Uncertainty & the business plan

Photo by  Rosie Fraser  on  Unsplash

The first test of our made to measure womenswear production concept, that finished up last fall, was as enlightening as it was brutalizing (read a synapsis here). I had planned to pause with the endless push to make the business piece of the made to measure dream happen. I immersed myself in the task of learning to sew, understanding alterations, and bringing my designs to life with my own two hands. I figured I would take a hiatus from the big thinking business push for a while and just focus on the small stitches, the way different fabric drapes, how reducing the width of the pant leg here affects the garment. I would come back to the rest later.
 
But no sooner was I comfortable easing along this path, getting cozy with the small details of sewing, did I get a note in my inbox replying to a message I had sent 6 months before, from a woman who lives and breaths the work of helping job-creating businesses get off the ground. And her note led to a visit to West Virginia to meet with people who were creating green, creative, forward-thinking jobs in rural places. Which led to more conversations. One with a job-creating venture capital firm.
 
And then two different groups asked for the plan. How do I plan to build this made to measure womenswear sewing house for the line? Thus I was yanked out of the comfort of confining this work to my small efforts to learn a new zipper type, and into the space of the big picture. I learned every lesson from the made to measure iFundWomen testing about what didn’t work and now I was being asked to put to paper what I proposed would work.
 
As I sat down to write the particulars of the executive summary, the old familiar fear came up: How in the heck do you write a plan for something that hasn’t been done before? How do you plan in the midst of such uncertainty?
 
I want to talk about this from the perspective of a perfectionisty woman, who was trained to always have the answers, to always get those answers right and was rewarded for it. Getting it wrong on the other hand, brought your whole sense of worth into question. She is a good student. She is a bad student. She is a smart team member. She is not prepared.
 
And now we stand in a new place where the planet and humanity demands new ways of doing things. The planet and her people need major change to survive and thrive with the gifts we’ve been given. This situation has us wading out into a space where we have to propose things that might not work. We have to cobble together what we know to plan for a new reality. And so I stand with lots of other entrepreneurs and change pioneers, straddling the old ways of needing to have all the answers and get it right while being pushed to make my best effort to propose a plan, knowing that it will change. It is just a draft. (Perhaps this is true of everything in life.)
 
I was extremely thankful when I realized that I had a lot more expertise to draw from than earlier on in this work. I picked up the phone and called a woman who had a made to measure menswear line and worked in larger scale manufacturing. Then I called another woman who is an expert pattern-maker and had a small but innovative made to measure womenswear business. When it feels like progress is achingly slow, it is those moments when you realize how many gifts have come into your life that make you feel so grateful for the months that proceeded it.
 
Nonetheless, in the moments when fear highjacks my hands, I remind myself of the CEOs of Uber and Lyft, Dara Khosrowshahi and Logan Green, working day by day to build their companies, no where near profitable, because they have convinced people that they are the future. There is part of me that thinks: They must know something that we don’t. They must somehow have some magic power to make foolproof plans out of uncertainty, to spend major coin on driverless cars. But we got to bust this thinking where we see it. What they are doing is taking steps, spending money, building their companies in spite of the uncertainty. They make a draft and get some stuff wrong, and other things right, and then make another one. They know the future will be different than the present and they are planning for it with real numbers and cars and people (or robots). They make sure that they build in systems that will help them learn so that they can check their answers and make new educated guesses for the future.
 
There are a tiny number of women that stand next to these CEOs. Part of the equation to bring the world back into balance includes increasing the number of women who stand shoulder to shoulder with these men. One of the things that will help us accomplish this is casting off our old, outdated ideas of only speaking up when we are 100% certain we have the right answer. When you are building your dream, today, tomorrow or next year, check your need to have all the answers or to imagine that they were known by those who have built the world you see today.