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Creating Into an Unpredictable Future

Jul 02, 2023
Woman sitting on a rock with a giant wave splashing her.

Last weekend I went on my quarterly planning retreat. Instead of booking my usual hotel with great WiFi, I opted for the great outdoors and camped at the beach with my poster boards, notebooks, and pens.


The barefoot morning strolls in the sand, the bunnies keeping me company at dinner, and the fireflies wishing me sweet dreams made for an inspiring and productive experience.


The corporate term for the process I use is called rolling wave planning.


However, since I'm not leading a multi-million dollar project with a 50-person team, it might be more accurate to call it rippling wave planning. There are no tsunamis here!


What does this look like in practice?


Pretend you were standing on the beach with me, looking out to the horizon. We'd see a flat line of water and possibly some shapes of distant lands, boats, or sea creatures, but there's no great detail. That's the 12-month view.


I like to call this the dreaming place. It's the perfect time to imagine what the future could hold and what you want to create. You can think about what milestones you might have to hit or changes you need to make in order to turn your aspirations into reality.


As your gaze moves a little closer to shore, you can begin to see the crests of waves in the distance. You start to see how tall they are and how they might impact you once they reach land. This is the 6-month view. What you began 6 months ago is riding these waves and coming into sight. You can be more specific about your plans.


The waves directly in front of you are your 3-month view. You can see them and what's washing up towards you in great detail. If you were guiding in a sailboat, these are your last moments to adjust where it will come ashore. It's where your actions and plans can become specific and detailed because you have so much more clarity about the conditions ahead.

This planning method is my favorite because it takes into consideration one of life's truths — the future is unpredictable.

I used to waste a lot of time on annual planning every January, breaking down my projects into small actionable items and mapping them out; only to have reality show up and promptly make my map obsolete.


These smaller, more frequent planning sessions allow me to stay on my toes and respond quickly to shifting conditions, priorities, and inspiration.


Many people dream of a someday but never take responsibility for creating it, which I completely understand. It can be overwhelming, seem impossible, or feel too exhausting — and success is never guaranteed. For me, taking my hopes and dreams one wave at a time and being open to adjusting course makes the process feel doable.


Now you might think that I'm going to tell you to go boldly in the direction of your dreams. Use my method, plan things out, and eventually, you'll get there.


But no, I'd like to encourage you to look backwards.


The waves of time have been marching towards you from the beginning, and you have met them daily. You've been shaping your shoreline all these years. You've been navigating. You've been creating.


Maybe you've crafted the whisper-soft sands of the Maldives or the daring White Cliffs of Dover. Perhaps your shore is deep and still but seemingly difficult to navigate, like the Doubtful Sound.


No matter the form, the value of looking back is to remind yourself that you've done it. You've been capable of meeting all that has come your way. You can see that you have been and always will be creating, whether you're conscious of it or not. Whether it's been intentional or not.


Give yourself credit, then stand on the shores of tomorrow with confidence and watch the waves roll in.


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