Rip up the Five Year Plan!
- Nov 05, 2010
In a world that’s increasingly unpredictable, many businesses are questioning the value of the long term strategic plan. The web has enabled entrepreneurs to launch and test their ideas in an instant, so now there’s a new breed of companies ‘unplanning’ their businesses, focusing on doing rather than planning. Unplan evangelist and guest blogger Ian Sanders explains why he’s ripping up his Five Year Plan.
So you’ve got a genius business idea inside you - now you just need to do something about it.
Perhaps you’ve had that flash of business inspiration lying on a sun-drenched beach, or you’ve decided to collaborate with some like-minded souls on a new venture. So what do you need to get started?
The answer from most established entrepreneurs, CEOs and management books is that you need to devise your Business Plan. A bulky document filled with market profiles, competitor analyses, focus group feedback and those all important five year financial projections. Without a business plan - they say - you can’t get started. Okay, if you’re working for a big corporation or have a bunch of shareholders and investors to appease, the traditional business plan may still be a valuable business tool. But for small businesses, freelancers, the ‘I have an idea’ generation, I’d argue it’s time to rip up your business plan and ‘unplan’ instead.
Unplanning replaces the focus on business planning with ‘business doing’. Of course there’s nothing wrong with goals and targets; without a destination in mind your business would be like starting a journey with no clue where you’re heading. So goals - yes! But a linear plan of how you’re going to reach that goal - what’s the point? After all, who can predict what’s around the corner? How many business leaders who projected the shape of their business five years ago can truly say today they stuck to that plan? Because, of course, lots of stuff happens that could never have been anticipated.
The problem with a fixed plan is that a business owner can get stuck in ‘amber’ mode. They get so bogged down with hypotheticals, financial modelling and revenue projections that their business idea gets stuck in a spreadsheet or presentation slide and the light never goes ‘green’. Instead of focusing on making their business idea happen, they suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’.
Here are three tips to get in the Unplan State Of Mind:
1. TAKE ACTION. Unplanning is about moving from a passive to active mindset. Get used to making quick decisions, focus on outcomes and getting your business out there. Do something!
2. TEST IT. Don’t test your idea on a spreadsheet, test it live in the marketplace. Launch a prototype or in beta, then monitor, get user feedback and adapt your offering as you go.
3. BE AGILE. Be open to change: embrace random opportunities and be prepared to take left turns along the way. Success is about being flexible enough to react to opportunities as they arise.
Unplanning isn’t as radical as you think. David Heinemeier Hansson told me how he helped build software company 37signals without a long term strategic plan: "We rely heavily on instinct. An instinct that has been developed and formed from a decade in business. Some times careful analysis is helpful, but often times you're just trying to justify what your instinct is already telling you. Why not follow that straight from the get go?"
After all, you can think, analyse and plan all day long or you can try things out and see what works in the real world. So, unplan your business idea!
Ian Sanders is a business coach, marketing expert, ideas junkie and author. He’s also a mentor for Virgin Media Pioneers.
Photo my Myrmi on Flickr.