Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.  —Abraham Lincoln

I n November of 2015, I graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program (10KSB)through Babson College. This program was created to bring small business owners together in an intense 12 week boot camp of business education, networking, and personal development exercises in an effort to stimulate economic development across the country. The Babson version of the program mixes online learning with WebEx lectures and two weeks of onsite programming at Babson’s Exective Conference Center on the college’s campus near Boston. To date, over 8,000 small business owners have completed the program nationally and the results have been tremendous in terms of revenue and job growth. (Check out the Goldman Sachs sight above for details.)

A year after my graduation, I was asked to return as a Business Advisor to work with 10KSB Scholars and the Fall 2017 Cohort marks my 3rd round in the Babson 10KSB Program as an Advisor. I continue to be a big believer in the mission of this program and a witness to its effectiveness (my company has nearly doubled since completing the program). The program revolves around the scholar’s identification of a specific opportunity for growth and the development of a growth plan to pursue that opportunity. In a world in which much of what we do as leaders seems to be reactive to the forces buffeting us about, the program’s focus on building a plan to pursue a definite future is refreshing and timely.

Vision for the Future

Pursuing a definite future begins with a vision for that future. What might be? In 10KSB, we push scholars to think boldly about their possibilities. With the right plan, resources, and time, what could you accomplish? A challenge for all of us is to think outside of our world of limitations. In the day-to-day firefighting, it is much easier to see things in terms of our limitations: money, time, knowledge, staff, etc. We need to challenge ourselves to dream beyond those limiters. At the same time, we can’t lose ourselves in fantasies that lie so far out as to be impossible. In the 10KSB Program, we encourage scholars to vision in the context of their capabilities, interests, and markets. Then, we ask them to plan for that future.

Often, plans are made and then put on the shelf as too restrictive or no longer relevant. Why plan for something when you know everything will change? In My Early Life, Winston Churchill writes “The best generals are those who arrive at the results of planning without being tied to plans.” It is the process of planning that makes the plan powerful. Of course things are going to change and to restrict ourselves to preset actions will absolutely limit us. However, to believe a big goal will happen accidentally is equally limiting. Pursuing a definite future requires us to envision that future and then to plan intentionally to create it knowing that we’ll have to adjust our plans continually.

Growth Planning

In the 10KSB Program, Scholars develop a “Growth Plan” that requires them to identify an opportunity, assess themselves and their organizations in the context of that opportunity, and then develop specific steps and deadlines to realize their individual opportunities. The process can be arduous as individuals do a deep dive on their motivations, capabilities, resources, and will as they relate to pursuing a bold objective. A major challenge for many is shifting from working in their business to working on their business. We are often quite content to allow urgent daily issues to dictate our direction; stepping back to see the bigger picture pushes us in new and often uncomfortable ways.

Next week, my scholars go to Babson College for their first week of face to face sessions. The week is overwhelming and exhilarating in terms of information, conversations, and self reflection. One of the major reasons I elected to stay involved in the program as an advisor was to stay tuned-in to this sense of self-reflection and evaluation. It is far too easy to simply walk the daily path and let the more difficult questions fade. Achieving a definite future requires us to continually re-evaluate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re thinking. Putting ourselves in situations that force us to re-assess our assumptions or directions is incredibly valuable and necessary for ongoing success.

Your Definite Future

What is your definite future? Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be? Planning for a definite future isn’t just for business owners or company executives. We all have the opportunity to walk towards something intentionally. A plan doesn’t have to be cumbersome or lengthy. Perhaps it’s a few notes scribbled on the back of a napkin or an outline saved on your phone. Don’t be afraid of a vision for your future. Beginning the pursuit of something more by planning for it doesn’t mean that you are locked-in, it means that you are being intentional in moving forward. A plan doesn’t limit your options, it enables them through their identification and consideration. The best generals realize this and adjust accordingly. So should we.