What do you do, when you don't know what to do? For many entrepreneurs, that's the key question.

Personally, I've been so intrigued by the question that a couple of years back, I decided to write a book on the subject. Co-written by Charles F. Kiefer, president of Innovation Associates, the company that pioneered organizational learning, and Leonard A. Schlesinger, a big-deal Harvard Business School professor, the book is called Just Start.

That was the name the publisher wanted. I much preferred our original title: Action Trumps Everything. Here's why:

I wanted to communicate from the cover on that I passionately believe careful planning is absolutely unnecessary. When you're facing the unknown--and starting and running your own business certainly qualifies in most cases--preparation is severely overrated.

The problem with planning is the longer you plan, the longer you aren't in the marketplace. And that means three things are happening, and none of them are good:

1. No revenues are coming in.

2. Someone could beat you to the punch and introduce your great idea to the world before you.

3. The market is changing and as a result you could fall out of step. To use an extreme example to make the point, imagine that while you were planning how to make the world's best landline telephone for personal use, everyone else moved on to cell phones.

Given all those reasons, putting together a full-blown business plan doesn't make any sense to me, unless you need tens of millions of dollars to get under way. In that case, you are going to need to do one. Professional investors, such as venture capitalists, will require it.

But most of us don't need that kind of money to accomplish what we want to do. That's why I'm not big on over-planning.

My problem with elaborate preparation is similar to that of elaborate planning. There's always another phone call you can make. Another person you can double-check with or a bit more research you can do. You can easily keep putting off getting under way forever.

And so, my default position became (as I have written before in another context): Act your way into learning, rather than thinking forever and maybe deciding to act.

More specifically here's what I propose:

  • Take a small step toward your goal.
  • Pause to see what you learned from taking that step.
  • Build that learning into your next steps.
  • Repeat.

Building in a bias toward action can reduce the need to wait on other people to get things moving. I don't know about you, but the universe tends to move much too slowly for me.

Published on: Jun 5, 2014