that do well tend to have a culture that rewards execution, where the organizational behavior over time recognizes execution as part of their performance measurements.  The idea of focusing cultural impact on strategy isn’t new.  Behavior over time is almost always reflected in performance, and performance is all about execution.  It wasn’t the so distant past when companies like Enron, Tyco, and WorldCom proved the destructive nature of a deformed culture.
I’m not underselling the need for strong planning, planning with a very strategic focus.  I know how important it is in a world where accelerated change shifts markets and margins daily.  I am advocating a different approach.  I mean, just look at these factors from Ernst and Young and the Harvard Business School:
  • 85% of sales teams spend less than 1 hour a month on the specifics of their strategic sales plan.
  • The majority of those involved have no direct connection to outcome.
  • There is no systemic approach to communication around the plan.
I could go on.

It is time to think and behave differently.   Here are three ideas to get you started.


Do This!


I know you have a very complex business operating in a vast and ever-changing market.  I know this means detailed plans, and I’m not telling you to forsake your layer cake of stuff you have to do (well, I kind of am).  But in order to get that execution you are so desperately searching for, everyone needs to understand the plan.  They don’t necessarily need to know the intimate specificity of the plan.  If one element of your plan is to enter the XYZ market, in the Pacific Northwest, through the sales channels created in 2015 and have it done by June 14, 2016, it may be enough for EVERYONE to know you are expanding into the Pacific Northwest.  Try this simple exercise.  Take out a business card.  Flip it over.  Write the plan on the back.  If you can do that, you can explain the plan to anyone.  It’s the power creative restriction brings to ideas and communication.

THE 5-MINUTE PHYSICAL -  It seems most problems can be traced to the nature of communication plans about strategies.  If your execution is poor, make communication a priority.  After all the grandiose planning, make sure people are working toward the desired outcome.  In other words, make sure they are accountable.  At the beginning of the plan’s action steps have a simple NO MORE THAN 5 MINUTE phone call/meeting that has no other purpose than to focus on the execution of the plan.  The call may be needed with your entire team, or maybe it’s just with a plan leader.  The frequency of the meeting is dependent on the need.  At the sales strategy meeting I discussed earlier, we went to a daily call.  Every morning started with a plan call.  The key to both execution and accountability is TOP OF MIND.  I know the daily grind of regular business can pull you away from the importance of the plan, BUT five minutes are available to everyone.

Do you ever wonder why churches and charities use various metaphoric images to track their fund raising activities?  From thermometers to piggy banks, they SHOW their progress.  The winningest coach in NCAA history is the University of North Carolina’s women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance.  His numbers are scary.  A 93% winning percentage with, at one time, 101 wins in a row.  One of his methods of achieving the team goals is to SHOW the entire team where every player ranks within his key metrics.  It is visible EVERY DAY.  To help with your strategic plan become REAL to your team, make it visible.  Find simple, powerful visual tools that show the status of the key metrics in your plan.  Seeing makes everything real.



Horror is one of the most popular genres in all of filmdom, and it turns out watching those scary flicks just might be good for you.  Recent studies have shown some of the following effects from a really good scare:
  • Increase in the really good endorphins.  Being scared makes you feel good.
  • Increase in the white blood cell count. 
  • Increase in thermogenesis, or the expenditure of energy above your standard metabolic rate.  You lose weight watching horror movies.
Might be time to get out for a good scare!

With Halloween around the corner I love the fun facts that come out:
  • The owl is the most popular image on Halloween.  The birds are said to represent witches.
  • Halloween is the second highest grossing holiday after Christmas.
  • Ireland is thought to be the birthplace of Halloween.
  • Want to see a ghost?  Wear your clothes inside out and walk backwards.  It is said to guarantee a ghost sighting on Halloween.

We are watching a global phenomenon before the spark of the catalyst.  When Disney invested $4 billion in LucasFilm in 2012 they and everyone else already knew the power of the Star Wars Empire, but I’m not sure even they were able to predict the tsunami of potential the franchise contained.  This December the latest film chapter, The Force Awakens, hits the screen, but already the hype and money are flowing.  In a very controlled partnership with Hasbro (toys) and Electronic Arts (video games), Disney is following the Frozen model:  take the success of a movie directly to the toy aisle.  Frozen has generated over 300 different items resulting in $531 million in sales. Full circle branding around the new movie launched in August, and already sales of new Star Wars stuff is booming.  Toys alone should hit half a billion dollars.  JP Morgan predicts a 200% increase is merchandise attributed to rebirth of the Star Wars juggernaut.  The Force is definitely with the wallet. 

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