Three Questions Seekers Must Ask Themselves
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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