Crossing a river by feeling for the stones

Running a software business is like crossing a river by feeling for the stones. You take one pace, and then a second, and then you search around with your toes for the next stone. You lean on it gently, testing its smoothness and seeing if it wobbles. It it’s a good stone, you slowly shift your weight across and then seek the next step. If it isn’t, you search elsewhere.

You always have your eye on the far bank of the river, but your path zigs and zags, you hit dead ends and you back track, but eventually – hopefully – you make it across.

If this metaphor holds – and I think it does – then what’s the point of a business plan? First of all, here’s one thing a business plan does not do:

A business plan does not give you a precise set of instructions for how to cross the river. It does not tell you where each stone lies, and how to move from one to the next. It does not give you a mechanism for tracking your actual progress against your plan.

Instead, the point of a business plan is to answer a handful of fundamentally important questions:

Can the river theoretically be crossed? How fast does it seem to be flowing and how wide does it look? Would even tempting a crossing just be a dumb-ass thing to do?

Is it worth crossing? What’s on the other side? Do you really want to get there?

Where are the crocodiles? If you slip, will your feet get wet, or eaten?

Are you crossing it from the correct point? Or should you move a few hundred yards downstream? Maybe somebody’s already built a bridge there.

Where is the first stepping stone? And can you reach it, and will it bear your weight?

Of course, all these are essentially calls of judgement. Do your best to answer them, then reach out your foot, open your eyes and make that first step.

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4 responses to “Crossing a river by feeling for the stones”

  1. Pinal Dave says:

    We never know how deep is river till we cross it many times the same way when we start project we do not know what will it take to complete project.
    It also matters which direction of stream we are trying to cross.
    Your analogy is very appropriate.
    Kind Regards,

  2. Nigel James says:

    Nice analogy.
    When crossing a flooded river the best advice I was given was to put a stone on the waters edge and wait while you make a cup of tea to see if the river is rising or falling.
    Getting a feel for the environment before putting your vehicle at risk is important.
    Nigel James

  3. Elliot Ross says:

    I think you are absolutely right – I use the same concept – with a slightly different analogy
    Some businesses (the RIAA comes to mind) fall into what I call the

  4. Oliver Pospisil says:

    I thought of it more like climbing a mountain. You have to chose your mountain carefully and then stick to it until you reach the peak.
    The business plan is like the early sailing maps a couple of centuries ago. It’s a map you constantly have to correct.