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Want startup success? Tear up your business plan

Playing by the rules might help you make succeed in corporate life, but if you want to make it big in the land of startup, you need to turn everything you've been taught on its head. 

by Shell Higgs
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Throughout school, university and even in most careers, one underlying message carries through: If you want to be a success, cross your i’s, dot your t’s, keep your inbox at zero and definitively plan everything months in advance. Either you prioritize detail and structure or your business is destined to fail.

Truth is, the traditional ‘path to success’ is designed for employees and procedural careers. It’s great for creating master surgeons, engineers or corporate moguls, but not so much for anyone who likes to color outside the lines. At all.

In other words, if you’re creative or entrepreneurial, you’re out of luck!

Entrepreneurs aren’t like regular employees. What makes them successful can’t be taught in school. In fact, some of the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who dropped out, not just because they wanted to run with their idea, but because as entrepreneurs, college was a poor fit. Daniel Ek lasted just eight weeks, according to Forbes (1), before leaving to forge ahead with a career that would soon launch Spotify; while Sophie Amoruso dropped out of both high school and college before creating the multi-million dollar retail company, Nasty Gal.

There were just too many rules and limitations that got in the way of what they did best.

Scientific evidence highlights keys to business success.

Over 20 years we studied highly successful entrepreneurs who started and exited businesses for between $6 million and $1.2 billion and business builders who profitably grew their business over 10 years or more. By measuring their intrinsic attitudes, we identified the patterns that correlated with their success.

Turns out, an excessive interest in details, structure and procedures actually relates directly to business failure. And by excessive, we don’t mean obsessing over reports and flow charts late into the night. We mean a focus of more than 8%. Yep, 8%.

Why skimping on detail is good. 

Being low on detail allows you to move quickly, get the gist of something fast, have clarity about priorities and provides to be agile, grasping opportunities as they arise. It’s the reason that agile methodology works so well for startups, even the non-tech ones.

As an entrepreneur, being a nonconformist who is rather disinterested in details means you’re more likely to succeed.

Those highly motivated by structure feel compelled to identify all the challenges, write a comprehensive plan, test the product and get everyone on board; meanwhile, the business has run out of cash and doesn’t even have proof of concept. The deep focus on structure creates what we call a ‘blind spot’: an imbalance in attitudes that opens your business to possibly catastrophic risk or missed opportunity.

(Conversely, established business owners need a higher focus on structure, increasing as their business matures.)

Fortunately,  attitudes can be adjusted to suit your business context, stage and needs. With awareness and intent, you can dial your attitudes up or down, re-aligning the business back onto the path for success.

Getting on the path to a thriving business.

Knowing exactly how much focus to give each motivation can be tricky, especially when we’ve been so indoctrinated that business should be approached a certain way. Truthfully, those rules never really worked for entrepreneurs. Success was always achieved in spite of them, not because of them.

With the flexibility to leverage your unique entrepreneurial attitudes and processes, a thriving startup may be just down the path!

 

Find your pathway to success.

 

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