How do you figure out how to steer a clear course?

Planning can overlook the obvious, or can prevent you from doing anything

adrift or planningLI

That great American thinker, innovator and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, made this brilliant observations: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

So we plan. We know that planning gives us a better chance of success. But sometimes we miss the mark, inviting failure. Not the failure of failing to plan, but the failure of overlooking a key point or of falling into “analysis paralysis.” Other causes of failure, such as unanticipated changes beyond one’s control, are not included here because they are beyond our control other than to have a built-in “Plan B” or “bridge back,” or learning lessons and moving on to the next plan.

Overlooking a key point

Jerry left his job at one of the Big Four consulting firms and started his own business. While he had been making a lot of money, he never had time for anything but work. He had an MBA from a top Ivy League school and several years’ experience analyzing business problems, so he assumed the business end of things would be a cakewalk.

As a small business, he could offer the same consulting work he used to do but for affordable fees. Jerry assumed it would be easy to attract small businesses to his services.

Since Jerry knew all about business planning, and he had good habits that would allow him to carry out his plan, he imagined nothing but success.

Four months after opening his own consulting business, Jerry found that expenses far exceeded accounts receivable, and that the money he put into the business to cover expenses while he got up and running was running out. With no cash flow, he knew he had to come up with a plan or seek a salaried job.

Fighting off depression and a sense of failure he had never experienced in the past, Jerry swallowed his pride and called his mentor from his previous job.

“You only planned for success,” his mentor noted. “You need to plan for failure as well. Some people call that Plan B. I call it common sense.”

Jerry protested, “I should’ve planned to fail?”

“No, I mean you should have had backup planned into your plans. You could’ve traded services for some expenses you incurred. You had time to work in exchange for goods or services. Instead you spent money assuming you had enough in reserve to cover you until there was more business.

“You also have slow pays because you didn’t ask for retainers. So now you don’t have adequate cash flow.

“And what have you done to promote word-of-mouth referrals and a flow of new business? While you have great credentials and an impressive resume, many people care more about whether they like you as a person and what you’ve done for them.

“And one last thing,” his mentor said as he finished his drink. “When you left our firm you didn’t ask about referrals of small jobs that might help you get established. Or doing contract work. You built no bridge back in case things didn’t work out with your new business.”

Jerry looked downcast. “Is there any chance I could get my old job back?”

“No, and I don’t want you to give up this quickly on your new business. I think you have what it takes, and I think you now realize how important it is to plan for all contingencies. I also have a small piece of business we can’t afford to take which you would be good at. I’ll talk to this company tomorrow and refer them to you.”

Jerry went back to his office with his mentor’s words ringing in his ears. He had said to himself so often in recent months, “Failure is not an option!” It kept him going, it staved off fear. Now he realized it had kept him from being objective, it had kept him from planning for contingencies, that he had not done what all his training said was so important to do.

He drafted a plan. It wasn’t too late to offload some of his expenses. He would volunteer work and mingle with people more, getting to know them so he could explain the work he did. He would look for contract work. He wouldn’t spend more than he was earning. He spent an hour reviewing posts online and gleaned some practical suggestions.

He wrote a personal note to his mentor, thanking him for his advice and encouragement, before he headed home.

Overplanning and not doing

“Analysis paralysis” occurs when we overthink something and do nothing through indecision. By looking for the “perfect solution” we prevent any action that might lead to a good or better solution.

Shakespeare immortalized this in Hamlet, whose failure to act had a tragic outcome. More often our failure to act costs us opportunities. I had a friend who could not decide on what house to buy. She had the down payment money and a loan guarantee, but no house she saw seemed right. I’m just the opposite. If a house satisfies my short list of “non-negotiables,” I figure I can fix the rest and I sign immediately.

If we look for potential opportunities, then our plans must put us in the place to encounter them, rather than wait until everything is lined up exactly. Returning to Jerry’s story, he did volunteer work and encountered potential business connections with other volunteers. He also networked with fellow professionals. He had believed he was too busy to go out to what he considered social occasions. Now he saw them as opportunities to work the room and set up business contacts. The shift in thinking his mentor inspired allowed him to move forward with his original plans, with increased potential outcomes.

Some useful tools when we need to plan are questions that reveal our real reasons and obstacles that may cause “analysis paralysis” or set us back in some other way. In my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, I discuss the eight “START NOW” questions that lead to successful outcomes. You can bake in success before you spend a lot of time on an important problem/decision/project/goal. To get a free copy of the questions in a 2-page PDF, click here.

 The Personal Power Roadmap makes planning any project effective and practical. Get it now at a low introductory price as an ebook and print book.

Interview with Derek Doepker

Best-selling Author, Fitness Expert, Motivational Speaker, Coach, Musician & Entrepreneur

DDheadshotI am here with best-selling author, fitness expert, motivational speaker, coach, musician and all around talented guy, entrepreneur Derek Doepker, to find out how he creates his books and courses, keeps up his writing, fitness regime, music, and coaching. From personal experience I know Derek has the ability to simplify things and help a client get focused and stay motivated. I want to know how he keeps all his pie plates spinning and keeps coming up with new ideas.

Q. Derek, we met through your book, Kindle Bestseller Secrets: 10 Tricks Bestselling Non-Fiction Authors Use To Dominate KindleYou have published 10 books, are involved in fitness training and coaching, are a professional musician, a writing and publishing coach and probably other things. How do you manage all this?

