I have a growing interest in understanding the process through which entrepreneurial opportunities unfold from mere ideas. And it is becoming increasingly clear to me that the logic of process is fundamentally different from the logic of cause and effect, which over the years has become my default mode of thinking. In an unfolding process, current actions and events have meaning only when seen against some eventual outcome, whether success or failure; in the moment the seem uncertain, ambiguous or trivial.

In opening this new frontier, I am currently reading The Innovation Journey by Andrew Van de Ven and colleagues, a summary of the Minnesota Innovation Research Program and one of the rare accounts of innovation processes as they unfold. In their reflection on the program, they make the point that entrepreneurs and managers can control only the odds of innovation success and not its actual realization. To make a point about the existence of control bias, they give the example of Franz Klammer, the 1976 Winter Olympic Champion in Men’s downhill skiing, as told in an 1982 book by Bill McKelvey. Klammer won by skiing “out of control” as this video I found of the event readily attests. Staying “in control” would have guaranteed a loss, while being “out of control” at least offered the possibility of winning.

Where am I going with this? What comes to mind is that a business plan, if taken too seriously, is essentially about being in control of pursuing “the” opportunity that it features. The above logic would suggest that not letting go would almost ensure failure. Thus, the best use of a business plan would be as a learning tool, whereby it follows rather than leads. It keeps me free to explore diverging paths with the glimmer of hope that there might be something big around the corner.

But of course, these are just odds. If I succeed, I will likely write a book about it and people might see prophecy in my taking every path along the way. If I do not succeed … well, I simply join the vast majority who never get to write books. And all those paths would not look shiny at all.