Focus is known as one of the most important behaviours for driving success. This is true in all aspects of life, including your personal and your professional aspirations. And it is true for businesses just as much as for individuals.

Marc Gruber and Sharon Tal

Marc Gruber and Sharon Tal

A business must focus by having a clearly defined plan to achieve its goals. For start-ups a focused plan is even more critical, as new ventures lack time and resources.

Yet, focus often comes at the expense of flexibility. When you totally focus on 'Plan A', you may lock yourself away from 'Plan B' and this may have fatal consequences for your business. Even if you put a lot of effort in carefully designing your 'Plan A', the chances are that you will need to adapt or change your plan over time, simply because unforeseeable obstacles will appear down the road. Walking away from Plan A, in this case, could be your very first step towards success.

But moving from your 'Plan A' to 'Plan B' is often quite challenging. In fact, one of the biggest challenges is accepting the need to change your plan, and being flexible and receptive to adaptation. As Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y Combinator (one of the most successful accelerators in the US), has mentioned in one of his posts: "You have to be prepared to see the better idea when it arrives. And the hardest part of that is often discarding your old idea".

Is there any way to face this challenge, and prepare yourself and your business for plan changes, even before the need occurs? Here are three important tips to help you:

Nurture your cognitive flexibility

Cognitive flexibility is the mental ability to develop a variety of viewpoints. This is extremely important if you want to be receptive to change and accept that it's time to let go. One substantial way to 'train this muscle', is to identify, from the outset, different plans or strategies that could bring you to success. Having a set of options at hand, will not only enable you to choose the most promising plan, but will also open you up to alternative paths that might become relevant in the future. Write down your set of options, and keep it as a 'breathing list', to enhance your cognitive flexibility.

Pick your backup plan in advance

A backup plan is actually your Plan B - i.e. what you will do if Plan A turns out to be unsuccessful. Take the time to examine your set of options, and choose which one is most suitable to be your backup. This should be a promising plan, yet one that does not share the same major risks – or 'show stoppers' – as your Plan A. Having a clear foresight on your Plan B always makes it easier to let go of Plan A, when and if, the time comes.

Keep your backup option open

Keeping an option open means that you consciously allocate a few resources and attention to keep it 'breathing'. By keeping your backup option open, you will develop your own resources and capabilities in a way that will enable you to change plans more easily over time. And this is exactly what will keep you agile and will guard you from hanging too strongly on your Plan A, until it's too late…

So, if you are considering opening your own business, or struggling with your current one, don’t forget that sometimes, walking away from Plan A could be your very first step towards success, and that there is a lot you can do today to prepare yourself for that moment. A new business tool – the Market Opportunity Navigator- can help you think more structurally about this challenge, and guide you how to design a strategy that would keep you focused and agile both at the same time.

Article written by Dr Sharon Tal and Prof Marc Gruber co-authors of Where to Play, 3 steps for discovering your most valuable market opportunities, published by FT publishing, out now on amazon, priced £16.99. For more information go to