Strategic planning is for the birds

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I grew up in a large, rambling house in San Anselmo, California. It was built in 1906 by (rumor has it) drunk Irish brothers.  It was a house that had “character,” which was a kind thing to say when the roof started caving in and the planks sagged on the front porch.

As the years went by, I faced common challenges just like my 1970’s peers: my parent’s got divorced, funds were tight on a single mom’s salary and later the teen angst related to having The Weirdo Syndrome.

It was not overly traumatic or material for a Lifetime after school special.

But there were times when I felt frustrated, sad and stuck.

So I would go up on the roof.

Looking out over the neighborhood, skimming the tops of trees and watching the birds land on power lines made me feel better immediately. There was something about being high above my daily life that made me feel powerful. Gazing at the clouds, I would dream about my future.

Fast forward about 35 years, and I still need a roof. Life and business have been moving at a breakneck speed, and I find it increasingly difficult to get the perspective that will allow me to answer the question:

What’s next?

Are you feeling it too?

Let’s get a birds-eye view, shall we? Here’s how:

  1. Identify your perch. I love being physically high in the air to gain perspective (like on a mountaintop or roof), but not everyone requires vertical scale.  Maybe you think best by hiking in the desert, or lounging in a spa, or rafting down a river. The criteria for your “big picture-inducing” perch is that it allows you to step back and view your life objectively, and is outside of your day-to-day environment.
  2. Give your brain lemon sorbet.  My dear friend Andrea Lee used this metaphor at her recent conference, where she described the need for creative people to “cleanse the palate of their brain” in order to invite bigger, better, more rigorous and impactful thoughts. Andrea suggests a deep inhale and exhale to cleanse the brain, as well as dumping all your random ideas into “Hell Yes, Hell No and Maybe” buckets.
  3. Ponder on three questions (any or all of them — whichever you can relate to best)
    -What is my superpower? (Charlie Gilkey says envision your costume, tights and all)
    -What problem in the world would I most like to solve?
    -What special medicine do I have to heal (my corner of) the world?

    I can take a guess at the superpowers of some of my friends and blog readers: Nathan Bowers, User Interface Ninja (and kicker of poor design’s bootie). Avien McCrimmon, Hunger Avenger, with sidekick (and younger brother) Andre Blackman, aka Public Health Morpheus. Pamela Wilson, Xena: Color RestrainerAndy PelsCaptain Sarcasm, showing strong support for entrepreneurs while making you laugh. Willie Jackson, Mr. Brand Fantastic, able to shape young professional’s web presence in a single bound.

  4. From your bird’s eye view, ask yourself: what do I really want to do? Notice what bubbles up. Write down the few things that clearly fall in your “Hell Yes!” bucket. I know that I want to speak more. Larger events. Broader audiences. This will guide my business decisions moving forward, and shape where I spend my time.
  5. Create time in your calendar to take this big birds-eye vision and break it down into actionable steps. Use discretion: only work on the big new projects that feel right in your heart and leverage your superpowers. You can move in a new direction if you give it priority, space, time and energy for cultivation.

The Drifters must have been in cahoots with the bluebirds up On the Roof:

When I come home feelin’ tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet (up on the roof)
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street (up on the roof)
On the roof, the only place I know
Where you just have to wish to make it so
Let’s go up on the roof (up on the roof)

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27 Responses to “Strategic planning is for the birds”

  1. […] “I grew up in a large, rambling house in San Anselmo, California. It was built in 1906 by (rumor has it) drunk Irish brothers. It was a house that had “character” which was a kind thing to say when the roof started caving in and the planks sagged on the front porch. As the years went by, I faced common challenges just like my 1970?s peers: my parent’s got divorced, funds were tight on a single mom’s salary and…” […]

  2. […] other day I read a post on Escape from Cubicle Nation and it brought back a vivid memory of something I used to do as child, something I hadn’t […]

  3. […] Strategic Planning is for the Birds at Escape from Cubicle Nation (great for planning a cross-country move while still living your normal life) […]

  4. Sandy Lipten says:

    First, thanks for this. Perspective-gaining activity and super-power identifying are now on the agenda.

    Also…I’m listening perhaps too carefully to your subtext here, Pam, and it makes me worry that you’re going to propel yourself full-time into the big-time speaker circuit (where you do belong!) before I get a chance to benefit from the small group stuff you’re doing now! (And which you sound like maybe you’ve been overdoing!).
    Have been waffling about buying the Life After the Cubicle Quickstart Guide to get in on the Coaching Gym sessions — guess I’d better hurry. 🙂

    Hope your time on whatever roof you find is just what you need.

  5. Irishfan says:

    Great perspective on bringing forth or re-focusing the mission and strategy for your life. I find that when I am traveling by plane – much more than I like for work -I will make sure to grab a window seat. Having this window seat allows me to gaze outside and have this birds-eye view you mention. I only wish that I could keep this perspective when I am stuck back in the corporate daily grind. Thank you for providing the inspiration and ‘nudge’ you are providing here.

  6. What timing! My friend and I just opened our language learning website to the public and we’re discovering that writing the code was the easy part! Taking a few deep breaths makes me feel easier about the many tasks that have sprouted up now that people are actually using our little project. Thanks Pam!

  7. […] business, I’m so lucky to have found you! Jan G. CyberlandStrategic planning is for the birds Great read for a Friday! #socialmedia, what do you think?Silence spells danger! […]

  8. Public Health Morpheus – I love it, thanks so much Pam! This post actually comes at a great time as I’m going back and forth in my head figuring out how to hone in one actionable goals and how to make an impact. I tend to get overwhelmed by a thousand small details/to do items that I feel like I’m making no progress. But then when I take the bird’s eye view and step back – things look alot better.

