Killer business plans were definitely not on my mind in 1983.
But my hitchhiking career was about to start.
The decision to thumb a lift 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 discovered a coach journey home (Nottingham) would cost me a shed-load (£12). Aged 17, that was nearly 20 pints of beer…
And it got worse. The printed coach schedule promised a 9 hour journey. Nine hours of hell more like. The ride also included a double ‘loop the loop’ around Lancaster’s University campus.
So I opted for a different roller-coaster experience.
With a freshening plan I hauled my Jag rucksack onto my back. Sensing the start of something new and exciting I walked through the sleepy Cumbrian town to a roundabout connecting me to the A66 – my route out of Keswick. My hitchhiking career was starting…
Planning and Forethought
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. I was in my zone and once committed, nothing was going to stop me.
The excitement brought about by doing something new combined with the joy of seeking to overcome odds (on my own), took control. I knew I wanted to take on the hitchhiking challenge and time spent thinking and planning any alternative was a unnecessary.
The emotional high had a grip and my rudder was set.
Having spent decades in business, I often encounter this ‘instinctive action’ when working with young entrepreneurs. People starting new ventures often become overly focused (blinded even) on what they want to do. As a consequence they avoid advice or filter out information they don’t want to hear.
Very occasionally, people in this ‘tunnel mode’ are right to pursue their path. But most of the time people are overcome by single-mindedness and become prone to foolish mistakes. Advice is only valued later, once mistakes have been made.
Asking people to plan and think before acting is an important method for start-ups to take time to find the right direction. If you want business credit facilities from a bank they will ask for a plan and as another HHGE post explains, slowing down can speed you up.
Business plans and teaching
Since the study of entrepreneurship came into vogue in the late nineties, business plans have become a key resource to support many courses and competitions. A plan is a tangible outcome that can be easily assessed. A plan requires students to think about all business disciplines.
Unfortunately, a traditional business plan is also a linear document with a start, middle and end. Yet business is not linear which means the thinking process required of the budding entrepreneur contradicts how they need to think when running a business.
For me, presenting business planning modules or competitions to budding entrepreneurs is open to question. Without an applied context the subject is potentially meaningless and can be based largely guesswork and hope. This excellent article from ‘Innovation Excellence’ fleshes this point out more thoroughly.
No amount of planning will advance thinking if there isn’t a practical framework within student minds with which to attach learning and thus make received wisdom meaningful. Eric Reis has written and researched extensively on this subject. Mr Reis is also responsible for creating the groundbreaking Business Model Canvas.
Killer business plans and SimVenture Validate
The Business Model Canvas approaches business planning in a different way. Users of the Canvas start by thinking about the customer and the value of the service/product on offer.
Sections of the Canvas are not completed in a linear way either. Instead, the student is able to look at the Canvas big picture and visualise how all elements of their business fits together. Importantly, the Canvas works for non-profit as well as for–profit ideas.
And most recently, on-line tools such as SimVenture Validate have been created which allow business planning students to complete a Canvas through a series of critical questions. These questions test thinking and knowledge and help to identify where gaps and assumptions exist.
By bringing the learning to life, resources such as SimVenture Validate resonate with learners and stop people launching businesses based on flawed plans. Used properly, the Business Model Canvas helps people to create killer business plans which critically have meaning.
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, for the student with little or no business experience, the process can be meaningless. The Business Model Canvas and resources like SimVenture Validate help bring reality to life and advance thinking, thus making killer business plans possible.