Strategic Planning

A Limited Number of Photos

If you had just ten photos to take during a week-long trip, how would you decide when to snap one of these precious images? In the age of digital photos, we take multiple shots without consequence unless our storage capacity is limited or our battery life is at 1%. But our mindset changes when a natural or artificial limit governs our activity. Looking at a recent adventure, I have deleted at least seventy-five repetitive photos, poorly framed, out of focus, or unintentional. It cost me little but some editing time. However, I am hard-pressed to select my ten favorites from the trip, a challenge to cover the highlights and iconic moments.

A powerful outcome of design thinking is generating numerous ideas. Creativity and multiple mindsets allow for expanded horizons and innumerable pathways. There is a moment when we must select a limited course of action. A portion of strategic planning includes this moment of refinement. I refer to it as an ‘energy management plan’ since we only have so much capacity to focus our resources. If you had to select three areas of focus, what are they? If your three areas are raising more money and funds, I suggest those are the results of focusing on the work that matters.

I am handing you a virtual Polaroid camera. What images are you hoping to capture if given three photos to take of your organization’s strategic future? Do they capture the superpower of the organization where you are uniquely positioned to act or are they a wishlist of certainty (endowment, waitlist of potential board members, and everyone in the community is a member of the organization)?


Energy comes from numerous of sources. It is easy to take it as an absolute, there will be power when needed. It is omnipresent. However, how we channel it becomes the question. It can propel us across the sky, turn on our lights, move us across open ground, or focus our attention. How might we direct our energy sources to have the greatest impact?

I have re-framing the act of strategic planning as an energy management plan. There is much we can work on, but where we direct our output is a critical decision.

Why Human-Centered Strategies?

It is convenient to believe that the money our cause raises, the facilities we build, the programs we nurture, and the brand we build are the core of our cause’s work. However, none of these elements can tell our story. They are the results of our work. The people who inhabit these space, donate resources, attend the programs, and ride for the brand are the story-tellers. They represent the conduit through which our narrative transfers from one individual to the next.

The bib I wore during a nordic ski race and the medal that might come with an age-group award are just ordiments. They alone do not have much depth, possibly props in my story. I can hold them-up to talk about the fierce cold and headwinds that faced the race participants. I can point to them and describe the pack of skiers who worked together to battle the elements. I can hang them on the wall and they remind me of an adventure, but they do not tell the story.

Our travel photos capture a moment in time but are exponentially more powerful when they support the story. Was our Eiffel Tower photo taken during a romantic walk, evening run, from a train crossing the Seine, or just a screenshot? The photo might be memorable but the story provides a greater dimension.

We must get comfortable elevating our stories. Unless we can compete on scale and overwhelm our fans with endless offerings, our narratives will be our strongest point of engagement. If we agree to amplify our stories, then how might we generate human-centered strategies to support our community? How might we be remarkable for the behaviors and experiences we curate?



The remarkable impact of human-centered strategic planning is that we can execute fully on the strategy immediately. If an organization’s stated goal is, to build a dynamic community, that starts now. There is no need to wait to assemble resource, staff, and funding. The strategic imperative is a commitment to an experience, a way of being, a core value.  However, if the plan identifies a specific initiative, perhaps executing a capital campaign and building a new facility, it will take years to realize. Supporting and enhancing a dynamic community in every action and communication starts the moment the individuals within the organization decide it is a priority. Buildings, programs, funding goals are results of a human-centered strategy. An enterprise does not exist to occupy a facility. The cause was founded and supported to amplify a human experience that takes place within the structure, regardless if it is a yurt awarding winning platinum-certified LEED newly constructed center-piece in the community.

The human-centered design process provides strategic imact and execution at the highest level, right now.




Blue Marble Strategic Planning

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We can fly from New York to Boston on the hour via commuter flights that barely reach a low cruise altitude before descending to the airport.  The choice of air travel for this route is usually one of preference and price.  The bus, train, on-demand car service, or personal automobile are all viable.  A journey that connects significant metropolitan areas is not that remarkable but necessary.

