Creating a Dream
If the pandemic (or any other unforeseen disaster) has a positive side, it includes creating an opportunity for people to believe in a new dream for themselves. The prospect also paves the way for friends, neighbors, and business associates to act on previously unforeseen and unexpected chances for success. The problem with the status quo is that it cannot always be relied upon. Change has become inevitable which can be exciting and exploding with opportunities or it can be simply overwhelming. As coaches we want to move our clients to the opportunity mode; to be forward thinking and to reach for new options. Challenges abound and come in a variety of forms both anticipated and as surprising as an unexpected pandemic. An interesting thing that I noted during this particularly challenging time is that some businesses have thrived and some have gone bankrupt. Some businesses were able to springboard in to other products or services or manner of delivery and others seem to give up unable to foster even a glimmer of hope. This is not a new dynamic even in this epoch. There have always been opportunities and threats for business survival. This certainly highlights the importance of the age old saying, “the best defense is a good offense.” We need to keep dreaming to move positively forward. We have all been told for years to have three to six months of reserves to live on and had we all done that the pandemic quarantines could have become an unexpected vacation instead of a financial disaster. Alternatively, even if we were not prepared in advance, how can we equip ourselves to dream quickly, even under pressure? We need to make dreaming a regular practice. The answer to how people can create reserves for either their business or themselves is the simple answer: Start dreaming!
The capacity to move positively forward in unexpected circumstances does indeed shine a very bright light on why we need to reserve time to dream. Dreaming creates new possibilities and opportunities. We need to set time aside to dream as our sole purpose in that moment. As an example of the importance of having a dream let us consider “retirement” as it likely will affect everyone. At some point in time everyone will be faced with retirement which can be sometimes planned, sometimes very unexpected – e.g., your health or a loved one requiring care. You may retire at the expected time or it may be imposed upon you early. Or better yet from a positive perspective you actually plan to retire EARLY. Or perhaps you want to have a certain amount of money so that you may then be able to go from business success to social significance doing non-profit work. Yes, that can be possible. One client made a plan to retire by the time he was 40 and he achieved it by the time he was 35! He simply had a plan and followed it. As time marches on you will find yourself approaching that period in life when retirement may be on the horizon. This is good news for those that have prepared and horrifying news for those that have not. If the saying “birds of a feather flock together” is a truism, at least you are not alone. According to a survey by the Federal Reserve just under a third of non-retired U.S. households reported having NO retirement savings or pensions, including just under 20% of households aged 55 to 64. A quarter of respondents had done no planning (dreaming) at all. Of those with a plan, 25% have no idea how they can pay their expenses when they retire (or have a pandemic, or some emergency.) That brings the “ill prepared” total to 45% - that’s a big piece of the ugly pie. Many in the age brackets of 55 to 64 plan to keep working as long as possible. The operative words here are “as long as possible.” A study by the National Science Institute shows poor health increasing significantly post age 65, a definite consideration in the work equation. Enter the alternate plan to your dream scape. People are ill prepared because they have not been intentional about dreaming and making a forward plan. Dreaming is commensurate with creating your plan for success.
Spend time today dreaming about possibilities, options and alternatives - and implemented them - you will live on the peaceful beach of a less stressed future. This brings us to the question of how to dream. Some people are “visionaries” and can produce dreams like popcorn. Other people cannot think of anything and say emphatically, “I’m just not a dreamer.” I do not think the problem is lack of the ability to dream but rather lack of confidence to believe one can fulfill the dream. When I was five I was taken to ballet classes. I watched the other little girls perform various twirls, turns, and arm movements. When performance time arrived on the big stage, I was always making the wrong moves such as facing forward when it was time to face backwards. This had nothing to do with my dancing skills, just that I was missing one very important piece of information: I did not know the moves were associated with the music. That seems intuitive to some, however, many times we are on the precipice of excellence when given one more piece of information. When a toddler is taught the furry little ball is a kitty and then sees a puppy and says kitty, that usually invokes laughter and corrective information. The child is simply missing information. The dream can prompt an information search if any is missing.
