Why You Don’t Need a Business Plan

13 Jan
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You might not know where you’re going, but you have to keep moving.

One of my favorite topics of conversation, much to the dismay of my dinner companions, is the tension between making plans and taking action. As the name of my blog suggests, I subscribe to the “act first” philosophy, but I certainly understand the need for detailed plans. Especially when the goal you want to achieve will take a long time and will involve lots of people.

However, most of the time we use planning as an excuse. It becomes a rationalization to keep us from acting and this is particularly true when trying to start a business. Any good expert on entrepreneurship will tell you to start with some market analysis and a strong business plan. I think they’re wrong. Here is my alternate approach: start with inspiration.

The famous screen-writing coach Robert McKee has useful definition for a “hack.” He says a hack is a writer, “who second-guesses his audience.”  Instead of using his muse to drive his work he asks himself what the market can support. He condescends. He may make some money by selling some snake oil, but at what cost to his reputation and his soul. Steven Pressfield expands,

“The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position…it can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.”

“That all sounds nice in theory,” you might say, “but there are practical considerations. No one is going to hand you money without a solid business plan.” Of course. I would never argue against this point. It isn’t wrong. But it is incomplete. The entrepreneurship process doesn’t start with a business plan. It starts with your passion. It starts with a compulsion to solve a problem.

Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “…often times the customer doesn’t even know what he wants until you show it to him.” So, how far can market research take you when the markets don’t even exist yet? If you truly want to be an innovator then you need to consider that the mechanical models of business development are lacking. No one can predict the future so if you want to succeed then you’ll have to do something scary and profound…you’ll have to make decisions in a fog. Incomplete information is the playground of the leader and the entrepreneur. Learn to enjoy the gray. Learn to embrace it. All creation is born in it.

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2 Responses to “Why You Don’t Need a Business Plan”

  1. grayben January 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    I’ve spend a lot of time “planning”, often only to burn out before I start. A good reminder to take more risks. What does one really have to lose?

    • chrcowan January 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Grayben. A good reminder for me too.

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