Go Creative! Business Planning: Five Year Vision

Are you surprised to hear me talk about a five-year vision? Isn't that a bit bureaucratic, smacking more than a little of Stalin's five-year plan?  Aren't we supposed to be a lot more free-flowing around here?

This is a process of wishing, dreaming and visioning that turns into goals, intentions, projects,  assignments and tasks.


Imagine a future world in which your business is doing really well. What does your world look like? What affect is it having on where you work, on your colleagues, on your home life?

What about money? What is the best financial outcome you can imagine, five years from now?

When envisioning, you don't think about how you're going to get there, just the endpoint. Use the creative wishlist method. Don't think, just list.

What Do You Want To Do? (Not Be)

Focus on people, places and things, concrete, real experiences. Not wanting to “be” a great writer, or artist, an influential changemaker or entrepreneur. The mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillery, once put it like this: “People do not decide to become extraordinary, they decide to accomplish extraordinary things.”

He didn't set out to be a great mountaineer, he decided to scale the world's tallest mountain, and together with Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer, Tenzing Norgay, became the first climber confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest.

Setting your five-year vision is a lot like deciding to climb a big mountain. You'll need to plan and practice,  marshall resources, develop new skills, set up new habits. What will really set you apart, though, is the mountain you choose to climb. What you do, how you do it, and its scale.

So as you make your lists, think about the endgame in terms of what do you want to end up doing or having?

List anything that's long-term, forward-looking and aspirational. List far more than you really want, knowing you're going to eliminate most of them.

That you're going to drill down to one. Your MIT, your most important thing.


Your MIT is your signifier of success. It might be expressed as a number (25 books published, 100,000 widgets sold, one million turnover, a seven-figure mailing list), an experience (Manhattan gallery show, your course included in prison programs nationwide, expanding into Australia, IPO), a thing (a new and dazzling product offering, a spanking studio overlooking the sea, a school built in a war-decimated country).

That's the signifier, the outer sign of what's been achieved. Connect it to your mission to understand what it means to you.

For me, when I was launching ALLi, it was getting to 2000 members. That level of membership felt to me like it could have impact in the writing and publishing industries. It was also the membership level that gave us the turnover needed to pay staff and team and keep on doing what we do.

First Consider Your Worst Outcome

Holding your MIT in your mind, imagine the worst. It doesn't happen for you. Not only that, but the opposite to what you want happens.

  • Imagine: What does that opposite look like?
  • If growth was low, if you didn't do anything new or exciting, if things disimproved from where they are today… what does that look like?
  • What's the smallest measure of success you'd be happy with? What would be drastically disappointing?
  • F-r-e-e-write for three pages, fully imagining the worst that could happen over the coming five years. At the end of the writing period, ask yourself this question: How do I feel about the worst that could happen?

    Now Magnify Your Vision

    Now hold your MIT in mind again, but this time, reverse the process. Whatever you have imagined, make it better.

    • If you have imagined turning over, or taking home, a certain amount, give yourself more money.
    • If you have seen yourself in a lovely studio, make it more lovely.
    • If you have conjured up a certain team size, give yourself more team members.

    < Does this make you nervous? Don’t worry, you don’t have to commit to any of this. It’s only a game you're playing in your mind.

    Outrageously Magnified Goal

    Having consciously magnified the vision you originally sent for your business in this exercise, let's take the game one step further, and set up an OMG: outrageously magnified goal.
    • An OMG is big. Outrageously big
    • It would take a full five years plus for your business to achieve it.
    • You can't see exactly how you'd make it happen from here.
    • But it's a clear and unambiguous goal. Everyone, including you, will know if you achieve it (or not).
     That last one is the one that stops most of us from fully imagining an OMG. We can consciously and unconsciously resist this, fearing that we will be unequal to it.

    Conscious magnification, when we've chosen the right goal, gets beyond fear and indolence. We start to feel excited instead.

    Disney's Folly

    When Walt Disney said, in 1934, that he wanted to make the first animated feature-length film, industry pundits called it “Disney's Folly.” Animation was strictly for short-form cartoons only.  The idea that an audience might sit in a theater and watch “cartoons” for more than an hour was preposterous.