Another problem lies in disappointment in unfulfilled dreams which can prohibit future dreaming. I think we can have a tendency to focus on why the dream will not work BEFORE we just simply dream. We can create a dream list that is sufficiently long to have replacements if any dreams are culled from the herd for reasons of talents, abilities, or access to needed supplies, products or services. The first step in dreaming about possibilities is simply to “dream about possibilities.”
How to Dream
As coaches it is imperative, we help our clients dream so they can reach their greatest potential and have peace in the process. The “why dream” is an easy sell! As a kickstart to dreaming I like to think of advertising coercion (I mean inspiration) as a good example of what to incorporate into dreaming. For example, if you want to sell something, create a problem and then your product fixes it. Take deodorant for example – it has not always been around. The ploy was to convince people they stink, and voila, we have the solution to mask the stink, deodorant. That was later followed by antiperspirant to stop the stink from forming at all. Thus entered the ability to springboard off another product if you aren’t an originator. The process to create and then solve a problem is one way to dream, but other ways to dream can be further expanded by asking questions such as:
- What additional services are available to offer?
- What additional products are available to produce?
- How can you spend less time at work?
- How can you make your office more inviting?
- What can you offer people that is new?
- What can you do for people that no one else is?
- How can you get more done in less time?
- How can you retire early?
- What new ventures are you available to try?
- How can you leverage another person’s talent with your own?
- How can you franchise your services? Your products?
- What hobby can you focus on to turn into a business?
- What can you invent? Shoe decorations? Hair covers? Dog or Cat things?
- What can you read to spur creativity? Inc. Magazine? FAST Company?
- What problems are you aware of that need solutions? At work? At home?
- What new exercise device can you invent? (fitness is big)
- What problems can you observe that beg for a solution?
- How can your friends help with ideas?
- What have you noticed friends need? Problems they have?
- What have you noticed as exemplary products/services?
- What do you see yourself doing in three years? Five years? Ten years?
Making Obstacles Disappear
After creating the dream there is the task of dealing with the related obstacles. Many times, we are able to create dreams but we are just as proficient at coming up with the reasons why they are hard to achieve. I prefer to switch that around and figure out HOW to make it work by solving the problem of the “obstacle.” For example, if I have a great idea for a phone APP but no technical skill to develop an APP, I just incorporate somebody with that skill set. Or I might initially look up how to create an APP and see if it looked doable – I will run a test model. I will not disappoint myself and shoot down my own idea simply because of a missing knowledge point or skill set. There are generally enough “nay sayers” around without becoming one ourselves for our ideas. We can empower ourselves to succeed! Suppose I had a large empty warehouse gone idle. In my dream moments I come up with an idea that a Ninja course will be a great new gym idea and new, fun workout business. But (there is the obstacle identifier) I have the grace and coordination of a moose; all I have to do is find others that have that skill set and I incorporate them into my plan. Consider that there have been bestselling books that were merely compilations of other people’s writings. Remember to use the skills and abilities or mentorship of others. I love to sing and play guitar. I do “okay” with this. If I had a dream of producing a CD I know that nearby me are studios that can “fix” my playing/singing, and produce a high quality CD. Now I sound really good! It is critically important to empower yourself by asking:
- What obstacles do I see with my dream?
- Who knows something about this obstacle?
- Who has the skill set to overcome this obstacle?
- What mentor has worked through a similar situation?
- Who can I find to solve this problem?
- What can I do to work around this obstacle?
- What technology is available to overcome this obstacle?
- How can I restructure the dream to avoid this obstacle?
The great thing about dreaming and obstacles is that almost anyone you share the dream with will be happy to point out obstacles – you usually do not even have to ask them to help with this. They can generally go into great detail with every possible reason why your dream cannot work. What great friends and informants! This is awesome, because you then have the opportunity to solve all these problems from the very beginning!
