Getting over certainty in your business

In my 5+years of working with entrepreneurs it has become increasingly clear that getting over certainty is central to running a business. Uncertainty is where the real action happens.

In the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking author Oliver Burkeman cites a study of 45 entrepreneurs who had at least 15 years experience in starting businesses and had taken at least one company public.

The recommendations of these entrepreneurs  run counter to many business maxims out there:

Almost none of them suggested creating a detailed business plan or doing comprehensive market research to hone the details of the product they were aiming to release. (‘I don’t believe in market research,’ one anonymous participant told Sarasvanthy. ‘Somebody once told me the only thing you need is a customer. Instead of asking all the questions, I’d try to make some sales.’)

The entrepreneurs didn’t think like high-end chefs, concocting a vision of a dish and then hunting for the perfect ingredients. They behaved more like ordinary, time-pressed home cooks, checking what was in the fridge and the cupboards, then figuring out, n the fly, what they could make and how.

‘I always live by the motto of, “Ready, fire, aim” said one. ‘I think that if you spend too much time doing, “ready, aim, aim, aim,” you’re never going to see all the good things that would happen if you actually started doing it. I think business plans are interesting, but they have no real meaning, because you can’t put in all the positive things that will occur.’

The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur, Chris Kayes is convinced, isn’t ‘vision’ or ‘passion’ or a steadfast insistence on destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you’re obsessed with. Rather, it’s the ability to adopt an unconventional objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself. This is a flexibility that might be squelched by rigid focus on any one goal.

This anti-goal approach is also referred to as being “effectually” minded instead of “causally minded” (i.e. taking steps to achieve a goal). The two principles of effectuation are as follows:

1. Start with your means – Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Start taking action based on what you have readily available: what you are, what you know, and who you know.

2. Affordable loss – Don’t be guided by thoughts of how wonderful the rewards might be if you were spectacularly successful at any given next step. Instead ask how big the loss would be if you failed. So long as the loss would be tolerable, that’s all you need to know. Take that next step, and see what happens.

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