The older I get, the more I come to believe that life is a balancing act. For example, when I was younger I usually thought that you were interested in either the past or the future, that they were two ways of looking at the world. But now I realize that the future can only be understood through the past, that they are tied together. The present is the pivot point, the hinge of time.
I increasingly find I am most effective if I maximize both my introverted/introspective side and my extroverted/outward-facing side. These things are not opposites in the sense of good and bad, pro or con; they are countervailing forces that actually require each other. They are not “either/or,” they are “both/and.” Think of the Yin and Yang of eastern philosophy – you can’t have one without the other.
I discovered one such duality when I (retrospectively and introspectively) examined how I write business plans. My business plans have proven helpful in setting the tone and initial course for my ventures and a requirement for raising capital. Even if no one ever saw my plans, they would still be critically important for me to clarify, study, question, and evaluate my own ideas. I have written a lot of business plans; I have reviewed and commented upon probably another thousand plans written by others; and I have taught and talked about business plans many times.
Looking back over my best and strongest plans, I realized that I spent a big portion of my time in the world of Microsoft Word and a big portion of my time in Microsoft Excel. But it goes deeper than that. Here’s an example. I was working on my plan to create a chain of museums, and the words part of it went something like “When the customer reaches the front door they will be pleasantly surprised by the number of people paying attention to them, by the fact that three people greet them and help them understand how the museum works.” Then, the next day – or week or month – I was working on the payroll spreadsheet, and two hours into it I had to look up and say, “$$##%%@! — there’s not going to be anyone to greet my customers at the front door!” I realized I either had to trim my enthusiastic language in the text part of the plan or raise my payroll in the numbers part. My vision was out of sync.
I find that, in order for my plan to really “sing” – for me or for anyone else – it has to have words and numbers, qualities and quantities, that match up, that are synchronized. This is an iterative process, one small step this way, one small step that way, going back and forth between the words and numbers, tweaking each side of the balance, getting closer and closer, until they converge, until they fit together. The broad conceptions shown in your words become congruent with the details in your numbers. You gradually – mathematicians might call it asymptotically – approach the “right” answer, the “right” description.
Once I realized this – I guess I had been doing it without thinking about it in my prior business plans – I also got a fresh view of all the business plans I have read. I now realize that business plans, especially those done by first timers (an unavoidable step in life), are either wonderful fluffy words with no specifics, or masterfully produced spreadsheets with no heart. Neither one of those will work.
This is one reason I tell prospective entrepreneurs that they cannot delegate the writing of their business plans to others, and should not place their hopes on a formulaic business plan out of a piece of software, book, or class to work. Of course you can, and often should, have reviewers and editors and you can learn good ideas and techniques from outside sources, but the ultimate plan must come from your own head and heart.
This concept of quantities and qualities goes well beyond writing business plans – it affects the very lifeblood of the enterprise, the DNA the founders inject into the venture and how things evolve from the beginning onward.
I urge everyone who is planning for the future, or even thinking about the past and present, to spend part of your time in the structured, crystal-clear realm of numbers and quantities, and part of your time in the free-flowing, imaginative, passionate, and heartfelt realm of words and ideas. Go back and forth. One day here, the other day there. One week here, the next week there. Not only does this make for better business plans, it makes for a better understood life.
In future posts, I will explore some of the other dualities, yins and yangs, that I believe are critical to successful entrepreneurial thinking. One intersection that is key to enterprise success that you should think about is “Should an enterprise be (A) the singular vision of the founder(s), a total reflection of their style and worldview, an ideal that springs from their soul or (B) designed totally with others in mind, with the customer foremost, always serving others and meeting and adapting to their needs?” Of course my answer is that it must be both, which might at first seem impossible. Stay tuned…