Debunking The Written Plan Myth

In every corner of our society, myths persist. They are tales we’ve heard so often that we accept them without question. The world of business and entrepreneurship is no exception to this norm. One of the most pervasive myths in the entrepreneurial landscape is the emphasis on writing a business plan as the essential first step to success. But, in the realm of critical analysis, is this truly the optimal approach?

The Pervasive Myth

A comprehensive study by Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) shed light on a critical aspect. The research revealed that a staggering 90% of business failures could be attributed to poor management resulting from a deficiency of knowledge. This alarming statistic does not underscore the absence of a business plan. Instead, it magnifies the glaring lack of critical thinking and comprehensive understanding of the business model concept. A cursory glance at this insight brings forth a pivotal question: Is the absence of a written business plan the real root of the extensive rate of business failures, or is there a deeper underlying issue at play here?

Insights from Leaders

Historical and contemporary figures in leadership and innovation, like General George Patton and Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, have emphasized the impermanent nature of plans in the face of real-world challenges. “No battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy,” Patton observed, highlighting the unpredictable and ever-changing landscape of the battleground. This sentiment is mirrored in the business domain by Case, who astutely noted the inevitable transformation every product or service undergoes upon its encounter with customers. Emphasizing the importance of adaptability, Dwight D. Eisenhower eloquently summed it up, stating, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Delving Deeper

Is the lack of a written business plan the actual issue or merely a manifestation of a more profound problem? To unearth the answers, it’s pivotal to employ the insightful Five Why’s technique, an interrogative methodology pioneered by Toyota to meticulously explore the intricate web of cause-and-effect relationships.

Analyzing the compelling data on the 5-year business failure rate, a conspicuous issue emerges. The primary problem is not the absence of a business plan. The root cause lies in the hasty leap many entrepreneurs take into drafting a business plan without first thoroughly validating their business concept. This precipitous jump results in an emotional attachment to their idea, overshadowing the critical step of confirming the genuine demand size for it in the market.

Risk Spectrum

This risk is not a domain exclusive to startups. It permeates across the diverse spectrum of innovation, spanning inventors to established corporations. A significant number of startups do not stumble because there’s no market need for their product. Their downfall is the overlooked, crucial supply and demand metrics, leading to the inability to attain a critical mass of target customers who value their offering. This deficiency underscores the lack of knowledge to tackle fundamental questions and navigate the intricate pathway of entrepreneurship.

The Pitfall of the Traditional Approach

The conventional “write a business plan first” approach stands as a significant pitfall for countless entrepreneurs. A compelling 2021 study from Harvard Business School by Professor Clayton Christensen accentuated this, highlighting that of the 30,000 new products and services launched annually, a whopping 95% plummet when the business plan is prioritized over market validation. While the failure rates exhibit variation across diverse industries, the overarching success rate remains disconcertingly low.

The Real Myth

In the panorama of business and entrepreneurship, the real myth is not about the cruciality of a business plan. It’s about the misplaced and premature emphasis on penning it down before establishing the validity of the business concept. The spotlight should be ardently focused on acquiring comprehensive knowledge, critically analyzing it, and subsequently determining whether to draft a detailed business plan.

Beyond the Myth

While business plans emerge as valuable tools in the arsenal of entrepreneurs, placing them as the first step in the entrepreneurial journey is a flawed approach. The priority should be unswervingly on vetting the business concepts, aligning them with market needs and demands, and understanding the intricate dynamics that will play a pivotal role in the business’s growth and sustainability.

Real-Life Examples

Consider the tale of a renowned tech giant, Apple. The launch of the Apple III in 1980 stands as a historical testament to the importance of product validation. Despite being a trailblazer in the technology sector, Apple’s foray into the business computer market with the Apple III was marked by multiple issues, leading to its eventual discontinuation.

In 1985, The Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formula for its flagship soda, renaming it as “New Coke.” The public backlash was swift and immense, leading the company to reintroduce the original formula as “Coca-Cola Classic” just a few months later.

When introduced, the Segway was touted as something that would revolutionize personal transportation. Despite its innovative design, it faced hurdles like high pricing, regulatory issues, and a lack of clear consumer need, leading to it never becoming the mainstream product that many had anticipated.

Each of these examples underscores the critical importance of vetting a business model concept by understanding market needs, validating product or service concepts, and ensuring alignment with customer expectations and demands.

Rethinking Strategies

Entrepreneurs need to adopt a strategic shift, placing emphasis on extensive market research, in-depth analysis, and robust validation processes such as the vetting process illustrated above before venturing into the realm of business plans. This approach, characterized by quick-fail flexibility, adaptability, and a deep understanding of market dynamics, will pave the way for more sustainable, successful, and resilient ventures in the complex and ever-evolving entrepreneurial landscape.

Final Thoughts

By unequivocally placing emphasis on the vetting process validation, market analysis, and critical thinking, we can collectively debunk the pervasive business plan myth. This strategic shift will illuminate the pathway for a more insightful, informed, and innovative approach to entrepreneurship, ensuring the establishment of businesses that are not just transient ventures but enduring institutions contributing positively to society and the global economy.

In this expansive landscape of entrepreneurship, let the essence of planning (the verb) take precedence over the written plan (the noun), ensuring a foundation built on insight, understanding, and adaptability, setting the stage for enduring success and impactful contributions to the multifaceted world of business and innovation.

If you are planning to start a business or are thinking about scaling an existing one, be sure to read the ebook “Customer Centric Business Planning: A Guide to Optimizing Your Business for Maximum Success”. It is an essential book for business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs looking to leverage real-time insight to start and improve their business operations. Learn how proper customer centric business planning can assess risk and opportunity, and create an actionable roadmap for success.

Copyright ©John Trenary 2023. All rights reserved.

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