Planning For Success

Why do you think the same five guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker EVERY YEAR? What, are they the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? Mike McDermott, Rounders

Can success be planned for? This I guess is a fundamental question every entreprenuer should ask himself/herself(Yeah yeah politcally correct blah blah) and strive to find the answer to. The very notion of success being planned for, or in other words ,the predictability of success for a course of action seems absurd at its best. Are we naive in asking ourselves the question when we know that 9 out of 10 ventures fail? Well I think and hope that we are not. So how should we even attempt to find an answer to this question?

The Genesis
I like many other people used to, and still to some extent take decisions based on gut instinct. There was no formulaic way in which decisions or ideas were approached. Then during the short time I was co-founder of Advetta i met Rajan my antithesis in regard to ‘decision making’. Interaction with Rajan was one of the best things I retained from my stay at Advetta and I learnt a lot from him. He was a guy that played chess(metaphorically of course) all day long. For every step to be taken, we would bring to the table the analysis of all the possible consequences we could think of for that step and Rajan would try to quantify in a mathematical (I know i lost all non geeks here) way how one step was better than another. I am not saying we always made the right decisions or such a process will always lead to the right decision, but atleast we were working within a framework that attempts to reach the best possible decision. Which made me ask myself can’t we extend this to plan success?

Success? Planning? What does it mean?
First lets try to understand what “planning for success” means. The only thing that is certain right at the outset is that success is never certain (Hehehehe pun intended and gotcha!). Success here is not about an absolute certainity but a probability which in English would mean “we don’t need to win or loose we simply need to win more times than we loose“. When we attempt to plan for success we are attempting to create a framework or science which would increase our probability or chances of being successful. With this framework if we fail only 8 out of 10 time we are already more successful than the average Subramaniam/Kumar (the india version of the average joe). So to put it in a nutshell….

“a good plan for success should ensure a higher statistical probability of success”

Is this too much to ask for? Can there be no scientific (systematic) way in which we can approach this problem and attempt a solution. To the casual observer this might indeed seem so, these are the people that feel its a game of chance and that most successes are just a result of pure dumb luck. Yet what they fail to realize is that many people consistently make a killing at stuff that to the layman seems like gambling. “Consistent success” is the key factor to consider here. At this point lets indulge in little logical rambling shall we….

  • Consistent Success means success at higher probability than the norm
  • Probability that this consistent success is because of luck – Is very very low (decreases as consistency increases)
  • Probability that this consistent success is a result of a system that works(atleast for the time) – Very Very High

So a person who is consistently successful in a high risk market is advertently or inadvertently using a broad system or a broad set of rules to do it. Now that we have established that consistent success in a high risk environment is more the result of a good framework or system than luck let us look at one such scenario.

The `Stock Market’

Speculation in the stock market is the crucible for our assumptions that success can be planned for. There is probably no better or easier way to demonstrate that in the long run luck won’t get you anywhere and even simple well formulated ways of building and maintaining a stock portfolio can result in enormous returns. In fact speculation in the stock market has given rise to computer software that can consistently make profits given the appropriate statistical data regarding the stock market and external factors. In essence…

Statistical Data => System => profit

So a system working on certain assumptions and real world data can consistently generate profits. Another important lesson from stock speculation is “Dont put all your eggs in one basket” aka Diversification. Spread your risk, diversify your investments on many levels. Such a strategy would more often than not give you better downside protection.

Coming to the high risk world of Technological entrepreneurship, can we come up with some sort of a broad system to build ventures which would more often than not succeed? Well that is our hope at this point, we can’t say wether we or anyone else can come up with one such system, but we intend to attempt to find the solution as scientifically as possible. Here unlike the stock market there are hardly any precedents and they keep changing fast. But how can one build or discover such a system not just for startups but any other field where a systematic approach to success is possible. Following is a broad list of guidelines we intend to follow to arrive at such a system. Note that this is not a list on how to achieve at success but how to build a plan that delivers success at a high probability.
1. Define goals the plan or system tries to achieve

You can’t reach your destination if you don’t know what your destination is. Think what you are planning to achieve. If you are not too sure about the specifics define broad goals(hehehehe that is what we are doing), you can fill in the specifics later. For example my goal could be “My plan or framework should achieve 80% leads to sales conversion.”

