One of the most consistent things I hear entrepreneurs say is, "I have this great idea." And the advice they often get is to write a business plan and make it their bible. Most entrepreneurs firmly believe there is nothing better than a solid plan couples with a great idea.
But don't confuse being an entrepreneur with being an inventor. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Action is what differentiates an entrepreneur from an inventor. If you want to focus on ideas, become an inventor — not an entrepreneur.
And as for plans, entrepreneurs probably spend more time on our business plans than just about anything else we do. But business plans are often useless, even counterproductive; the old adage that "planning is everything; plans are nothing" (credited to Eisenhower) couldn't be more true in entrepreneurship.
The important thing is the process of planning — but you also have to be willing to throw out that plan. The single biggest advantage you have as a start-up versus an established business is your ability to be nimble, to act, to change. If you're beholden to your ideas or to your business plan, you will fail.
Thomas Edison is a great example of someone who most people think of as an inventor because of the thousands of ideas he came up with. But when someone asked Edison about his ideas he replied that he didn't care about his ideas. The only ideas that were interesting to him were the ones that he could commercialize. "I am quite correctly described as more of a sponge than an inventor," he said. Yet most people in fact don't realize that the light bulb was not Edison's idea; he just commercialized it. Edison thought of himself as an entrepreneur.
History is littered with great ideas — they're irrelevant to entrepreneurs. You need to be nimble and you need to act. Sony is a classic example. Few people know that Sony was founded on the idea of offering rice cookers to the masses. They failed at that idea, but Sony is what it is today because the founders were willing to give up on their original ideas and plans.
Gillette is another classic example of a company that constantly reinvents itself. Every year they come up with new products that transform their own industry. We may end up with razors that take two hands to hold, but Gillette proves that innovation is about change and progress, not great ideas.
So don't be afraid to throw out your business plan, adapt and give up on your original idea...and let your company succeed.
Jeffrey M. Stibel is an entrepreneur and brain scientist. He studied business and brain science at MIT Sloan and Brown University, where he was a brain and behavior fellow. Stibel has authored numerous academic and business articles on a variety of subjects and is the named inventor on the US patent for search engine interfaces. He is currently President of Web.com (NASDAQ: WWWW) and serves on academic Boards for Tufts and Brown University, as well as the Board of Directors for a number of public and private companies.