Measure Twice, Cut Once... but go with the creative flow
The phrase "measure twice, cut once" is a common one, encouraging you to prepare in advance and keep a careful eye on the intended plan so as not to deviate when you take action. While this is excellent advice for a lot of circumstances, for someone like me who can plan to the nth degree before ever taking any action, it can prove to be difficult to ever get past that initial planning stage.
In a recent altMBA exercise, we were encouraged to come up with 99 business ideas, each of which needed to have a 3-10 sentence "micro business plan" associated with it, describing the value of the product, the ideal audience, and the pricing model. If you're looking at your screen in shock, then you know exactly how I felt when I read the prompt on Thursday morning.
Problem #1: I knew I didn't have time to prepare as much as I would have usually liked. I had just gotten back from a 2-week-long business trip (with a little bit of family time tossed in) and was behind on a lot of client work.
Problem #2: I was (read: am) still actively fighting off a nasty cold/sinus infection/conference crud, and Sudafed was simultaneously my best friend and worst enemy as far as productivity and brain power was concerned.
Problem #3: Even if I had the time to dig into this prompt before our team meeting that night, I'm not sure I would have known where to start. "Micro business plans" might as well be Greek to me (hint: I don't know Greek). In fact, creating business plans is a skill that I lack, and ironically, is part of the reason I enrolled in the altMBA program to begin with.
Collaboration & Constraints
I should mention at this point that this project was intended to be completed as a collaborative effort by our "Learning Group" -- 5 of us from a particular altMBA cohort who had been assigned to work (and learn) together for the week. This knowledge gave me some small hope and comfort, but as someone who tends to take a leadership position and likes to know how a situation is going to be handled (see above re: planning to the nth degree) I went into our meeting on Thursday night with a lot of trepidation and not a small amount of guilt for my lack of preparation.
Long story short, it took us 6 hours (3 more than intended) and a lot of laughter, but my team pulled it together and came up with 99 (mostly) viable business ideas along with a micro business plan for each. I posted my observations about the evening 5 minutes before the deadline, said a warm goodnight to my new friends, and crashed for the evening.
As I was going through the feedback from my fellow altMBA-ians the next day, I was most struck by this comment from one of the altMBA coaches:
I do have a deep appreciation for the payoff of prep - But what if we flipped the script?
- How did the constraints of not being prepared, and having to get it done in the time you had benefit the process?
- What gifts were uncovered that may not have appeared with too much ‘thoughtful’ prep?
While I initially thought it would have been better had we spent more time preparing in advance, what I realize now is that if we had, we might not have gotten to know each other as well, or laughed so hard as we tried to come up with our final five ideas (Zombie Fight Klub, anyone?), and I definitely wouldn't have made a randomized playlist of 99 of my Saved Songs in Spotify (let alone been brave enough to play it for my teammates).
What am I willing to invest?
The initial takeaway that I wrote down on Thursday night was that I need to actively set aside more time every day to look into what’s coming up next and prepare for each session as much as possible in advance of our Learning Group sessions in order to make both my team’s lives and my own easier.
While I’m not completely backing away from that idea, I’m definitely feeling the need to balance it with letting the creativity flow and keep the momentum going when it happens. I think there’s a fine line between scheduling every minute of my day (a habit which has come up previously) and letting myself squirm in the discomfort of risk and uncertainty. While I need to actively make time to get things done and stick by a schedule in order to make sure I can get everything done, there’s something to be said for giving up control and seeing what happens in the moment.
Another altMBA coach told me this the day before we kicked off:
Pro tip: you’ll get out of this experience what you put into it.
At first pass, my Type A brain automatically associated that with a number of hours invested, but the more that I think about it, the more I realize it’s not only time — it’s energy. it’s risk. it’s a willingness to let go and see what happens. One thing’s for sure: this is a wild ride, and I’m happy (albeit a little nervous) to be on it. Maybe on the next drop, I’ll be brave enough to throw my hands up and trust the lap belt to hold me down.