When and Where to Dream
The important thing about dreaming is to be intentional, to purposely make time to dream. Imagine the response: “What did you do today?” “I dreamed.” I prefer dreaming while I’m walking (with or without dog) as it seems to stimulate my brain more. Aerobic activity such as the treadmill or elliptical also spurs my thought process (after all what else is there to do for 45 minutes or so but dream?) Additionally, listening to music and dreaming can greatly enhance creativity in some people. Without question, have something to write on, or record, or write it down as soon as possible. (Writing while on the treadmill may be cumbersome!) Sometimes the most difficult thing is not the dreaming but remembering what the idea was. It is also helpful to make a list of what things one wants to dream about and think about each item. The point is, it must be intentional. This is not a one-time venture, nor necessarily even one dream, there may be several coupled together. Dream about the dream. Continue to dream and observe, the more you dream the more naturally you will begin to see with an eye for dreams and opportunities.
Simple observation can also be a great dream instigator. Be intentional about looking around and observing things with regard to your business or other objectives. Watch for settings, décor, great service, special perks, just simply what impresses you. When we were in Las Vegas the Bellagio had a Picasso exhibit. Initially this might not seem like something of use to an accounting business. I was immediately inspired with the idea to create “tax art” in a multi-media format – “Man with Refund” (picture real folded dollars floating down) – “Man who Owes” (dollars shaped like birds flying away). I began dreaming of sellable tax art for nice office displays and began visualizing deducting the trip for tax purposes. I remember also walking into a rest room that had fresh cut flowers, towelettes, and lotion packets. A step above in service or an enhancement to comfort. Then, imagine walking into a filthy restroom attached to your restaurant-what impression do you think that creates? Or what if you gave a small little gift with each customer’s visit? These types of things can also be enhancements that make your business or service stand out. Even small dreams can create positive results. Look around:
- What do you see that is exemplary?
- What do you see someone doing you like?
- What makes you feel special?
- What makes you feel comfortable?
- What additional observations can enhance your business?
- What charitable idea can you replicate? (shoe for you, one for underprivileged)
- What environmentally conscious thing can you add?
Another thing to incorporate into the dreaming is how to expand business without doing more work. For example: if I do a tax return and make $100, then I can do 10 and make $1,000. I will make a quantifiable amount of more money by doing more. But IF I can only do 10 a day, then I am limited to only 10 and can never make more than $1,000. UNLESS: I can get faster- what efficiencies can I incorporate? I can use technology to do more, or can I hire someone to do it for $70 and I make $30 off of their work; then I hire 10 of them I could be rich! Or for another example I will produce a talk, instruction, inspiration ONCE and put it on a CD/APP and I can sell it multiple times. Incorporate the create one, sell many of same type of business planning also into your dreaming. And, if you were doing weight loss then how can you benefit without using more time: Standing desk, sit on fitness ball while typing (seriously would not work for me – depends on your skill/coordination level.) There are always economies you can think/dream about. If you can franchise anything, that is always a good thing, then others pay for what you developed over and over again. Here is another example incorporating something simple like some character cupcakes. I used regular cupcake mix, and decorate as something: pig, sheep, tiger, moose, minion . . . etc. I dreamt of selling a cookbook showing pictures, ingredients to use for decorations, and where to get decorations. OR I visualized selling a cupcake of the month subscription, package all you need to make them and sell that instead. Then I asked myself which dream will reap greater profits? People look for convenience. In your coaching, reach beyond the initial dream development:
- What is the basic idea?
- What actions will you do with the idea?
- How will you package it?
- How can you franchise it?
- How can you do it with some other service? Product?
- What are other possibilities? What else? What else?
I read an interesting concept about following a blue print. If a builder is following the blue print for house plans, no one is surprised that he built the house when he is done. Even if there are change orders, the finished product is still a house and there is no surprise it is a house. Did you get that? It is no shock it is a house, the plans for a house were laid out and followed. Dreams work the same way, as long as the plan is laid out you can make them happen! This is the next important part of dreaming to explore.
Mapping the Path to Dream Realization
The next step after creating dreams is mapping the path to achieve them – your blue print for success. This is done by working through the dream step by step, creating the steps necessary to achieve it. For example, when dreaming of writing a book, creating a CD, or planning for retirement do the following:
- Investigate distribution options (Create Space, Amazon, etc.)
