Plan to be punched in the face

As poet Robert Burns put it: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley.” Experienced leaders know how just easily the most carefully crafted plan can go awry, particularly in the innovation process. In his new Little Black Book of Innovation, Scott Anthony cautions against betting the farm on the perfect plan. “No business plan survives first contact with the market,” Anthony says. “Innovators should start by assuming their plans are partly right and partly wrong. The plan itself doesn’t separate the winners from the losers. The reaction to adversity, the way in which you pivot…is what separates the winners from the losers.” To support his case, he quotes everyone from military strategists to boxer Mike Tyson, who said: “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.” As a project progresses, innovators must remain open to the need to adjust course. “Truth be told, ideas are most likely to reveal their flaws immediately prior to completion,” says Scott Belsky in Making Ideas Happen. “It is for this reason that proponents of entrepreneurship argue that the primary reason small start-up companies have an advantage over large corporations is their flexibility and ability to make changes at the last minute.” While the end goal should be clear – for example, solving a customer’s particular problem – it’s likely many roads can lead you there. Adds innovation blogger Mitch Ditkoff: “True innovation is about allowing room enough for paradox to be a teacher and guide – and to accept, at least for a little longer than usual, ambiguity, dissonance, and discomfort – the age-old precursors to breakthrough.”

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