Carnegie Hall

By Ed McLaughlin with Wyn Lydecker

It’s an old joke: a little girl asks a New York City policeman, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” He pats her on the head and replies, “Practice, practice, practice!”

The joke’s simple humor is based on the ol’ switcheroo, but there is more to take from it. As tempting as it is to get to our Carnegie Hall right away, a lot of prep work is needed. Showing up unprepared will not just waste time, but possibly end with you being booed off the stage, splattered with tomatoes and terrified to try again. Too many people think that the starting line for a new business is the day you open your doors or take your first contract. A lot of the exhortations out there are for entrepreneurs  “to get cracking already” and take that leap with both feet. It’s a misleading exhortation as long as you think opening night is the starting line.  The truth is, the starting line comes a lot sooner. You have started the minute you truly commit to the preparation for your enterprise. That makes all the preparation an important part of the course you will run. You need all that practice, all that preparation, to help ensure a successful debut.

The Front End of Experience Design  (Forbes  online, March 5, 2014) outlines the necessary progression of contextualizing your service in the world. To be successful, she says, you have to start early and think big. There are hours, days, and weeks of planning before Carnegie Hall. The consequences of failing to engage in that planning and preparation time can be grim. Just ask the tech startups who didn’t plan ahead for security. Their saga is detailed in When Startups Don’t Lock the Doors, (New York Times online, March 3, 2014) It is focused on only one sector, tech, but the cases all share a common ailment: letting better preparation go by the wayside in lieu of a faster offering. Opening the curtain doesn’t mean the show is ready for primetime.

I can attest to the benefits of good prep work personally. When starting my business, USI, my team and I invested six months of our time immersed in planning prior to our formal liftoff. We couldn’t afford to fail, so we couldn’t afford not to take the time to plan ahead. We did it without compensation, so we could focus exclusively on what I call dynamic planning. Dynamic planning is, in many ways, the fundamental dilemma of the entrepreneur. By nature, entrepreneurs are champing at the bit to launch (as we were), starting up before figuring out the mechanics of the business, all while accumulating expenses. Dynamic planning forces the entrepreneur to figure things out and address the unknowns prior to formal launch.

As opposed to a static business plan, a dynamic plan is open to constant revision and adjustment. It is defined by the entrepreneur’s goals and creates a roadmap for development. It’s not just a step by step plan, but a system for decision making. It can change as new information comes in, while staying true to the goals and tenets of the company. The first step of dynamic planning, in fact, is sussing out and taking down your vision and values. Ray Dalio, founder of  Bridgewater Associates, the largest macro hedge-fund in the world, has taken this very seriously, making his book on values required reading for anyone even interviewing for a position within the famous culture. That document dictates the mechanism by which the firm addresses new information, challenges, and problems. Don’t be intimidated by the Dalio model if it isn’t for you. The take-away is that a plan for how to deal with what you didn’t plan for is an invaluable asset.

Take the time to figure out how your company will face what comes its way and what its operating principles will be. Mentally walk through the first few months of your business and address what arises. It will prepare you for taking the stage with confidence, because you will have a system for dealing with the future, including the knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. That way, when it’s your time for Carnegie Hall, you’ll be ready.


Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.


Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin   All rights reserved.