Why it's time to burn your business plan

Advance creative planning is just guessing in disguise, says Sabrina Smelko. She offers advice on what to do instead.

If you're currently writing a business plan, stop right there. If you've written one already, chances are you can toss it. Why? Because planning is actually just guessing in disguise. And business plans aren't necessarily all they're cracked up to be.

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One thing I've learned in life is that you can't really plan for much, if anything. You don't plan to have a brilliant idea—rather, it just hits you as you go about living your life. That's exactly what the term lightbulb moment' describes.

Planning, on the other hand, is predicting. And writing a business plan for a business you have yet to live out is all about relying on the past and using what you already know to make future decisions. Well, that just sounds wrong.

Staying alert

Planning doesn't leave much room for improvement or improvisation. Your business plan (which is likely already irrelevant the day after you write it) rarely unfolds exactly as outlined, and that's probably a very good thing!

Business plans often distract you and prevent you from noticing or paying attention to things you didn't see coming – things that could help or could harm your business.

Planning doesn't leave much room for improvement

You become so focused on sticking to the plan, that it becomes easy to miss or ignore opportunities that you didn't foresee. And, often, anything that deviates from the plan becomes a no-no, when it could be the best thing for your business.

What's worse is that planning makes you feel in control of things that are often completely out of your hands, which is a scary place to put yourself. Learning, adjusting as you go and being open to feedback is more important than stressing over staying the course.

Can't plan for everything

To put it differently, if you asked an expectant mother to write a plan for raising her child and checked back in with her a few years later to see how her plan was going, she'd likely laugh and tell you she used it as a stand-in napkin for baby barf. You simply can't plan for everything, including (and probably especially) your business. So why not give yourself some credit; chances are you're smarter and savvier than a stapled document.

I'm not saying to hell with business plans!' per se, rather I'm encouraging you to see them for what they are: loose and totally non-precious predictions. There's nothing wrong with being organised and having a loose notion of the future, but don't make a long-term plan your bible.

Instead of wasting time typing out a lengthy plan for the next decade, make short-term, scribbled guesses, seek feedback, research and focus on daily, weekly or even monthly goals – bite-sized plans of action you can test and tweak.

Learn as you go and embrace the fear of the unknown, because the only thing worse than the chaos of living and learning is following a dated map while you're blindfolded.

Illustration: Żaneta Antosik
Words:
Sabrina Smelko

Since graduating from her illustration course in 2012, award-winning graphic designer and illustrator Sabrina Smelko has amassed a client list that includes Cadbury and The New York Times.

This feature first appeared inside Computer Arts 237: Pick the Perfect Typeface.

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