There is an ongoing conflict between two themes in idioms: “haste makes waste” and “look before you leap” conflict with “he who hesitates in lost” and “You snooze, you lose”. While the early bird gets the worm, the early worm gets eaten. Somewhere in between, there is the right balance of acting without haste and but not hesitating too long. Action Trumps Everything: Creating What You Want in an Uncertain World by Charles Kiefer, Leonard A. Schlesinger with Paul B. Brown provides superb guidance on balancing acting and analyzing. When there is fundamental uncertainty, action trumps analysis. And since there is so much uncertainty in the world, I think action trumps most of the time.
The authors reviewed research on serial entrepreneurs – entrepreneurs who started multiple companies—and developed a model that describes how entrepreneurs think and act differently from others. The authors distinguish between traditional thinking and analysis which they call Prediction and CreAction – their new word to describe the combination of creating and acting. Prediction involves studying data, analyzing trends and forecasting the future based on the past. This works well when the problem is trying to figure out what the world’s population will be in 2050 or how many shirts will be bought in 2020. It doesn’t work so well when there is a great deal of uncertainty. Prior to the introduction of the Ipod, it would have been hard to predict how many Ipods would be sold in 2013.
CreAction is different from Prediction. CreAction offers the following process:
- Take a smart small step.
- Learn from the experience
- Incorporate what you have learned into the next step.
The process is: Act, Learn, Repeat. Acting creates new evidence which can be used to improve the next action.
The authors recommend the following process:
- Desire. Start with something you want to do.
- Take stock of the resources that you have at hand.
- Take a small step forward
- Pause and reflect
I think about this approach like wanting hardwood floors in a room in your house that is covered by wall-to-wall carpet. Your desire is to have hardwood floors. You don’t know what’s under the carpet. It’s an old house so it could be anything. You could take a long time to analyze the percentage of time hardwood floors were covered by carpets in houses like yours, but it won’t really do you a lot of good. So before you pull up the whole carpet, take a small step. Perhaps you peel back the carpet in a corner of the closet to see what’s under there. Pause and reflect. If it looks like it’s a hardwood floor, then peel back a little more. If not, you can put it back down and re-assess what you want to do. What you’ve done in the closest can’t be seen by anyone, especially when you put stuff back in the closet so you haven’t may need another plan.
The authors recommend starting with a smart step. The authors do not recommend “Fire, Ready, Aim”; they recommend “Aim, Fire” where there is uncertainty because they believe there is not much to getting ready. They recommend moving back and forth between Prediction and CreAction – Predict what you can and CreAct when you can’t predict. When there is uncertainty, make your best guess as to what will happen, take a small smart step and compare the results with the your best guess. Combining Prediction with CreAction provides the greatest opportunity for success.
Prediction: To the extent that we can predict the future, we can control it.
CreAction: To the extent that we can create the future, we do not need to predict it.
I want to note that I was particularly impressed with the author’s discussion of passion in contrast with desire. So often entrepreneurs are described as being passionate. Of course an entrepreneur must want to do something (otherwise he wouldn’t) and he has to have perseverance; but passion may not be the right word. When people are passionately in love, they can be blind to things around them. There are crimes of passion. Passion may turn in to obsession. And while there probably are successes borne out of passion or obsession, I suspect more successes stem from desire and perseverance.
The authors concept of CreAction reminds me of Peter Drucker’s quote: “The best way to predict the future is to create it” and two of my favorite quotes from Teddy Roosevelt.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
“The best think you can do is the right thing; the next best thing is the wrong thing, the worst think you can do is nothing.”
Teddy Roosevelt and the authors of Action Trumps Everything are right. Take stock of what you have able to you and take a small, smart step forward. The worst thing you can do is nothing.