A Business Plan Should be a Process of Discovery

William Sahlman: Without overconfidence, I’m convinced entrepreneurship wouldn’t take place.

I’ve read probably 5,000 business plans at this point, and I have no idea whether it’s 10,000 or 3,000, it’s a lot of business plans.  What I know is, only three or four companies have actually met their plan. 


So the first thing I know is that people are overconfident.  And in fact, without overconfidence, I’m convinced entrepreneurship wouldn’t take place.  Now, to survive overconfidence, you actually have to believe and be on a path to find the right solution, to serving customers at a profit. 

So these things are discovery processes. They’re about not knowing exactly how the market is going to evolve, and searching for tangential markets or places where they can create growth options.  And so, the way I’ve come to think of it is just really a series of structured experiments, a process of discovery, a process of learning as you go and adjusting, modifying the people who are working with you, modifying the resources that you bring to bear on the opportunity. 

So it’s a very, very interesting process, not about being able to predict perfectly, but rather about being able to find opportunity. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Stress is contagious–but resilience can be too

The way that you think about stress can actually transform the effect that it has on you – and others.

Big Think Edge
  • Stress is contagious, and the higher up in an organization you are the more your stress will be noticed and felt by others.
  • Kelly McGonigal teaches "Reset your mindset to reduce stress" for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

5 short podcasts to boost your creativity and success

These quick bursts of inspiration will brighten your day in 10 minutes or less.

Personal Growth

Podcasts can educate us on a variety of topics, but they don't have to last an hour or more to have an impact on the way you perceive the world. Here are five podcasts that will boost your creativity and well-being in 10 minutes or less.

Keep reading Show less

Philosopher Alan Watts: 'Why modern education is a hoax'

Explore a legendary philosopher's take on how society fails to prepare us for education and progress.

Alan Watts.
Personal Growth
  • Alan Watts was an instrumental figure in the 1960s counterculture revolution.
  • He believed that we put too much of a focus on intangible goals for our educational and professional careers.
  • Watts believed that the whole educational enterprise is a farce compared to how we should be truly living our lives.
Keep reading Show less

Mining the Moon

How can we use the resources that are already on the Moon to make human exploration of the satellite as economical as possible?

The All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE), a prototype heavy-lift utility vehicle to support future human exploration of extraterrestrial surfaces, at right, is parked beside the Habitat Demonstration Unit - Pressurized Excursion Module (HDU-PEM), at left, a concept off-Earth living and work quarters for astronauts stationed on asteroids, the moon or Mars, 15 September 2010. Photo by: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

If you were transported to the Moon this very instant, you would surely and rapidly die. That's because there's no atmosphere, the surface temperature varies from a roasting 130 degrees Celsius (266 F) to a bone-chilling minus 170 C (minus 274 F). If the lack of air or horrific heat or cold don't kill you then micrometeorite bombardment or solar radiation will. By all accounts, the Moon is not a hospitable place to be.

Keep reading Show less