Making It Up as You Go is No Reason for Fear

This summer, I’ve had the distinct privilege of coaching 5 students from the Maryland Institute College of Art’s MPS in the Business of Art & Design program.
This week, they’ll present their final business plans, pitches, and slide decks as the culmination of their learning.

As we near the end, each of them want to know if it’s okay if they make some stuff up. Their numbers, their “go to market” plan, their exit strategy.

They say, “Where do these numbers come from? Is it okay if I guess?”

“Sure!” I say. “Business is all about making it up as you go.”

There’s no such thing as a sure thing in business except the results of whatever you’ve tried. And you can’t try anything until you craft an initial hypothesis and perform experiments to either prove it or disprove it.

If you feel like you’re just making things up at the beginning (or the middle… or later), you’re exactly right.

That’s no reason to fear; that’s a reason to celebrate!

As Erica Dhawan argues in a piece on unlearning in Forbes, we must “learn to value process over programs, questions over answers, and influence over control.”

That is not to say that business is a crap shoot. The more your experiment, the more you learn how to make educated guesses. The more you question, the better you’ll be at anticipating the answers. But the biggest mistake you will make is thinking that you’ve learned the answer.

Every new customer, every new product, every new day is an opportunity for surprise. Even the most practiced process can defy all expectations.

Don’t fear. Rejoice.