Just Start — a business procedure to deal with uncertainty

“Just Start” 1, a book recently written by Schlesinger, Kiefer, and Brown of Babson College, recommends reaching business success by taking action and learning as you go. The authors analyzed the approach of serial entrepreneurs who navigate through complex and uncertain environments, bounce back from setbacks, and overcome obstacles. They concluded that, even in highly uncertain environments, you can innovate in a way that is right for you.

In the classical planning process, planners use the prediction method where they make assumptions that they know in advance are partially wrong. They expect that the effort of thinking about a problem will clarify what needs to be done and will lead to progress. Some planners prepare several scenarios – different visions of the future – and look at the implications of each one.

The book “Just Start” recommends using the prediction method, if it can be done, since it works for situations where the future can be predicted reasonably well. However, in many cases, the future is too difficult to predict. The entrepreneur must then take a small step, learn from it, and build the learning into the next step. When Babson College was studying an expansion on the West Coast – they determined that a market study would cost $100,000. Instead of conducting the study, they invested $100,000 in starting a successful West Coast site.

In summary, taking action immediately is a waste when a prediction can be made and the traditional planning process can be used. However when a prediction of the future is not possible, action always leads to evidence and learning whereas the traditional planning process based on thinking does not.

  Just Start, Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer, with Paul A. Brown, Harvard Business Review Press, 2012

Bernard Grandjacques is a business planner who is Senior Associate of Project Marketing Associates, a company in the business of assisting leaders deliver results without increasing overhead. A business school graduate of University of Pittsburgh with 45 years of experience, he provides focused planning services to help his clients reach their growth, profitability and performance goals.

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