What can Stephen Hawking tell us about business planning?

The famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist might seem an unlikely inspiration for an article about business planning. However, I recently read a quote from Stephen Hawking that reminded me of a situation facing most business owners.

The quote is:

“I have noticed that even those who assert that everything is predestined, and that we can change nothing about it, still look both ways before they cross the street”

I understand from this quote that, whenever we expose something we value to risk and to the unknown, we instinctively make sure we minimise the risk as best we can. In this example we look for extra information in order to maximise our chances of success. On a practical level, this means that pedestrians might chose where best to stand in order to cross any street.

Business owners are determined people, who have ideas, and make them happen. They will have a feeling for this. Their lives are one great street-crossing. They typically have a great deal of their personal assets invested in the business. Naturally, they want to do everything to protect that investment. What practical steps can business owners take to maximise their chances of success?

When a pedestrian prepares to cross the street, they are looking to see if the conditions are right to attempt a crossing, and for other road users who might benefit from information about any intention to cross the road.

It’s the same with a business owner embarking on any market activity. Anything the business owner can do to communicate intention and purpose increases chances of success.

Ensuring that intention and purpose are clearly communicated across all your activities requires considerable collective effort.  This communication might span the design of your premises, the pricing of your products to the way in which your customers can contact you.

The starting point is having agreement on what that vision is within your organisation. This planning activity is a characteristic of long-lasting organisations. Harvard Business Review tells us that successful, long-lasting companies are the ones that “have clear plans for how they will advance into an uncertain future”.

As a consumer, I observe companies that don’t communicate any vision to their audience. Even when a company has a vision, they sometimes communicate one thing, and deliver something different.

I recently travelled through an airport, the management of which tell us (in an annual report) that “the passenger is at the centre of attention”. Nothing about my experiences as a customer encouraged me to believe that I was the centre of attention, other than as a cash cow.

Whenever I run our “Vision setting” seminar for business owners, I always ask delegates to assess their own businesses in terms of having a clear vision. The average score remains just over 50%.

Given the importance of intention, purpose and vision, it prompts the following question for business owners. Would you cross a busy street if the other road users were only 50% sure of what you were hoping to achieve?

If you've found this article useful and want to know more about business planning call Nick Palmer

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