    There were creative challenges. Snow White was going for drama, a young girl was under threat from a wicked, powerful queen. If audiences were to feel pathos as well as laughter, a first for animation, many new technical innovations were necessary.

    And there were commercial challenges. The experiment was being bankrolled by credit and e had bet everything – including his own house – on Snow White being a success. If it sank, the studio would be pulled down with it and Walt and his family would join the dust-bowl wanderers.

    As we now know, when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1938, people flocked to see it. The film earned more than 100 times what it cost to make. Back at the beginning, nobody was sure of that but the animators were supportive, because they were infected by Walt's excitement about his OMG.

    “He was doing something no other studio had ever attempted,” art director Ken Anderson later said. It was risky, yes, “but his excitement…inspired us.”

    That excitement is what you're looking for. You're scared. A part of you senses it can be done, another part of you fears it can't. But if it could… The end goal, the outrageously magnified goal, entices and excites and provides the energy needed to see it happen.

    Another way to approach finding an OMG is to imagine what your business could achieve in a year if fully switched on at all three levels–crafter, director and entrepreneur. If every action and resource was dedicated to one dazzling outcome.

    What could be achieved if you trained all your time, energy, focus and resources on moving towards this achievement, this year? What could you accomplish in the next twelve months? Now multiply that gain by five.

    With month after month after month of focussed creative and commercial effort trained in one direction, what might you accomplish?

    From OMG to MIT

    Okay, you've got your OMG. Settle into it. Realize that this ishe most important thing you want your business to make, to be, to do. Now frame this goal as your MIT, Most Important Thing.  Frame it as a five-year creative intention.

    In five years, I intend that my business will________________________ [fill in the blank with your outrageously magnified, most important thing.]

    From MIT to GLAD Goals

    GLAD  goals are the creative variation of SMART goals, simplified down to their core essentials.

    • Great

    In both senses of the word. Great as in substantial and enjoyable.

    • Light

    Your goal should give you a sense of what Martha Beck calls “shackles off“.

    • Doable and Describable

    You’re not choosing something that’s beyond the bounds of reason, or wrong for you. If you have gone through the creative listing and selection process,  it’s highly unlikely that your goal is not doable. It’s important that it’s also describable. If you tell me your goal, I should know exactly what you mean and, at the end of the allocated time period, be able to tell you  whether you have achieved it, or not.

    From Five Years To One

    Divide your MIT in five, what you will do across the coming five years and write a GLAD goal for each year.

    It usually works best to work backwards from your intended outcome. First the fourth year, then third, second, next year and this year.

    Now you are ready to begin Go Creative! Planning. Here's how it proceeds.

    1. Five Year Goal: Focus on the outcomes you want, and create a big vision. Magnify the vision and settle on your five-year GLAD goal. Divide into the five stages it will take to get there, one stage per year. Allocate an end-point, a GLAD goal, for each year.
    2. One Year: Taking the yearly goal, again divide, this time into four. These are your quarter goals.  Envision the ideal outcome for each quarter, write up your quarter goals, again, working backwards from the end, using the GLAD goal framing and turning each goal into a creative intention. Begin to put delivery dates on these intentions.
    3. Quarter: The quarterly level is the level at which you begin to build a bridge between your goal and the intentions and the projects, assignment and tasks that will achieve them.
    4. Month: At the monthly level you turn to when. Map your energy and activity by turning intentions into projects you’ll do across the month. Divide monthly projects into four week-long projects.
    5. Week: You break your weekly project into five days (or however many days you want to do) and allocate assignments across the week. An assignment is a wave of work that can be done in 90 minutes.
    6. Day: There are maps for one assignment a day and three assignments a day in The Library. Never do more than three assignments a day. The maps also action tasks around creative rest and play as well as work.
    7. Now: Happily pursuing the task of the moment, knowing it’s part of your yearly and five-year vision, that your moment is as meaningfully directed, you relish what you are creating, in the moments of its making. With the maps and logs in place, you can sink into now, and enjoy what you already have, while being happy oriented towards where you want to go. You can show up and fully check in for your work, rest and play.

    Next time, we'll look more closely at what needs to be accomplished in the coming twelve months.

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