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Three Questions Seekers Must Ask Themselves

letter.gifLast week J.D. Roth wrote about seeking one’s fortune or pursuing fulfillment, calling it “closing the gap between dreams and reality.”

Here’s a specific technique for closing that gap. It’s an easy-to-use version of “gap analysis,” a two-dollar MBA word for a simple idea. My version involves asking yourself three crucial questions.

Keep in mind that this three-question method is designed for complex, long-term goals. Shorter-term, less complicated aims such as studying PHP, saving for retirement, or planning a trip to Korea are best achieved by simply taking action, as J.D. advises. But if you’re planning a new career, starting a new business, or seeking a significant life change, these three questions—and most important, thoughtful answers—will prove indispensable. Here they are:

1. What is your goal?
This question lies at the heart of gap analysis. Let’s say Joan’s goal is to start a restaurant (a really poor idea for the overwhelming majority of aspiring entrepreneurs, but for some reason one that enthralls many people). We can envision Joan’s situation using the diagram below. restaurant_a_to_b.jpg

Point A is Joan today, without a restaurant. Point B is Joan in the future, with her restaurant. In between is the “gap.” Think of it as a goal map: Joan wants to journey from Point A to Point B.

Now, once the goal (Point B) is established, shouldn’t it be a simple matter to figure out intermediate destinations (milestones) separating Point A from Point B? Joan can read books, talk with half a dozen restaurant owners and chefs, query food suppliers, and do plenty of yummy market research by eating at establishments comparable to the one she imagines. As she uses multiple data sources to research how to start and manage a successful restaurant, recurring themes should emerge that enable her to identify specific steps needed to travel from Point A to Point B.

In fact, determining those steps is the easy part. The hard part is deciding upon the goal. Most failures to achieve result not from lack of know-how, but from lack of clear goals. Everyone’s heard the self-help cliché that “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” That says it all.

2. Do I have the right strategy to achieve my goal?
Next, it’s time to reality-test your strategy. Your strategy is simply the set of intermediate steps you’ve recorded in detail in response to Question 1.

a_to_b_four_steps.jpg

The best reality-test is showing your strategy to knowledgeable non-competing parties (obviously you wouldn’t show it to potential competitors). In Joan’s case, chefs, food suppliers, real estate brokers, and others who might eventually benefit from her establishment should be willing, even eager, to critique her plan. They’re likely to point out weaknesses—maybe even fatal flaws—she hasn’t considered. They may well identify unforeseen opportunities or strengths.

3. Can I execute the strategy?
Now for the tough question: Can you execute? In other words, do you have the personal, professional, and financial resources to accomplish each of the steps you’ve laid out? Can Joan hire, train, and manage people? Does she have, or can she raise, enough money to fund her venture? Does she possess the grace and stamina to take a lower-level job with a restaurant to gain needed experience? Some answers to this query may become evident during Question 2; some will require soul-searching or further feedback from knowledgeable outsiders. In any case, if you can answer “yes” to Question 3, you’re off and running. If not, return to Question 1 and revisit your goal.letter1.gif

This post was inspired by a wonderful article I use in all my entrepreneurship classes, “The Questions Every Entrepreneur Must Answer,” first published in 1996 by Amar Bhide.

So do yourself a favor: Skip the fancy “gap analysis” and focus on the Three Questions, the most important of which is, “What is your goal?”

You may also enjoy:

Three Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Own Business

Pursuing Fortune and Fulfillment with Blogger Extraordinaire J.D. Roth

Entrepreneurship: A Primer

3 Comments to Three Questions Seekers Must Ask Themselves

On Jun 12, 2008, Gentle Reader commented:

I think this is a nicely articulated series of steps for achieving a complex goal or goals, but I would quibble with one piece: deciding the steps. I think it is much easier to make sure you’ve got the pieces in place to achieve the goal (and make it look manageable) if you work backwards rather than forwards. For example, if Joan knows she wants to have a restaurant, and today she doesn’t have one, it can look very vague and NOT simple to figure how to get one.

Instead, if she starts her planning from “I will open the doors to my new restaurant. What do I have to do the day before THAT to make sure it happens?” she is more likely to get a fully fleshed out plan – and most importantly, a series of actions she can do TODAY.

On Jun 12, 2008, Sara commented:

Beautifully simple. I kept wanting to say, “Yes! That’s *the* most essential question!” after each point, only to be presented with an equally critical question.

I think too many people skip the step where they ask people smarter than themselves about whether they have the right idea. It’s much easier to just go for it, assuming that we have all the answers, but the results this approach yields are far less satisfying. Loved the analysis.

On Jun 13, 2008, by Tim commented:

Thanks for the gentle quibble, GR—love the “things she can do today” perspective.

Sara, thanks for the kind words. It’s as you say: first-timers tend to blunder ahead, the wise reality-test their ideas with the experienced.

This morning GRS covers similar territory: Mike is preparing to quit his job and start a retail store (a situation very similar to Joan’s fictive restaurant). Post and comments well worth reading…

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