I have recently posted a new business cartoon on our web site on the subject of business action versus business planning. We made the bold statement that although it is important to act (i.e. no action = no results), you need to perform thorough planning first – or your business will fail! We actually went so far to picture the wall of action as the wall of failure. Ipso facto, we also stated that a business plan (i.e. thorough business planning), serves as a solid foundation to increase your chances of business success.
Today, I want go back in History – so far as 100 years back; to a very cold place on earth. The South Pole…
100 years back two men tried to reach the South Pole – they were trying to make history by reaching the South Pole first. However, the one failed, and died, and the other one succeeded.
Who were they?
Robert Falcon Scott (from Britain) and Roald Amundsen (from Norway). Scott died in his attempt to reach the South Pole while Amundsen succeeded. And there were very good reasons why Amundsen succeeded but Scott died, tragically, due to a lack of planning…
This small piece of History tells us, as entrepreneurs, a lot… With this story, I almost want to say “I rest my case; the last word on business planning, and the importance of having a business plan in place, has been spoken”.
Both men had relevant, past experience to support them in reaching the South Pole. Scott tried in 1902 to reach the South Pole while Amundsen discovered the North-West path, north of Canada. However, their strategies differed… and herein we find the reason why Amundsen succeeded and Scott not.
In his book “The Last Place on Earth”, Robert Huntford describes Scott as an impulsive adventurer; completely disliking planning. He believed success was achieved by means of hard work (his team members had to pull the sledge!), persistence, adversity and bravery… reminding us of some entrepreneurs – stating that action, persistence and talent are the only requirements for success.
Huntford describes Amundsen, contrary to Scott, as a planner – he planned his trip in detail and paid attention to every detail of the journey. He also utilized his previous experience to plan for success (e.g. how to use North Pole dogs to pull the sledge and to wear the right underwear).
Interestingly, actually fascinating, is the fact that Scott planned to reach the South Pole in 144 days (he died on day 150) while Amundsen planned to reach it in 100 days (he reached the South Pole on day 99 – i.e. 14 December 1911). The only conclusion I can arrive at is that planning (and a business plan) can save you time AND your life (as well as the “life” of your business)! Planning also brings success…
Let us look at the different strategies these two men followed:
- How do you lead a team to the South Pole? Scott’s answer to this question was to treat his team members badly and to be rude. He also put 5 persons in a 4-man tent. Amundsen, however, knew how to lead small teams and to manage their ups and downs (emotions) in an effective way.
- What route should we take? Scott decided to take a route, 66 miles longer than the route Amundsen’s team followed. (Note: Real entrepreneurs rather try to work smarter than harder to reach objectives and to achieve success.)
- How do you pull a sledge? Scott’s answer was that his team members had to pull it! Although he took 34 dogs with him, not one of them knew how to use these dogs – never mind to pull a sleigh! Amundsen took 52 dogs with them on the journey – pure North Pole, Greenland dogs. And they knew how to use these dogs…
- How do you move forward with a lot of provisions? Scott’s answer was 19 ponies and three motor sledges. The ponies had trouble moving forward without getting stuck in the snow while the motor sledges gave more problems than helping them in moving forward. Amundsen’s answer was his 52 dogs. These dogs breathed through their noses, slept without any problems in the snow and ate seal meat (as well as any dead dogs).
- What should I wear in the South Pole? Scott’s answer was to wear very tight clothes; as a result they sweated badly (a dangerous situation in this kind of environment). Amundsen, again, learned from the Eskimos and used fur underwear. More importantly, this kind of fur underwear didn’t let you sweat.
- What about logistics? Scott’s last supply position was, due to time limitation (BTW: strange that time runs out when you don’t plan), 30 miles away from the originally planned position. As a result, on their way back, they died 11 miles away from this supply spot. Amundsen, on the other hand, placed provisions across the area – a stretch of five miles between every spot, from east to west. This strategy helped them to easily reach these supply positions – in case of snow storms and other problems.
- How many provisions should we take? Scott took one ton while Amundsen took three ton.
- Should I know how to ski? Well, Scott thought it was not important. Amundsen’s team, again, was comprised of experienced skiers (even a world champion).
- How important was food? Scott’s team experienced problems with scurvy, and had food and water shortages (and when they did eat, they ate over-cooked seal meat). The fact that Scott took an extra person (i.e. the 5th member of the team) on the expedition, intensified the food shortage problem. Amundsen’s team couldn’t complain; they ate half-cooked seal meat, as well as berries.
- When should we travel and for how long every day? Scott’s team travelled 12 hours per day while Amundsen’s team travelled 8 hours per day and rested 16 hours… and, again, it is a “mystery” when teams that act on thorough business planning eventually use less time to finish a job than teams acting impulsively… And while Scott’s team was busy travelling, they had huge problems with blindness (as well as with older type of snow/sun glasses). Amundsen’s team didn’t have the problem in view of the fact that they moved during night (i.e. the sun was behind them) – over and above the fact that they used top-notch glasses.
Scott’s list of bad decisions is long. Perhaps you would argue that it is rather a case of bad decisions than a lack of planning or that it is a case of bad planning… And I hear what you say…
However, my standpoint is that if you rush through planning to get to the point where you can act, you didn’t do any planning at all – or even worse, your planning was only window dressing (I’m specifically thinking of entrepreneurs rushing through their business plans because the Banker or Venture Capitalist is looking for it).
So, what is the most important – business planning or action? Or is it a matter of what comes first? We believe it is first planning and then the action. Planning in itself also carries some element of action ALREADY – do you agree?
Of course, some entrepreneurs are more action oriented and other more planning oriented. The ‘trick’ is to get the balance… Some people use planning as an excuse to not get started and other, again, too easily accuse planners of “wasting time”.
Whatever you do in live, you need a plan. You can just as well start with your planning and get it finished as soon as possible (without any window dressing). Then it is time for ACTION!
If you have any questions on, you are welcome to contact us at email@example.com
Michiel Jonker, CISA