  9. I’ve always noticed that my creative ideas flow like beer at a fraternity party when I’m a. out of town, b. driving on the interstate and c. on the open ocean. (It’s interesting to note that easy access to a Word document to record said creative ideas is difficult to impossible in most of these situations, why IS that?) This “going up on the roof” analogy is a great one, though. Getting some perspective on life as a whole has always been one of my favorite things to do–it sparks my creativity! All the more reason to go sailing. Thanks for a great post, Pamela.

  10. Pam, your post reminds me of why I used to love to climb trees growing up. There’s nothing like the view from up there, especially when you’re held aloft by a living thing.

    Every once in a while I can recreate that feeling, and it usually happens during this elusive time called “vacation.” Getting some time off is a great way to gain perspective, too. (That reminds me I need to plan some!)

  11. Jim Taggart says:

    Thanks Pam. This is a very important message in a time of great uncertainty and stress for many people, whether employed or not. Being able to step back, live in the present and gain some perspective is vital for all of us — and something I struggle with everyday.

  12. […] Here is the link to the article: […]

  13. […] Strategic planning is for the birds […]

  14. Thanks for writing this, Pam, and for the links!

    So, if anyone wants to know: the costume is a critical part of it because it makes you get deep in the details of your superpower. That, and it’s easier to ground yourself if you can “feel” the costume on your skin.

    Luckily, I’ve learned to take my perch with me wherever I go – but it’s the top of a mountain near a Boy Scout camp I used to work at. I can feel the warm sunshine, hear the rustling of the leaves as the wind blows up the serpentine valley, and see the hawks circling on the warm air.

    I’m also fortunate that my gift is breaking down things into steps, but it’s great to have sister- and brother-teachers to help me see the things I can’t. (Thank you.)

  15. Andy Pels says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Pam.
    As a kid it was the roof for me, too, or sometimes the big pine tree I would climb into off of the shed. As a grownup it used to be the front porch – early or late in the day when things are quiet. You made me realize that I haven’t taken that kind of reflective time in quite a while. I feel like there is a “Hell yes.” waiting to be heard from.
    Maybe tonight…

  16. Thanks Pam. I was talking to Kyle about something similar today—how it’s not enough to simply get excited/fired up, but rather that we must be in the habit of “renewing our mind” in a sense.

    By talking to people who push us creatively. By keeping our network apprised of our harebrained ideas. By moving on our ideas before the motivation fizzles. My perch is definitely the beach. I think it’s high time I pay the tides a visit. Surf’s up.

    • Willie, couldn’t agree more. I’m planning on talking about this exact topic in 2 weeks on my blog. My biggest and best ideas come during research, reading, and running. My perch…probably trails and treadmills or the car with an awesome audiobook as a second place.

      It’s so easy for many of us to get fired up. Following through comes natural to a lot of people as well. But renewing, refreshing, and re-inventing our lives…that takes effort and a change in our lifestyle.

      Great post Pam and great comment Willie!

  17. Duane Smtih says:


    Thank you for applying some right-brain acumen to my otherwise left-brain’d world! What a great article! Thank you!!!

  18. Tathagata Dasgupta says:

    The article is wonderful and the title is very apt. Strategic planning is indeed about having an overall view of the business, which is often linked to bird’s eye-view as a metaphor. Birds are said to get an overall view as they are high up in the air, which is very true.
    The five steps that you have outlined for getting a bird’s eye-view are really great. The pic in your blog for this article is also cool. And the poem at the end of the article is also very nice.
    Great blogging. Keep it up.

  19. Lianne says:

    Nice, Pam.

    My motto for my perch is, “get off the road, turn off the headlights and lay on the roof and look at the stars” which is one of my favourite things to do when driving late on a warm summer night. You can’t always be driving (or Driven *ahem* Dan Pink), you need some dream time, too.

    My medicine is listening to people so deeply that they can hear themselves in that listening. And if that medicine is going to be available, then the stargazing time is when I harvest it and store it up in my medicine pouch.

    I am excited (for you and for us) that you are going to do more speaking – that is definitely one of your superpowers. xox

  20. Hiro Boga says:

    Pam: Up on the roof…with the birds…oh yeah!

    When I was a kid I spent all my free time up in trees. Now, my house floats on a cliff above the ocean. Eagle’s eye-view…past the far horizon. That’s my superpower.

    Thanks for this wonderful post!

  21. Alexia says:

    Thank you, Pam. I tried a full-on strategic plan but it’s currently shoved behind some books on my bookshelf. I prefer a more intuitive approach. Sure, it looks like I’m a complete basketcase sometimes, but I get stuff done, somehow 😉

  22. Tina says:

    Love those 3 questions Pam!

    My superpower – The Simpleton (I like to keep things very simple, complexity annoys me) i’ll just keep my costume simple and put a big red S on my chest, but would love a cape too!

    Problem I most want to solve – connect virtually based business owners with the high-level support they need (wondering, can the answer to this quesiton change throughout life? i’m guessing yes… but this is definitely what i want to solve for now)

    My special medicine – love training Online Business Managers to be ‘big thinkers’ on behalf of themselves and their clients, and love helping biz owners define who they actually need to hire (often not who they think) & helping them find their match.

  23. Rachael says:

    My best ‘perch’ is when I can mentally clear a space for myself when it’s dark out, after my kids are asleep, and I’m able to sit awhile and be quiet and think.

    Time to be more intentional with my quiet thinking time! Thanks for the step-by-step, I love it when I get instructions. 🙂

  24. Steve C says:

    Without these interludes of reassessing where we’re going, we get lost in minutia.

    With businesses, blogs, etc., it’s easy to get dissuaded from why we started them in the first place.

    “Getting up on the roof” for me means turning off the PC, more than anything.

    Hope all your ventures are going well for you.