2. Trial and error

Try and avoid error part of this as much as possible
– Learn from other peoples mistakes and successes.
– What works, why it works…
And trial and error is as necessary to arrive at a comprehensive plan for success if you are not committing errors you have luckily stumbled upon one possible path to while all other paths are closed. Only through friction can the true nature of the system be perceived.

3. DATA, DATA, DATA, DATA, DATA, DATA…

Oh and have i mentioned data. The crux of any scientific study is based on data and lots of it. Collect data from every angle possible, on everything possible. Once the data is collected and observed an inference or a hypothesis can be reached that tries to arrive at the end result from the given data. This at the very highest level is an attempt to discover how the system produces observed results for done actions.

And now the above paragraph in english. Imagine you own a chain of restaurants and you notice one day that the profits in winter are low. You don’t understand why? Now you go back to all the detailed data you have been collecting regarding your chain. You see that your sales in colder regions of the country are falling off drastically when compared to your partners only in the cold parts of the country while your sales in the warmer parts of the country are more or less the same. Once we have things in this perspective we can reach one of several conclusions…
Your chefs suck in winter – low probability
Customers in cold places are crazy – low probability
Your supply chain is not sourcing fresh ingredients in winter – High probability
Once again data saves the day!

At the end of all this, what we hope to have is a comprehensive system that delivers success with a higher probability. So begins our journey into the abyss of the unknown, unheard and unseen (A bit of melodrama for our female readers just so they know we may be smart but we are also sensitive and caring(who cares girls always seem to go for the jerks with a high probability (that should be your “scientific” plan for bagging a girl, be a jerk(wow too many brackets))).

-Suman

9 Thoughts to “Planning For Success

  1. Great post !! Nice bout of a Yin Yang there, ! ๐Ÿ˜€ I have been lax on my blog reading habit of late but this definitely goes into my blog reader ๐Ÿ™‚
    You should check out this book called “Smart or Lucky” by Bo Peabody. If there is only one book in the world that one should ever read about entreprenuership then this is has to be that book. It is just 80 pages and costs less than 100 bucks. I had been tracking it for a very long time and got it finally and I absolutely treasure that book, when I am around there next time I will probably get tht one for you.
    The 3rd point you mentioned is correct in general but if you get time ( which you won;t ) you should read karl popper, some of his ideas shook the foundation of statistics at some point of time. Refer to FBR’s reference of popper if not directly the works of him.

    Rajan

  2. Hey rajan, cant wait to read that book. I have also heard of popper never read him though. Hopefully that will change soon.

  3. Nice post, Superman.

    I agree with most of your views, especially the data one.

    Congrates Poorna (and of course you, Suman) for launching ZeroCaffe.in ๐Ÿ™‚ I look forward to read similar thoughts.

  4. Nice post, Suman.

    One thing about the data, though. Be very wary of basing your decisions solely on data. If you have enough data that lets you make a decision just by analyzing it, then the idea is probably not novel or unique enough. For a unique/novel idea the available data is only marginally about it, it is mostly about related stuff which may or may not determine the fate of your venture. Apart from this, a lot of the available data is not very accurate and/or is not correctly analyzed.

    I would recommend the book “Freeconomics”. It’s a good way to gain some understanding of the economics of the daily life — the economics that might determine the success of a venture.

    Also, while you are talking about the scientific approaches to success, don’t forget Gรƒยถdel!

    Nice theme, by the way.

  5. Suman,
    That was a gr8 piece of work to start with.
    Your last column DATA ..reminds me of a similar & more simpler example for understanding.Think U might have already come across this Joke (Ford Car & the Vanilla Ice cream).

    Also ,I believe your probabilities in the above given restaurants example would give more & better results if observed thru the 5 M’s (Man,Machine,Money,Method,Material)of the Fish bone methodology in SIX SIGMA….

    Lastly,Your essay has really inspired me lot.

    Cheers !!
    Murali.

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