Far more ambitious is a journey into space.  We cannot readily hop aboard the next shuttle or rocket and find ourselves unshackled from Earth’s atmosphere.  The opportunity to look back upon our planet from the vantage point of the Moon or orbiting space station allows for different thinking.  We access a perspective only available to our human nature when we stand separated from that which usually conceals us.  This is why mountain peaks, observation decks on skyscrapers, and canyon overlooks continue to fascinate us.  We find ourselves suspended in places where we cannot remain.

The challenge to our enterprise is what journey will transform our way of thinking?  The shuttle approach works.  It is quick, predictable, and alternate forms can be substituted if our preferred method of travel encounters a delay.  The journey to space requires the commitment of a team and numerous resources.  When successful it tends to inform our decision-making for a generation.  The question is, which landscape do you need to see when you are thinking strategically?  Does an elevated view of I-95 suffice or does a little blue marble sitting above the horizon of a lunar landscape reorder our ways of thinking?  Both journeys are viable, the results are poles apart.


Getting it Right


Seth Godin got it right.  We do not stop doing business with everyone because there are some bad actors in the sector.  Invest in those who matter today #GivingTuesday

Harvard Business Review got it right.  When strategic planning makes you feel better about the future and attempts to control change, you are probably doing it wrong.  A great plan should generate fear and be daunting.  Why not articulate a heroic journey worth attempting?

And the Ferguson Library go it right.  If you are going to live your mission and are committed to serving as a resource for your community, then what better moment to continue showing-up than when everyone else is locking their doors.

The Golden Circle of Strategic Thinking

As members of the tribe we are acquainted with Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and Golden Circle.  Simon’s approach represents one of the more transformational processes to uncover and articulate individual and organizational purpose.


I have been grappling with ways to ensure strategic planning does not morph into operational planning.  Said differently, how do we create clarity for the board and staff such that the action items do not drive the plan and the strategies are abandoned in favor of completing action steps (which feel so good to check-off)?  Employing Simon’s highly complex circles illustrates a different approach to strategic thinking.  The strategic goals are at the center of the plan similar to the Whys in the Golden Circle.  The Objectives serve as the bridge to provide a route for the goals similar to the Hows.  Finally, each action items represents a tangible and concrete step taken to move an initiative forward in alignment with the Whats.


Conceptually this is a paradigm shift but it leaves the action items vulnerable to a What-centric approach (outside-in thinking).  In reflecting on the roles and responsibilities of the board and staff there is an opportunity to leverage a focal point that resonates.  What if the board’s culture of inquiry originates from the strategic goal and proceeded outwards and the staff drives the plan from the action items inwards towards the goal?  These opposing (but unified) approaches provides for transformational strategic thinking.

GS Borad-Staff

Simons Golden Circle’s simplicity provides a user-friendly approach.  For me, it offers a visible way to support and amplify the power of strategic thinking.  I look forward to your thoughts and refinements.

Pass and Pause

IMG_7322A Strategic Plan’s greatest value is not on the day an organization adopts it.  Rather its greatest value comes from the moment it is ready to be replaced by a new strategic plan.  All along the strategic plan was a permission slip to think and act differently.  To consider the alternate routes, to head to the scenic overlooks and take in the landscapes, to reflect, and to decide on routes.  If you are using the plan as a road map, then consider it outdated and full of erroneous assumptions.  Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery had a few local guides and anecdotal information but the most accurate map they possessed was the one they created the day they returned to St. Louis at the culmination of their adventure.  Their purpose was their compass and the blank pages were permission to seek a route to the Pacific Ocean.

What does your strategic plan encourage you to discover?  Is your plan prescriptive or a permission slip?

Predicting the Future

<p><a href=”″>Watch as 1000 years of European borders change (timelapse map)</a> from <a href=”″>Nick Mironenko</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Country’s borders are not static and the influence of many cultures shape our current map.  If we cannot readily predict the future of nation states then what makes us certain we can write a plan that has such clarity and certainty?  State your future potential and then take steps to move towards the destination but prepared to adapt and retrace your steps if necessary.  Who knows how the landscape will present itself tomorrow but your presence provides the meaning.  Select adventures that are worthy of your time and expertise.