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You don't need a plan
You need Auftragstaktik
I’ve tried my hand at a few different businesses over the years. I’ve done a bit of consulting, run a mini music festival, started a vodka brand and am now launching an early-stage investment platform (together with my cofounder Mary).
None have been knockout successes so far…so I' don’t really have much to preach about.
That being said, one learning above all else really sticks out.
Planning is (mostly) pointless
All you need are clear goals…
I have a tendency to overthink things. I try to plan exactly how I will approach something and figure out if it will or won’t work. Then I revise the plan before I execute.
This is generally non-useful behaviour.
Outlining the broad objectives is handy - it’s good to define what you hope to achieve and why (the outcome). This helps you to focus on mission-critical work.
But any detailed planning of how you do things is pointless, for three reasons:
The world is uncertain
Whilst you can strike lucky and build a strategy that predicts exactly how things will play out, 99.99% of the time, it won’t work.
It wastes time
Strategising is time you could be spending on acting, testing, learning and evolving.
It creates doubt
When I strategise, self-doubt gradually creeps in and I start to think about changing direction. If I overthink the how, the what and the why starts to change. This is toxic. Indecision damages morale, and takes the team off-course.
We all know this, but we fail to act on it
People talk a lot about the idea of “lean startup methodology”. Agile development, testing and iterating, etc. But practicing what you preach is hard.
This is because when you strategise and talk about how you will do something, it feels productive. It feels like you’re achieving something.
But you’re not.
Most of the time you spend thinking about something, discussing it, writing down ideas, turning them over and then discarding or changing them is time you could have spent lean testing something and tweaking it, or else binning it altogether.
So what does good planning look like?
Make noise, listen for a signal, double down
This has never been easier than in the internet age. The internet is amazing. It allows you to validate ideas without a plan, and quickly figure out how to proceed.
This can feel a bit daunting.
But by focusing on the outcome, minimising planning and then acting fast - an approach pioneered by the Prussian military genius Moltke the Elder, known as auftragstaktik - you’re a whole lot more likely to build something useful.