From Forbes: Why Action Trumps Everything, When You Don’t Know What To Do (A Case Study)

“Do you practice what you preach,” is a question we often get.

“You bet,” is our answer.

Here’s one quick example why when you are faced with a future which is impossible to predict, the best course is to act and see what you learn.

 Year in and year out, Babson College is recognized worldwide as one of the leading academic institutions when it comes to the teaching and studying of entrepreneurship. The college is also continually rated one of the best business schools in the country, and ranked as one of the world’s leading executive education providers. 

The problem for many of the students who wanted to attend, either as an undergraduate or graduate student, is that Babson only had one campus, located in suburban Boston. If you wanted to learn at Babson you needed to head to Wellesley, Massachusetts, and that was not necessarily convenient, especially if you had a full-time job elsewhere in the country.

The obvious solution? Open another campus.

The obvious concern? If Babson set up shop on the West Coast, for example—San Francisco seemed to make sense given there are literally thousands of innovative start-ups in and around the city (Silicon Valley is within easy driving distance)—would people enroll?

Faced with that question, the typical course of reasoning we were all brought up with would lead you to say: Let’s spend $100,000 on market research to find out if there is a market for Babson on the West Coast. If there is, we can then put together a marketing program, buy some advertising, set up an admissions office and launch our satellite campus (something that will cost us another $100,000).

But people who employ the line of reasoning we suggest you use to deal with the unknown—and clearly trying to figure out if a second Babson campus would work was an unknown—would take a different tack. Using the let’s-take-a-small-step-immediately-and-see-what-happens logic we advocate, they would say let’s just start advertising and say we are accepting applications for the spring semester. It will cost the same $100,000 as a marketing study.

If people don’t come, then we know there is no market, and all we have lost is the $100,000 we would have spent on market research anyway. But if qualified students do apply and enroll then we know there is a market. We will have saved $100,000 (the money we would have spent on market research). And we will be underway six months earlier.

That’s exactly what the college, whose president is my co-author Leonard A. Schlesinger, did in 2010. Imagine a prestigious  business school not doing traditional market research and instead offering its “Fast Track MBA” (an accelerated, part-time, 24-month program designed for experienced professionals who want to advance their careers while simultaneously earning their degree.) Enrollment exceeded expectations and Babson now has a West Coast presence.

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