My decision to hitch that cold, blue-sky October morning, was pure instinct. In fact, if it had been planned, it probably would never have happened.
Stood alone at the Keswick bus station not long after sunrise, I learnt a journey to Nottingham would set me back a whopping £12. Aged 17, that was a lot of dosh (1983 – 65p a pint)…
Worse, the schedule promised 9 hours of hell on a trip which included a double ‘loop the loop’ around Lancaster’s University campus. Not for me.
With a freshening plan I hauled my bulging Jag rucksack onto my back. Sensing the start of something exciting and new I walked through the sleepy Cumbrian town to a roundabout and more importantly the A66. My hitchhiking career was about to start.
Even though hitching had a risky reputation, I didn’t spend time carefully weighing up the pro’s and con’s of the activity. Nor had I given much thought to the best route; and certainly hadn’t bothered to phone anyone to tell them what I was doing.
I see it like this. The excitement brought about by doing something new combined with the joy of seeking to overcome the odds (on my own), took control. I knew I wanted to take up the challenge and hitch. But time spent thinking and planning was a threat, because it might take away the emotional high of the moment.
Interestingly, I see this ‘instinctive action’ parallel with budding entrepreneurs. People starting their first businesses can become completely focused on and tuned into what they want to do and can actively avoid both advice and what they may see later as common sense actions. Occasionally, people in this ‘tunnel mode’ are right to do what they are doing. But most of the time they are making foolhardy mistakes and only seek advice later once they recognise its value.
Asking people to construct a business plan and think before acting is one way for them to take time to find the right direction. As another HHGE post explains, slowing down can speed you up.
But should we be asking all budding entrepreneurs to write a formal business plan? In my opinion, the answer is ‘probably not’. People keen to start a business, or get going with their idea, learn best by doing.
No amount of planning will help them if there is no practical framework within their minds with which to attach the learning and thus make received wisdom meaningful. Steve Blank & Eric Reis have written and researched extensively on this subject and the SimVenture team has always woven this thinking into their simulation design.
Killer business plans?
Therefore, presenting business planning modules or competitions to budding entrepreneurs by way of an introduction to the subject is open to serious question. Without an applied context the subject is largely meaningless and is simply subject to student guesswork and hope. This excellent article from ‘Innovation Excellence’ fleshes this point out more thoroughly.
And in my experience of reviewing many plans formed in academia, the quality of the output bears this out. However, this does not mean people shouldn’t develop the ability to plan and think ahead.
Building mental models creates meaning
Just like the hitchhiker, the budding entrepreneur learns quickest (and in the most meaningful way) by experiencing the journey first. Practical experience, mistakes and most importantly a contextual framework formed within the mind creates a desire (critical tipping point) to seek information and ask for relevant advice.
People will naturally find their own speed, path and level of dependence on the teacher/advisor and as a consequence they can be taught/trained in a flexible/personalised manner according to behaviour and need.
Nurtured well, the budding entrepreneur ultimately recognises how to construct a meaningful and valuable business plan which they can write with confidence and understanding. As this Harvard article shows, clarity of purpose and passion must come before any killer business plans are written if the entrepreneur is to have a chance of ultimate success. Of course, the plan then adds huge value if it is being used to raise money or attract stakeholders. But this all takes time and practice.
That first hitchhike did in fact take over 9 hours. Arriving home in the dark, I had received 6 different lifts, experienced much of the M6, walked nearly 5 miles between two hitches and enjoyed the company of the 1983 ‘Veteran driver of the year’.
I was ecstatic and full of stories. As importantly, I decided it would be a good idea to always hitch with a map in future. If I had journeyed over the A66 to the A1 (rather than down the M6), I would have travelled a straighter route and arrived in Nottingham in half the time.
Key Learning Points: Well written, business plans are an important communication tool. However, creating ‘killer business plans’ as a starting point can stifle creativity and is not necessarily a good use of time especially when the budding entrepreneur has no previous practical experience.