From Apple to Twitter, some of the most successful businesses are not what their inventors originally envisioned.
In March 2006, Biz Stone, Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey were working on a new venture called Odeo, a podcasting service. Odeo was in something of a creative slump, and Dorsey wondered if a short messaging service that would enable everyone in the company to communicate with others in the group might be of some help.
Their solution, which the world now knows as Twitter Inc., was to build a simple Web application that would let the team stay in touch by sending short 140-character messages to the rest of the group. It wasn’t long before they realized that the new application held considerably more promise than the original podcasting idea on which they had been working.
The rest of the story is history. Twitter reached its tipping point at the South by Southwest festival in 2007, where the number of tweets per day jumped to 60,000 and it won the festival’s Web Award. Whether or not Twitter will develop a viable business model remains in question, but the Twitter story is a powerful reminder that an entrepreneur’s main job is not to flawlessly execute the business idea so lovingly articulated in his or her business plan. It’s to embark on a learning journey that may, on occasion, reach the destination that the initial plan had in mind. More commonly, though, for open-minded entrepreneurs and innovators in large companies, the surprises that arise on this journey lead to a very different destination, which we call Plan B.
So, What’s the Problem?
Nearly every aspiring entrepreneur or innovator has a business plan, and virtually all of these individuals believe that their business plan — what we call Plan A — will work. They can probably even imagine how they’ll look on the cover of Fortune or Inc. And they are usually wrong. But what separates the ultimate successes from the rest is what they do when their first plan sputters. Do they lick their wounds, get back on their feet and morph their new insights into great businesses, or do they stick to their original plan? If the founders of Google, Starbucks or PayPal had stuck to their original business plans, we’d likely never have heard of them.