- Review format requirements
- Decide on topics
- How many topics
- Approximate length of each written topic
- Outline topics
- Fill in the detail writing
- Add illustrations/Cartoons
- Construct a timeline for completion
Get to work and get it done! The more detailed the mapping of the steps, the easier it is to create the timeline to achieve the dream. In this example, I want to know the number of topics, and will expand my outline to include the number of topics. This is a critical point in the next phase of the dream project, the execution time line. Breaking the project down into measurable pieces assists in creating a timeline with time frames to complete the project. There is a big difference in the ability to write a chapter if the goal is stated as I will write a chapter a month, rather than the vague “I will have this book of 10 chapters done in 6 months.” The latter being harder to assess progress and whether one is remaining on course. Detail also makes the project achievable. A chapter a month is a clear goal. The vague 10 chapters in 6 months begs for procrastination. Do not let the dream die because the pieces are too large to chew without choking. Many small steps are easier to climb.
Dream Execution Timeline
One method to complete the timeline for the project is picking a target completion date and working backwards. This is my preferred method because if I use the going forward method, so long to do step one, so long to do step two, etc. – I am too likely to just keep pushing the time out for me to complete each step if I am getting off target. The going forward methods assigns so much time to each step, and the end date is when you finish all the steps. The backwards method is more efficient for me. Starting with an end date and working backwards creates urgency for me, but a stress-free way to complete it as long as I do not deviate from the plan. The client will need to assess their own self-discipline on this matter. For myself, I prefer to commit to an end date. I refer to this as the I beat the guillotine method of project completion or the drop-dead date motivation technique.
The following is an example of how this technique can be used: I had decided to write a book for college age students to get started on the right financial foot. I called up the appropriate person at the community college and told them our firm was going to donate this book to every graduate in May. Keep in mind I had nothing written at this point, it was just an idea, a dream! Then I inquired when graduation was to take place, which was the second week in May. I made this call in January. I took a calendar and worked backwards, knowing how long the publication process takes to complete after chapter submissions. I then divided the remaining time by the number of chapters I had to write. I followed the plan and met the deadline. This is a very effective technique for me and I credit it with getting the project done at all. It is similar to the story of burning the boats after landing on shore if you wanted to capture the land! You decisively have to go forward as the means to turn back has been eliminated. I have had a number of other things I have WANTED to do, but without the commitment, they remain dormant in my mind.
Dreaming is one thing, execution is another. There is a saying about five frogs sitting on a log – one decided to jump, how many were left? Answer: Five – there is a difference between deciding and doing. Constructing the timeline is crucial to making the dream come true. There needs to be a blue print to follow. If there is no plan, there is no house. I ask clients the following questions to help them structure the best method for getting things done:
- How do you best motivate yourself to complete projects?
- What gets in your way?
- Who can hold you accountable?
- How can you be encouraged to complete projects?
- What else motivates you to complete a project?
- How do you organize your time schedule?
- What type of planning works best for you, forward or backward?
- How can you commit to a completion date?
The next step is the most critical, to actually have the client map out their time frames with either forward or backward planning. It should be in sufficient detail so it is measurable as to completion. The accountability piece, either via coach, external constraints, or preferred accountability partner is vital to project completion. Draw out the blue print on the calendar. Then just follow the plan and there will be no surprise when the house is built.
So, what did you do today? “It was awesome! I dreamed.” “Then I built a house.”
Roxanne P Ostlund, CPA, MBA, CGMA
Roxanne has over 28 years of experience with pro-active tax planning and coaching for businesses. She was he managing partner at RPO Associates, CPAs, LLC. She has taught as adjunct accounting faculty; delivered continuing education to other CPAs throughout the United States and has authored a number of business and tax related courses.
Roxanne currently reviews and edits professional education tax manuals for providers of tax and accounting education throughout the United States. She has authored two books on financial literacy. She is the founder of “Accounting for One Another” a community non-profit organization.
She received her B.S. and MBA from University of Wyoming with additional tax studies at University of California Berkeley and doctoral studies at Northcentraal University. She is a certified professional coach available for consultation at: firstname.lastname@example.org.