The battle between impulse and planning for a small business

Here, Michael Wood mulls over the balance between acting on impulse and being more meticulous when preparing for your life in business.

When you ask people what makes a good leader, the ability to take decisions and stick with them is a common response. But how should they take decisions? Should business leaders make bold, impulsive decisions? Or should they devote time to meticulously planning their next move? Perhaps we need to start thinking differently if we are to solve the riddle of effective leadership. Impulse and planning are often perceived as being in opposition, yet in my experience the two work best in partnership.

Impulse and planning go hand in hand

You could say I founded my company impulsively. In 2010, I came across a business with a product that could save me a huge amount of time and hassle. I’d searched for this sort of solution for some time, but on the day I made my discovery I also learned that the company was to close that same day. Intuitively, I knew the business had great potential and presented too good an opportunity to miss, so acting on a gut feeling, I bought it.

Impulse was the catalyst behind converting an opportunity into a successful business, and there wasn’t much time for planning on ‘day one.’ However, planning was to become integral to guiding the business in the right direction and getting it up and running. The combination of experience, impulse and planning lends entrepreneurs the vision to spot opportunities and capitalise on them.

The ability to effectively exploit the potential of a good idea distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from others. Spotting a great business opportunity is not difficult – for many people it comes naturally as they engage with the world around them. The real rarity comes in doing something about it. Executing ideas requires a combination of drive, tolerance of risk and resilience.  This is easier said than done as many entrepreneurs feel that there is more to lose as their businesses grow and so naturally start to act more conservatively.

The motor force of business

Impulse brings huge value to business; it’s the motor force that drives entrepreneurs to progress ideas. It also provides the spontaneity that gives business leaders the confidence to make bold decisions and take a company in an exciting new direction.

The most successful business people are the ones that value the freedom to innovate and make their ideas become a reality. It’s that opportunity that drives entrepreneurs to get out of bed in the morning and keeps them up working late at night when others have called it a day.

The steering wheel

With impulse leading you to originate, it’s planning that will act as the steering wheel and sometimes, crucially, the brake! The planning process enables you to advance your idea into action and move towards success. It forces you to consider external opinions, review your options and prioritise actions. Each stage of planning allows you to alter direction, speed, and even sometimes to change your destination or stop completely.  

While some of the greatest businesses have been started on impulse, so too have some of the worst. Richard Branson famously founded Virgin Atlantic after being stranded in Puerto Rico when a flight was cancelled. Branson’s impulsive decision to act there and then led to the creation of one of world’s biggest airlines. However, it could not have reached these tremendous heights if impulse wasn’t followed by some serious planning.

Of course, Branson’s impulse has also lead to some brilliant failures – Virgin Vie and Virgin Cola, and does anyone remember Virgin Cars?

Impulse alone does not make a great business, but it is a hell of a motor force. I still believe in acting on it for it is those leaps into the unknown that allow us achieve things that we didn’t think were possible.

Michael Wood is the co-founder of Receipt Bank.

Further reading on business management

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