By Whitney Johnson
Driven by discovery.
This phrase sounds magical—evoking images of explorers like Columbus or Lewis and Clark. It seems even more magical when you consider one of the key attributes of a successful executive is curiosity, and that 70 percent of all successful new businesses end up with a strategy different than the one initially pursued. Groupon, for example, started out as an activism platform bringing people together to fundraise for a cause or to boycott retailers (ironic!) while Netflix, the Emmy-winning content company, started as a door-to-door DVD rental service.
But there’s a rub.
Discovery implies the unknown and most of us seem to prefer the safe harbor of the known–even when the known isn’t all that great. So, here’s a hack for putting some structure around navigating the unknown based on theory of discovery-driven planning of Rita Gunther-McGrath and Ian McMillan.
1. Create a reverse income statement. If you are launching a new company, rather than forecasting how much revenue you will generate and what your costs will be and then solving for the profit, you build the income statement in reverse. You decide on your required income, and then solve for how much revenue will deliver those profits, and how much cost can be allowed. When it comes to personal disruption, the question you ask is: To achieve my baseline level of happiness, what do I need to accomplish and what am I willing to give up in order to make this happen?
2. Calculate the cost. With this step, you estimate what the cost will be to produce, sell, and deliver a product or service to a customer. Combined, these are the allowable costs that permit the business model to hold together. As an individual, the question is what kind of time, expertise, money, and buy-in will you need to make your plan operational?
3. Compile an assumption checklist. This checklist allows you to flag and discuss each assumption as the venture unfolds. For example, what assumptions are you making about how much you will sell and at what price? As an individual, if you decide you want to earn $300,000 a year consulting, and last year you earned $270,000 consulting, then conventional planning works. If you’ve never consulted, then you’d want to think about the assumptions behind your ability to earn that $300,000. How many clients will you need? How many hours per day will you need to bill, and at what price point? Do you enjoy the work, and will it be emotionally satisfying?
4. Prepare a milestone chart. This chart specifies which assumptions need to be tested and what you are going to learn by each milestone. In discovery-driven planning, learning is the essential unit of progress, so a course correction isn’t equivalent to failure, as it would be in conventional planning. Rather, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate so you achieve your goals more quickly.
One of the key attributes ascribed to disruptors is that they play where no one else is playing. As a trailblazer, even though you may have a goal or purpose, your path to that objective is yet to be marked.
Being driven by discovery can be scary and lonely, and you will undoubtedly end up in places you haven’t anticipated. But, like Lewis and Clark, you have a plan: to discover and conquer territory.
About the Author
Whitney Johnson is an investor, speaker, author, and leading thinker on driving innovation through personal disruption. Her new book Disrupt Yourself, will be released on October 6, 2015. To learn more, visit http://whitneyjohnson.com/disrupt-yourself.
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