BRINGING INNOVATION TO MARKET

Why Planning Is Overrated

Planning in and of itself doesn't accomplish a darn thing. It's far better to get into the marketplace, and see what happens.
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It is not that I am against planning. But it starts with the assumption that you can forecast the future with a high level of certainty.

I simply don't think that's true.

If you find yourself in a situation where you can--you are introducing an existing product or service into a new major metropolitan area, something that you have done before--then by all means:

  • Forecast the future.
  • Construct a number of plans for achieving what you want, picking the optimal one.
  • Assemble the necessary resources.
  • Then go out and implement the plan.

Again, this work really well when things in the future are going to be similar to the immediate past.

But, and it is a huge but, the number of extremely predictable situations entrepreneurs face is decreasing.

Researching, planning, and gathering resources doesn't help you much when the world is changing as fast as it is these days. You can come up with a plan that is perfect--for a world that passed you by while you were spending all that time planning.

Similarly, you could end up solving for a problem that has either gone away, or has been solved by someone else while you were lining up resources.

In a situation where you cannot plan the future with any level of uncertainty, you are far better off following the strategy that the best entrepreneurs do.

The most successful entrepreneurs are extremely risk averse. They don't make large bets.

Instead, if you want to follow their lead, you'd take small, smart steps.

Specifically, you'd:

1. Start with desire. 

You find/think of something you want. You don't need a lot of passion; you only need sufficient desire to get started. ("I really want to start a restaurant, but I haven't a clue if I will ever be able to open one.")

2. Take a smart step as quickly as possible toward the goal. 

What's a smart step? It's one where you act quickly with the means at hand. What you know, who you know, and anything else that's available. ("I know a great chef, and if I beg all my family and friends to back me, I might have enough money to open a place.") You make sure that step is never going to cost more than it would be acceptable to you to lose should things not work out. And you bring others along to acquire more resources, spread the risk, and confirm the quality of your idea.

3. Reflect and build on what you have learned from taking that step. 

You need to do that because every time you act reality changes. Sometimes the step you take gets you nearer to what you want ("I should be able to afford something just outside of downtown"); sometimes what you want changes ("It looks likes there are an awful lot of Italian restaurants nearby. We are going to have to rethink our menu.") If you pay attention, you always learn something. So after you act, ask: Did those actions get you closer to your goal? ("Yes. It looks like I will be able to open a restaurant.") Do you need additional resources to draw even closer? ("Yes. I'll need to find another chef. The one I know can only do Italian.") Do you still want to obtain your objective? ("Yes.")

4. Repeat.

Act. Learn. Build. Repeat. This is what defeats uncertainty.

IMAGE: Chris Campbell/Flickr
Last updated: May 26, 2014

PAUL B. BROWN | Columnist

Best-selling author (and Inc. magazine columnist) Paul B. Brown's latest book, Own Your Future, has just been published. Brown's blog appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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