Your planning should be ambitious!
And that is one of the maxims I no longer take quite as seriously as I used to. Let me use the example of a bike tour for explaining that one-dimensional planning will not make you happy, yet that multi-dimensional planning is impossible. And that ambition is usually something restricted to one dimension only: numbers.
About my bike tour:
During the Pentecost Holidays of 2010, I was going to ride the entire “Danube cyclist’s path” with Barbara by bike. We had already covered the entire way from the springs of the Danube to Budapest. Some parts of the way, like the stretch between Passau and Vienna, more than once. All that remained for us to experience was the stretch from Budapest to Constanța on the Black Sea.
So you could say we planned an enterprise. Even the very idea for this enterprise was something we had come up with purely accidentally. One Saturday before the Christmas holidays, I went to the “Hugendubel” bookstore near the “Marienplatz” with Barbara in order to buy the Black Swan (Schwarzen Schwan) by NassimNicholas Taleb. A friend had recommended the book to me.
While I was looking for the “Black Swan” in the management section, destiny intervened. Barbara found the brand-new reprinted edition of a bike tour-guide for the Danube cyclist’s path, specifically the stretch Budapest – Constanța, in another section. After the war years, it is now again possible to go through the Balkan States by bike. On the spur of the moment, we decided to do it.
This is where you find another parallel with the foundation of an enterprise. Especially successful enterprises often owe their existence to surprising instances of chance.
We planned to take two weeks on the whole for our tour. Friends who heard us talk about our plan called it ambitious.
I did not find those two weeks ambitious. The only thing that was probably ambitious was the fact that we were going to do the entire tour from Budapest to Constanța without the help of public transport, except the ferries for once in a while taking us to the opposite bank of the Danube.
Another ambitious thing was our plan to travel to our starting point and from our destination point by train. We only succeeded on the way out (and that was quite strenuous, indeed). Because the night train from Munich to Budapest and Bucharest does not carry bikes – which is why it was out of the question for us.
And covering the way from Constanța via Bucharest and Budapest to Munich by taking slow trains with several changes is very time-consuming. It would have called for more idealism than we had. Consequently, we flew back from Constanța via HYPERLINK “http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timi%C8%99oara” o “Die Stadt in Wikipedia” t “_blank” Timișoara to Munich.
The bad news is that the word “ambition” tends to be restricted to one dimension. If you go on a bike tour, the first thing everybody thinks first is the total number of kilometres and the number of kilometres per day. Just as you first think in terms of turnover, result and perhaps number of employees when talking enterprises.
As I see it, however, both are of minor relevance, no matter if you want a successful bike tour or a good life cycle for an enterprise. As soon as you made sure it can be done, there is no reason to plan ambitiously. If the enterprise is intact, much will resolve itself without any further ado.
Here are a few dimensions and criteria necessary for a successful bike tour. My esteemed readers are encouraged to think about the parallels with a successful enterprise. And what might be the possible metrics for it?
Categories for a successful bike tour:
- Reaching the goal, total kilometres/kilometres per day;
- Nice hotels for spending the nights pleasantly;
- Delicious food in good restaurants;
- Impressive scenery, spectacular nature;
- Visiting historical sites and museums;
- Getting to know the people living in the countries you visit (Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania);
- Number of tunnels you want to go through or avoid;
- Coming back sound and safe!
- Special experiences.
Not counting the way out and back in, we took eleven days for the tour. We even managed a day of leisure in a luxury hotel at the end. The rest was just wonderful. The time was full of experiences and beauty – especially in the categories that have nothing to do with kilometres. And we arrived safe and sound and richer by many impressions at our destination. And we were happy all over.
However, if we had proceeded as taught in economic studies, we would have had to determine a specified numerical goal for each category. Said number would have had to be controlled on a daily basis. And our bike tour would have been called either a success or a failure, depending on whether or not we managed to do well in the categories as written down and given priority on the pre-set scale.
But how to plan this dimension of a bike tour in advance? You cannot even plan the places to stay overnight in advance. It is just too hard to estimate your possible progress on a bike in a strange country with unknown roads.
This is true regardless of a bike tour not being a particularly complex thing and also regardless of there being maps, literature and accounts on other people’s travels available on the internet; so, basically, the requirements for well-structured planning are met. And even though everything seems to be predictable, you still have to make crucial decisions each day anew.
It is not so easy for an entrepreneur. He must plan for the future – and there are no maps or internet reports available. And being a community of people in an eco-social system, an enterprise is a lot more complicated than a bike tour. And if it is hard to even define and plan reasonable goals for a bike tour with its trivial criteria for success without spoiling the fun from the start, how are you supposed to do it for an enterprise?
An enterprise, too, must find its own way by experiences, like a biker in a world alien to him. It must process the experiences and try to come up with the right conclusions. Just like the management must learn to make the right decisions and to introduce the procedures as they were announced, albeit all with a maximum of uncertainty.
Just imagine: a few years ago, we were still taught in economics that five-year-planning is both necessary and reasonable.
With this example, I wanted to show that what is true for an enterprise on a grand scale is just as true for a bike tour on a small scale: both the cyclist and the entrepreneur will only reach their goal successfully if they plan the tour prudently yet always learn as they go and react adequately.
It is particularly important for enterprises. The stakeholders of an enterprise are humans. The most important of them are the employees and the customers.
The employees will only be a success and the customers will only be happy if you can live up to the many multi-dimensional success categories of a highly complex market situation – one that, moreover, is permanently changing.
Many categories play an important role. You cannot even grasp them all rationally; maybe you are not even aware of them. Consequently, it might be a good idea to reduce your ambition a little bit when it comes to numbers, while at the same time setting more store by ambitious development of entrepreneurial values and culture.
So here is what I recommend:
How about planning less ambitiously where numbers are concerned and instead leaving room for other, equally ambitious goals?
All this is merely meant as a story and primer for making you thoughtful. It might help when you try to replace yesterday’s ideas by those of tomorrow. During the last few years, many changes have taken place. And the change continues. Or in other words: the caravan rolls.
(Translated by EG)