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Jun 18th, 2017 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Practice Over Theory

One of MIT Media Labs’ core principles is “Practice over Theory.” By doing so you recognize that in the exponential times we live in, it is often more expensive to wait and plan than it is to do and improvise.

This has profound implications: Where I still had to create a (bogus) 5-year plan for my first startup to raise money, today you look at the runway for your next 12 months, put a stick in the sand as to where you will be in two years, and then iterate your way through it. Where we did fairly extensive product planning when I was at eBay in the early aughts, today you release early, learn, iterate and release again. This means that you have to build not only your infrastructure in a different way (continuous integration vs. fortified release processes) but also design your business models for this reality.

It’s interesting for me to see that, in theory, we all know this. And still — in practice, we seem often to ignore our understanding and still build in the old ways (which in turn puts us at a tactical and strategic disadvantage to our competitors). I believe the reason for this is that it’s just damn hard to change old, learned behaviors.

Practice over Theory is a rallying cry to fundamentally change the way you think about every aspect of your business. The question you want to ask yourself is how you can (re-) design every aspect of your company in a way which defaults to doing and improvising versus planning. How many meetings do you have and how much time do you spend planning? And how could you use this time to build, learn and iterate?

P.S. Please note that the above is not true for every industry and every situation — there are good reasons why relentless planning is sometimes necessary. Nobody wants to be on their way to Mars just to learn that Elon Musk’s crew is improvising some life-support system.

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