I am very fond of “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. What learnings from the Lean Startup approach can be applied to life in general? Here are some reflections. (NB – I am aware of the perils of such a reductionist approach and know that life is more complex than any analogy can possibly capture, yet, I cannot resist the temptation of comparing life to a startup. It is a metaphor, not more and not less).
1. Eric Ries writes that the goal of a startup is “to figure out the right thing to build – the thing customers want and will pay for – as quickly as possible” (p. 20). In life, we are our own customers, and the people in our environment are our stakeholders. Isn’t it the goal of life as well – to figure out what we want, what we are ready to invest our time, energy, talent in, to figure it out as quickly as possible, and then start living it? Isn’t it our goal to learn our lessons, integrate the learnings, and create a new, more advanced, “version” of life? I believe it is. We as human beings search for meaning, long to apply ourselves to a worthy cause. We are entrepreneurs operating in the setting of complexity and uncertainty. We try to create and promote a “product” that would make a difference. Our life’s vision and mission, our unique profile of talents and characteristics constitute our “product” – our essence, our selves ready to be given to the world. The “profit” we expect to leverage takes the form of happiness, love, and fulfillment. The question, therefore, is: how can I create my “product” (myself) in a way that maximizes my “profit” (happiness, love, and fulfillment)?
2. Creating the product, according to the Lean Startup method, goes on in stages of revisions and incorporating feedback. Ries urges companies to develop and ship their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in its first version right away, without further ado. Developing the MVP, you should “remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek” (p. 110). Let’s say your life’s vision and mission is your MVP. It is tempting to spend years on discovering, refining, and polishing your uniqueness. Years can go by, and you will still not feel ready to get out there and make impact. What if you do not need to wait long until you can start making a difference? What actions can you take already today that take you closer to living your vision? And – what minumum requirements do you need to fulfill (what needs to be in place) for you to “ship” the first version of your “product”?
3. One of the cornestones of the Lean Startup method is soliciting and integrating customer feedback. As we live our lives, we constantly receive feedback from our environment. It shows up through the universe supporting our actions and giving us the green light – hints, shortcuts, chance meetings – versus the universe signaling that our actions are not in alignment with it. When we are stuck, bored, “unlucky”, or not successful, this means that something in our attitude is simply not working. Sometimes we are stubborn and unwilling to learn. We continue living the old version of our “product”, investing lots of effort into being right about it. The universe gently pushes us to reconsider our approach and adapt. We get the same lesson over and over again until we are finally able to acknowledge and integrate it. Thus, it is crucial to develop sensitivity to feedback, ability to recognize it, inregrate it, and initiate change basing on the learnings. What do I need to do to make my “product” work? What is missing and what is irrelevant? What do I need to let go of and what should I keep?
4. The Lean Startup highlights that companies make decisions basing on assumptions. This holds true for life: how often do we act assuming that this action will make us happy, bring us more money, get us new love, make people like us? Very often we base complicated schemes of action that come down to one simple, yet fundamentally flawed, assumption. To save yourself the pain of discovering the mistake too late, identify the assumptions that you base your “product” on, and then get into the field and test them. Is this really so or do you say/think that is so? What was it that you assumed about your “product” and environment that took you to where you are now?
5. “Waste not” is the Lean Startup mantra. It can work as a life mantra as well. What if we do not have as much time as we think? How would you live and what would you focus on if there was no tomorrow? What can you get rid of in order to live a more happy and meaningful life? The trick is to not only welcome the learnings, but also to learn fast. As the saying goes: if your horse is dead, stop riding it. And (I suppose it was Ram Dass who said it, but I am not sure) – when you got the message, put down the receiver.