Failure to Launch

I’ve been traveling a lot lately – mostly Canada, but in the U.S. as well. By the end of this month I’ll have been to 12 cities over the previous 7 weeks.

Is it because the National Basketball Association has asked me to tag along during the playoffs, in the belief that having a witty E-Newsletter expert on hand would add a certain something to the postgame commentary? No, but I like how you’re thinking.

What happened was that I was hired by a travel industry trade group to deliver a series of half-day workshops to its members. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. It’s not a series … it’s the same workshop, delivered a dozen times.

Now some people might find this kind of repetition tedious, but I couldn’t be more thrilled.

First, because the association and its members are terrific (I’ve learned that those who travel for a living are fun to be around). And second, because the repetition gives me a chance to keep making the workshop better.

If a joke falls flat, I don’t use it again. If a particular exercise works out well, I expand on it for the next time. Even my wardrobe has improved, as I’ve become more skilled at packing in a wrinkle-free manner.

Try it, fix it, try it, fix it … over and over again.

Delivering the same presentation many times in quick succession is a new experience for me and I have to admit that it caught me off guard. Going in, I assumed that all the work would be done beforehand, and that by the time I arrived in the first city I’d have everything set to go.

I realize now that wasn’t possible. I could be approximately correct in putting together the workshop and its elements, but I had to live through it a few times to understand what actually works in practice.

If you ask me, planning in business (and maybe in life in general) is overrated. It may feel comforting to try and map everything out ahead of time, but you can’t map what you don’t understand. And you don’t understand ‐ really understand ‐ until you wade in and get your feet wet.

Not only that, for many people (myself included), planning can also be a handy excuse for not taking real action.

It can keep businesses from trying social media (“We’re not sure how it fits in yet.”). It can postpone the launch of E-Newsletters (“We need to do more research to figure out what readers want.”). It can cause new solo professionals to postpone talking to real, live prospects in favor of fine-tuning their service descriptions and packages over and over and over again.

Having a deadline for the workshop forced me to be done. But had they called the week before and offered me two more to prepare, I would have taken it. (Had they called and offered me two more months to prepare, I would have taken it).

Am I saying that planning is inherently a bad thing? No, because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

What I am saying though, is that more is not necessarily better ‐ there’s a limit to how much useful tweaking you can do from the outside looking in. And at some point, the planning itself takes on a life of its own and gets in the way of the real work.

So here’s my suggestion: do enough to get started … and then get started. One of the terrific things about 21st century marketing is that you have the flexibility to change it as you go. Stop waiting for perfection and, as they say in the NBA, just do it.

20 thoughts on “Failure to Launch

  1. Helen Graves

    Great article, as usual, Michael. I love your main concept and have been gently chastizing my own clients for several years with a similar message: The learning comes AS you take action, not before you do.

    Thanks for a fresh and funny look at a non-supportive mindset that has impacted all of us in one context or another.

    Something wonderful is happening through you!

  2. Andrew Rega

    so true…..thanks for this article, its helping me to focus on pushing things forward and, more importantly, the folding suit video made me laugh out loud.


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I know, me too Andrew. There are actually quite a few on the folding theme. Nothing, however, beats hanging all your stuff in the shower when you get to your hotel and turning up the steam for a few minutes. Like magic!

  3. Debby Brown

    Good advice especially for me, the parent of a teen. Come to think of it, she already knows this about over-planning and has never held back from reminding me of it!
    12 cities in 7 weeks–yikes! Sounds like business is booming for you. Way to go!

  4. Laurie Schnebly

    You’re SO right about the power of deadlines — I suspect that if it weren’t for local people willing to offer their feedback in exchange for a free “dress rehearsal,” I’d never take a presentation on the road!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Laurie. I find with newsletters in particular, the clients who are unwilling to agree to a set schedule never last. Always helpful to paint yourself into a corner!

  5. Diana Eastty

    Love this post Michael (as always). I usually call this taking “imperfect action” – which is better then taking no action at all. I’m so glad to hear these workshops went well – and you enjoyed it – despite the travel. Happy for you!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Diana! Thanks. Not loving the travel but all things considered, it’s been great. Fantastic people to hang around with and man, they know how to eat well. I now weigh 800 pounds.

  6. Craig Reynolds

    Excellent article! I’m as guilty as anyone of “paralysis by analysis.” Ultimately, it gets back to fear – fear of failure, fear of success, etc. The right amount of planning can help you address your fears, leaving you feeling prepared and confident. But after a certain point, planning can become driven by fear. Getting it “just right” becomes an excuse for not doing anything at all.

    Really enjoy your sense of humor!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great point about fear, Craig. I guess in some ways it’s at the heart of everything we do (or don’t do).

      And thanks for participating here today everyone. Speaking of trying out new things — I’m now posting the newsletter here to make it easier for people to comment in a group as opposed to just back and forth with me directly. Feels much more community-ish!

  7. William Davenport

    You stand on the shoulders of giants . . .

    A good plan today is better than a great plan tomorrow. ~ George Patton

    The better is the enemy of the good. ~ Voltaire

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Good perspective! I wonder if Patton and Voltaire would have gotten along. Maybe not … that long Voltaire hair probably would have rubbed the General the wrong way…

  8. Jean Gogolin

    Rats . . . . I was going to use that Voltaire quote, except I couldn’t remember who said it. 😉
    I like that you now have comments, Michael. Good show.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Couldn’t remember?! Don’t you have Google in that new house of yours? Actually, I was joking with someone just yesterday about how all the facts out there are now knowable. No more wondering “who sang that song?” or whatever. I’m not sure that’s a good thing!

      And glad you like the comments. Me too. I wasn’t sure the best way to set it up but then I thought … stop planning and just do it!

  9. Tony Wright

    Michael, another great post. I have also always thought too much planning can be less than helpful.

    A way I have often liked to think about this is………….. “The shortest distance between two points is almost always NOT a straight line.”

    Tony Wright

  10. Mary Grady

    Always enjoy your newsletters, and refer others to check them out! I agree, especially in fast-changing world of online publishing, too much planning is fruitless. Better to have a strategy than a plan. What’s the difference? Sounds like a great topic for a future newsletter!

    Thanks for the monthly insights!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *