Or, more simply put, more effort and concern goes into last ditch efforts to prevent failure than into planning for success along the way. The title of this post is my very slight modification of what one of my board members, Larry Reeder of The Sprout Group, used to say: “more work happens in desperation than aspiration.” I’m afraid to admit that I heard this from him more often than I’d like to remember as he noted how my team and I put super-human efforts forth once we had worked ourselves into a corner – a situation that could have likely been avoided with substantially less effort dedicated to the potential problems early on.
I still fall victim to this as I get excited about ideas and rush headlong into going after them. That’s the fun part, right? I’m afraid that I’ve never been one to fully think through things and that fact has probably cost me years of time, created untold stress and left me with a great need for therapy. Not to say that it’s any easier to plan things out as well as possible or even that the planning process requires any less commitment or effort when done before the wheels come off, but it’s likely that all that effort would be more efficient and would probably increase the odds of success of whatever you’re doing. While you can fix many problems late in the cycle, the likelihood of success simply diminishes the further you’re along.
Planning is often considered an up-front activity. Something that’s done only at the start of the creation process. In my opinion, this is only part of what planning should be. Planning is something that should happen at the beginning and frequently (although not constantly) while you’re on the execution path. Too much focus on the end goal without questioning either the path you’re on or the goal itself as you learn more is more often than not a recipe for a last minute scramble.
I see this happen with many of the companies that I work with. Prior to getting funding, they look at every detail of how to optimize their chances for success. They understand their valuation tipping points, the market dynamics, the competitive landscape and their core differentiation. After funding, however, their path gets locked in and they put all their energy into executing their plans from their pre-funding efforts without looking up at the horizon once in a while and re-evaluating where they’re headed. Inevitably, they run into a brick wall that probably could have been avoided if they just stepped back and considered the planning process an ongoing activity rather than something done only once.
It’s so difficult to have the discipline to stop, take a deep breath and question all of the assumptions that made you decide on the path you’re on. It’s even harder to thoroughly evaluate whether the goal you have set is still correct. Speaking entirely from the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school, though, it’s clear that making informed, incremental adjustments to either your goal or path early and often (well, at least once in a while) will save you loads of time later as well as optimize your chances for success.