Conventional wisdom privileges the notion of coming up with a well-thought-out plan over taking incremental action and learning as we go along. Of course, the real truth – and the best method – falls somewhere along the “shades of gray” spectrum between the two approaches. Dwight D. Eisenhower may have stated the challenge and the solution most succinctly when he said: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
In countless conversations with business people and creatives, Behance has found that the most efficient innovators balance planning and research with a healthy appetite for taking action early and often. London-based industrial designer Philippe Malouin, who was recently featured in the New York Times Magazine, is a good case in point. "A good way to get an idea off the ground is to try it," says Malouin. "As simplistic as it sounds, many people don't bother to explore and experiment as much as they should; too much time is spent on the computer; model-making is a great problem solver."
He goes on, "I believe that the best way to stay organized is to start working on the first conceivable aspect of any project as soon as they occur, even if that particular aspect isn't the most fun to start working on. I think the bits of work that are the least fun to work on should always be thoroughly finished and out of the way before you start working on the creative side of things. In other words, research before design."
With so much information available to us these days, it's easy to lose momentum by spending an excessive amount of time planning. As Malouin points out, the best balance is a healthy dose of research followed swiftly by lots of trial-and-error testing.
Not surprisingly, our ideas (and our plans) don't usually spring from our heads perfectly formed. By taking action sooner rather than later, we can quickly bring our ideas down to earth, and have hard data to measure the distance between our original plan and a real-world execution. As productivity guru Merlin Mann, the blogger behind 43folders.com, said in a recent interview: "My wife reminds me sometimes: 'You have all the information you need to do something right now.'"
This post by J.K. Glei is based on research by the Behance team, which runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List.