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The Visionary's Toolkit: Strategy & Problem-Solving

One of the toughest tasks a visionary person can undertake is to 'walk their vision'. Walking your vision is the process of bringing something you've seen in your mind's eye, or from your heart, or from a spiritual experience, and bring it to life in physical world. It's about creating something that is a gift to the world, to animals, to people, to communities, where you share your gift in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling.

It's a lot like being an artist. An artist sees something in his or her mind's eye, like the image of a landscape, or a character, or shape or form, and then tries to bring what's so clear and obvious in the mind, into a physical form.

This can be frustrating, because the artist might see this beautiful image or picture or scultpure, and what comes out on the canvas or in the clay is a far cry from that 'vision'. It might seem clunky, misshapen, or just way, way off from the blueprint.

If the vision isn't strong, the artist might give up, and go on to try another image or vision, something that might come easier. Or, he or she might decide to get the skills to make that original vision come out easier. There are a lot of ways to go.

Well, I can say from personal experience, that 'Walking Your Vision' is hard if you don't have the skills you need to bring them forward into this world. What's even harder is doing it alone, or in a very small group of people. Without skills and a number of tools in your 'Visionary Toolkit', you're going to struggle. Struggling sucks.

Tom Brown, Jr. often began his courses with the saying that if you are struggling in the wilderness, living survival, tracking animals, or making a natural craft, then your skills suck. I've used that as a guide for most of my life, both in my personal life and professional work as well. It's amazingly accurate and helpful, and it certainly helped me in identifying where I was going wrong, and what was missing in my approach, whenever I found myself struggling in some way. It won't solve everything, but it sure helps me get on track to shift in a new direction!

Our 'Visionary Toolkit' is vitally important and two of the most important 'Tools' I know are Strategy and Problem-Solving.

Strategy is all about planning your visionary goals, your over-arching path to achieving your mission, or getting you well on your way. Strategy is about getting a great road map to success, and figuring out how you are going to get to points A, B and C, and learning about the long term features of your particular ‘vision’, so to speak.

Problem-solving is all part of strategy, of course, but problem-solving is very immediate and focused generally on what’s happening RIGHT in FRONT of YOU!

It’s more short term. It’s focused and immediate, (think TODAY, rather than next week or month!) and it’s essential to moving forward on the larger strategy journey.

So, what does a visionary, a director, an herbal conference facilitator or wilderness instructor need either of these? (To name just a few 'visionary' types.)

Well, if you’re a wilderness program director, you would probably want both. You’d need to know where you want to go with your personal career, your own journey, your own goals, and how to get there. Strategy gives you that. It also gives you a sense of where you are on the map, either at the beginning or perhaps well on your way, so you can realize you’re much, much closer to where you want to be than you previously thought. Which is awesome.

Strategy helps you put everything into perspective. It’s letting you know what’s coming, and how to be prepared for it. Sort of like climbing a mountain like Everest. You need to know if you should carry ropes, oxygen, food, certain gear for the cold and so on. Or, if you’re going into the desert, you want to know if you should tank up on water and where to find more along the way, on a great hat, or where to get the best kind of scorpion spray or whatever. (Just joking about that last one!)

A good strategy is all about getting a clear map to achieving your vision, that is specifically tailored just for you.

On the other hand, you definitely need problem solving as a wilderness program director, for things like, hiring an excellent support staff. You might have problems figuring out where to run your programs, or what gear you should rent or purchase. You might need to solve issues like how to get paid, or what to charge, or what to ask your executive directors. You might need to solve a problem that keeps coming up again and again in your programs, like making sure the youth are engaged and focused, rather than resisting the flow of your experience.

Sometimes, there are ingredients that are missing from your 'wilderness program' recipe that can be trouble-shot to get you back on track. It might not be the results you get, that are causing you stress, if you have great results, but you might be left exhausted and broke at the end of it, and that could be your pattern or problem.

All of these things listed above can be solved. You definitely need that ‘problem solving mindset’, and how to make that happen, sometimes on a daily basis.

One of the problems though, is that sometimes, you’re so close to the problem, you can't actually see how many options you have. You lose perspective on the big picture, and if it’s something you’ve been struggling with for a while, it can feel that it’s simply ‘unsolvable’. (This is really almost never true.)

This is where it’s good to get outside help, from someone who’s been there, and can give you a fresh take. Someone who has your best interests at heart, who isn’t trying to just ‘make this problem go away because it makes them uncomfortable’. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about here.

Likewise, when you’re navigating your long term strategy, it’s helpful to have someone who knows the terrain a little bit, who’s had experience with the landscape and the trails, paths and roads, and what resources are available to you that you might not recognize easily.