A. Most of my attention is focused on one major project at a time.  For instance, when writing a book, that becomes the biggest project for me for a few months on end where I’ll invest a few hours, typically early in the morning, on my writing.  Then other projects are managed later in the day.

The biggest key for me is developing habits.  Maintaining my fitness doesn’t take much thought because I’ve been doing it for over ten years.  It’s just a part of my daily routine.

Once you create a habit and systems that take the conscious thought out of something, it frees up your mental energy to expand and grow into new areas.

Q. Do you have any special technique to get your creative thinking in gear and come up with imaginative ideas?

A. Abe Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

The “axe sharpening” process for unleashing creativity for me takes the form of getting myself into a great emotional state.  I’ll spend a few minutes listening to uplifting music, dancing, and possibly pacing around my apartment.  I’ve heard of studies that show walking enhances creativity.  Some people find being out in nature helps as well.  By managing my physical state and environment, this helps me enter into a more creative state.

Q. How do you deal with writer’s block, or doesn’t that happen to you?

A. As most creatives would say, the creative process requires separating editing from creating.  If I start deciding which ideas are good or bad right off the bat, this shuts down creativity.

My brainstorming process allows for any and all ideas to flow freely, and if anything my “problem” is having too many ideas from which I have to distill down the best ideas.

Q. Do you have any techniques for getting ideas flowing again on those days when the well seems to have run dry?

A. When I do run out of things to talk about, the simplest fix is to look for inspiration.  Reading something will almost always inspire something I can write about.  Listening to music will almost always inspire some type of music I can create.

Q. What did you learn from your first career choice, when you wanted to become a rock star, that helped you with creating a path to success?

A. A big lesson I learned with music is that learning is practicing.  It’s not a matter of reading books or taking courses alone, but rather studying just enough to sit down and start implementing what I’ve learned into my practice routine.

I’ve seen many people try to create a career in writing for instance, and they start studying all these writing and marketing techniques, but they don’t do anything with it because they don’t have it “all figured out.”

More information actually leads to overwhelm and stops them from taking action.  This is especially true with fitness as well when people are searching for the perfect diet or workout routine instead of applying what they already know.

Q. What did you learn about problem solving and creative thinking when you were growing up?

A. I don’t believe most people need to be taught creative thinking as we’re hard-wired to be creative as kids.  What happens is we get taught to stay within a box and shut down our creativity.  My learning came from unlearning the things taught in school, such as there’s always a “right” and “wrong” and rediscover more of the childlike creativity that exists in almost all of us.

It was through music that I had to overcome the fear that what I created wasn’t going to be good.  I resisted songwriting for a long time because I was a great guitar player, and I feared my songwriting wouldn’t match my performance abilities.

Once I lowered my standards and allowed myself to create without an attachment to the outcome, that’s when my ideas started getting better and better.  I had to be willing to write a lot of crappy music and improve it before I started creating great music.

I learned anything one creates can be improved upon.  I don’t have to wait for the perfect inspiration to get started.  Some of my worst initial ideas can evolve into or inspire something amazing.

Q. If you were giving a workshop on thinking creatively, where would you begin?

A. I would take participants through a dance exercise.  I would have them follow the leader, and then gradually branch out to do their own thing.

While there are several deep lessons that would be self-discovered through this (I’m not going to give away all of what this exercise entails), a big piece is that creativity is actually enhanced when you have limitations.

If I say, “Go do whatever you want” the endless options can be paralyzing.  But if I say, “Do whatever you want within these clearly defined boundaries” it can actually enhance your creativity.  Both too much freedom and too much restriction can stifle creativity.

Q. How do you store all the ideas you come up with?

A. I have many notepads on my computer and papers.  However I’m not the most organized with my ideas.  Despite that fact, what I find is that the ideas worth saving and acting upon often stick with me and come up again and again.  I’ve learned to trust that I don’t have to even refer back to all my notes.  However, the act of writing things down will typically help me remember my ideas even if I don’t refer back to them.

Q. What advice do you have for other young people who are considering the creative life instead of the usual 40-hour a week job?

As a young kid about to go into high school, there was some type of career day where we could talk to different people about what we wanted to do when we grow up.  I was told by someone, I believe a retired principal, not to be an artist because of the old “starving artist” idea.  He had a point, but his perspective was only a partial truth.

While there are many starving artists and my music didn’t make me a lot of money, my creative work and abilities are great assets as an entrepreneur.  Creativity is required for success in all areas of life.

To me, we’re all living “the creative life” without exception, even within a 40-hour a week job.  So my first piece of advice is ask how you can be more creative wherever you’re at.  When I worked as a valet parker, I still exercised creativity by working on my people skills, rapport techniques, and trying to come up with more efficient ways of doing things.

With regards to quitting a job and pursuing a career as a creative artist, first understand it’s not an escape from work.  It’s possible you’ll be doing just as much if not more work, at least initially, to make it happen.  The difference of course being it’s typically more enjoyable work.

The big fear I had to overcome when moving to LA to pursue music was that it might not work out, but then I thought I’d be a lot more disappointed if I looked back at my life in 10-20 years and realized I didn’t even try.

If you’re called to do creative work, first consider the cost of not doing the work.  This will inspire you to take action.  Then find mentors and coaches who have succeeded in your area.  Even if you can’t find someone who’s done exactly what you want to do, there are still plenty of mentors who understand principles of success that you can apply to be successful in any field.

You can reach Derek Doepker at Learn more about his work:  and

Download a free copy of Derek’s book Why Authors Fail at