Planning, Pantsing, Instinct or Luck?

Big Red Car here in the glorious ATX – bit cloudy today, y’all. But it will burn off soon.

So The Boss is talking to a few of the new class of TechStars Austin folks. This is his second semester of assisting as a mentor. He enjoys doing it.

The subject comes, as it often does, to the issue of planning the enterprise in which the product will be developed.

The Boss is a huge fan of Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values, Culture, the business engine canvas, the elevator/taxicab/boardroom pitches and the dollar weighted org chart. Whew!

But that is not the only way it can be done.

There are pantsers, instinctive folk and lucky people. Which one are you?

The Pantsers

Pantsers are people who approach planning as a seat of the pants exercise to be done by touch and feel. Like many entrepreneurs–even hard core, disciplined planners–the ideas and plans all start in their heads. For pantsers, they stay in their heads and they operate by the seat of their pants going to their heads when needed.

For serial entrepreneurs, this may be a perfectly safe way to operate but for others you may be interested to learn that in many endeavors, such as flying an airplane, the seat of your pants is not a good way to run things.

When you learn to fly a plane on instruments alone, you will do what are called “upset attitudes” in which your instructor will manipulate the plane–ascend, descend, turn, increase the speed, decrease the speed, put you on the ragged edge of a stall, accelerate it right toward terra firma. Do not eat a big breakfast on the mornings of upset attitudes.

Did I mention that you are blindfolded when he is doing this? Haha, that’s what makes it so much fun.

Then he says: “Your plane.”

Looking at only the instruments, you have to get the plane back into straight and level flight. When you take your instrument flight practical exam, the Designated Examiner will do the same thing. You have to master it.

The big teaching point is this — while the instructor is manipulating the plane (yes, he is trying to trick you) your body is giving you data based on the seat of your pants. Your body is almost always wrong.

When the instructor says “Your plane!” your body has been lying to you for a few minutes and what you thought you would find is not there.

You have to trust the instruments, not the seat of your pants or the feelings emanating from your ears. You have to trust the instruments. You have to trust the plan.


Some people run their companies by instinct relying on their judgment at the instant in time they must make critical decisions.

The problem with this is that judgment requires a lot of experience to develop. It is often the product of truly bad judgment.

Many entrepreneurs simply don’t have the experience to have developed useful instincts.

This is not the Malcolm Gladwell Outliers short course, y’all. It does take about five years to develop useful instincts.


Luck is the last refuge of the truly lazy. The Boss is a very lucky guy–insanely lucky–but the earlier he comes to work, the harder he works, the luckier he gets.

I am not even going to discuss the notion that you should rely upon luck as your guiding star in building your business.

Please don’t make luck your core strategy. Please. [Except if you are Vladimir Putin in which case I want you to rely exclusively on luck.]

Sometimes luck or instinct may not be your best friend.

Take a stand

So, dear reader, please decide what you intend to do.

1. Shall it be sound planning and sweating the details?

2. Or shall you buy a new set of khakis with a finely calibrated seat and become a dedicated pantser?

3. Instinct, your cup of tea?

4. Or shall it be luck? You are looking very lucky today. Ooops. Sorry. Wow, that looks painful.

Remember one thing about plans, the first casualty upon contact with the enemy is always the plan. But the failure to plan is more fatal than the necessity to adjust a plan.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your dream. Plan.

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