MT Expert - Innovation: Unplan your business

If you want to introduce innovation in to your business thinking, try Unplanning argues Ian Sanders.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Does your business today resemble anything like you projected three or four years ago? Chances are, it doesn’t: who could have predicted market and technological developments or the erratic economic climate?

But even though it’s so difficult to get right, we continue to obsess over business planning. The culture of long term planning is drummed into us despite the fact that plotting a three-year plan often feels like plucking figures from thin air. The problem is we become so adept at creating great theoretical models and strategies we fail at getting results. If this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time for some innovation in your business thinking. Forget long-term plans, perhaps it’s time to Unplan your business instead?

Unplanning is less about business planning, and more about ‘business doing’. Goals and vision are still important in the Unplan model, but it does away with a fixed linear route to get there. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs paralysed by set-in-stone plans and over-analysis, when it would be more productive to just get on with it, launch and test their idea in the market. Unplan liberates business owners to focus on what’s more important: execution and implementation.

In the 1960s it might have taken several years to take a new product to market. Now a product can be manufactured and on sale on Ebay in less than six weeks. The Internet has enabled a digital opportunity of a lifetime and this demands we play by new rules. Because if we don’t embrace new ways of doing things, you can bet our competitors do. Success is often about being first to market, so businesses that get stuck in planning risk extinction. As the economy changes the marketplace, our businesses need to adapt quickly in order to respond to client demands and embrace new opportunities. Businesses sticking to their plan through such change risk failure.

I launched the Unplan approach at South by South West Interactive in Texas earlier this year in a session I co-hosted with David Sloly. David and I wrote an e-book (which you can grab free here) and soon discovered this was an idea that resonated with a broad cross section of the business world. We got endorsements from many CEOs and thought leaders who acknowledged that a business plan is just a guess. The management guru Tom Peters, Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and Howies founder David Hieatt shared their beliefs that success is about trying out ideas in the market, not building theoretical models.

I also spoke with David Heinemeier Hansson, partner at 37signals, the software company that has grown without a long term strategic plan. He told me: "We rely heavily on instinct. An instinct that has been developed and formed from a decade in business. Some times careful analysis is helpful, but often times you're just trying to justify what your instinct is already telling you. Why not follow that straight from the get go?"

So how can you embrace Unplan in your organisation?
-    Have goals but don’t have a linear path for how to reach them.
-    Be fluid enough to embrace random opportunities that arise from market change.
-    Trust your instincts — not your strategic plan — in decision making and pursuing new options.
-    Adopt a culture that encourages action and implementation where new ideas are implemented swiftly.
-    Prototype your ideas in the market. Build the product, test it, see if it gets traction and then talk to investors about funding. Iteration is key – you can launch an idea, get reaction and adjust your model in days.
-    Utilise web-based tools such as crowd sourcing, Twitter, PayPal and other apps to launch, promote and test your business ideas.

Okay, Unplan might not be for everyone. But for companies stuck in repeat with a broken business model, Unplan can be liberating. Whilst for the start-up economy, the home business launch, the ‘I have an idea’ folk, Unplan is about positive actions the entrepreneur can use to realise their goals. After all, you can think, analyse and plan all day long or you can try things out and see what works in the real world.

Ian Sanders is a business coach, marketing expert and author. Twitter @iansanders

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