It’s helpful to have someone who can give you the skills you need, too. That’s key.

Because in most cases, we need skills to get where we need to go.

Some people don’t need as much of the ‘Right Now’ problem solving, if they are in a pretty solid place with their jobs, and they don’t have a lot of bumps in the road, or things are not too challenging. That’s good. But they might need the long term strategy instead, and how to get started on the path.

Once you’re on your way, and out in the unfamiliar, though, it’s good to be able to ‘Phone a Friend’, like on that game show! It’s good because things can get dicey really quick once you leave your comfort zone, and it’s sometimes hard to recognize what is happening and how to best respond.

Here's a brief example:

A small wilderness school was approached by a video game company to learn some survival skills so they could make an awesome game about it. They didn’t know what to charge for a weekend intensive experience for these new people, and they talked about it, and settled on a price that seemed reasonable to them to do the program.

However, they weren’t familiar with how video game companies budget, and what the financial resources they have available to them to use consultants and trainers for their game production budgets, so they instead used their private client rates when they were making their agreements for their training.

Not knowing the landscape and the customs of these new clients meant that they severely undercharged their clients, and missed a large resource that could have been available to them if they had been able to ‘phone a friend’. They might have gotten a six month consulting fee for every aspect of their gaming platform, with ongoing trainings and a piece of the back end of the game sales, too.

It cost them a lot to make that mistake.

(Note: It’s all good in the long run, because that’s how we all learn. There's no shame in that, and life will go on. But it's sure nice to have someone to call who can help with specific strategies to minimize these kinds of missed opportunities.)

Here's a longer example:

When I first started leading summer camps and teaching wilderness skills, a nearby summer camp called me and said that they had a big Native American themed week at their camp and their headline storyteller had cancelled at the last minute, and could I fill in for them?

I had the time free, so it looked like it was a yes, but had never done this before, so I told them I thought I could do it.

"How much?" their program director asked me quickly.

"How long is the program, and for how many kids?" I asked. (Man am I glad I asked this question!)

"It's about 45 minutes, and it's for 300 kids plus some staff." came the reply.

"Okay, that's a long story," I said. "My stories are usually about 20 minutes, so let me think about it and get back to you in a couple of hours."

"Sure thing. But let me know by 10 am tomorrow morning." said the director.

We hung up, and I looked over my notes. At that point in my career, I was mostly a wilderness skills instructor and camp director, not an independent storyteller. I didn't have the slightest clue how much they typically charged for a storytelling session of that length, and what the range in fee was. The camp was about an hour away, maybe a little more, so there was a small travel fee included too.

I called three different people I knew who were professional storytellers, and left messages with each of them. By the end of a busy night of long, in depth conversations with my friends, I had a much, much clearer picture of what I should charge.

I had been originally thinking I should charge the camp between $150-300. Afterall, it was only for a few hours, including my travel time. $300 would mean I would be paid roughly $100 per hour. Pretty good, I thought, since at the time I was doing chainsaw work for friends at $10 per hour, which was really good in 1992.

However, some simple math let me realize that they budgeted a LOT more than $300 for this gig, which was the last night of their themed camp, with a LOT of high paying campers. This camp wasn't the sort of camp where the directors had the skills to pull this off themselves, and the industry standard cost of bringing in specialty features was just built into their budget. To charge too little might mean that I wouldn't even get the gig.

I asked for $1,500 when I called back, and honestly, I was freaking out when I did it, too. But my storytelling friends were really cool and had told me it's no problem, and just do it. So, I trusted them. They gave me a lot of really good advice on how to make it awesome, too, and that made it a little easier to handl.

I did a pretty cool happy dance when I called back and she said "Okay, that's fine"! We booked it right then and there, and I got all of the details.

I won't tell you what happened that night of the event, because it was a pretty epic fiasco (not my story, mind you, but everything else!) but I did have a 'warm-up' storyteller go on before I did, and after the event, she told me she was charging them $150, and she couldn't believe they were paying her $50 an hour to tell her 20 minute story!

I didn't have the heart to tell her what I got for that night.

I went back home, super grateful to my friends, and used the money to buy Hawk Circle Camp's first Lakota style tipi with buffalo leather trim, and it was truly a gift to all of use for almost ten years at our camp. What I learned from the whole experience changed me as well.

Awesome story, right? (It's always good to end with a happy note!)

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to some of you, and I'd love to hear some of your own stories about stratgy and problem-solving, so feel free to share this in the comments below, or via email if you prefer!

Good luck with your vision or mission, and keep doing great work! We sure need you all out there, that's clear, and I'm glad you're here.


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