A fascinating study conducted by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, describes how successful entrepreneurs approach a hypothetical business problem versus their corporate counterparts.
What struck me about the study is how much the entrepreneurial way of thinking maps to good design and Agile thinking. Namely, the approach of these very successful entrepreneurs is focused on doing — not waiting, analyzing and debating. Said one entrepreneur:
You have to take some risks. You can sit and analyze these different markets forever and ever and ever, and you’d get all these wonderful answers, and they still may be wrong.
In my experience, this world view is often shared by successful designers and successful Agile teams. The best way to remove ambiguity from a project is to start it. It’s also the best way to know whether or not your idea will succeed.
We can’t accurately predict the future and we can’t predictably be right the first time, no matter how many spreadsheets and research projects we throw at it. To many people it seems counter-intuitive, but beyond an initial scoping and problem definition, the more up-front work you do attempting to reduce risk actually has the opposite effect — it increases cost and risk.
Inc’s Leigh Buchanan sums up the differences quite nicely:
Corporate managers believe that to the extent they can predict the future, they can control it. Entrepreneurs believe that to the extent they can control the future, they don’t need to predict it.