The Post-Lean Era

Stuart Eccles, CTO of Made By Many and early adopter of lean startup, half-seriously announced the other night after a few beers that we were entering the post-Lean-Startup era.

At first I thought he was referring to something we’ve discussed many times: the pendulum has swung a little too far towards lean testing and could use more respect for vision and intuition.

But Stuart was asking a different question: what is the next thing that moves the needle?

When we all added lean startup / customer development to our repetoires, it was a big leap forward. It had a meaningful impact on product success rates and wasted effort. To some of us, it now feels like table stakes. Those of us in the business of creating ambitious new products are hungry for the thing to build on top and take us even further.

My question, which I suspect might be along the same lines of what Stuart is thinking, is this: “where does great vision come from?”

In Eric Schmidt’s recent presentation “How Google Works”, there is a sentence on how to create a strategic foundation: “create superior products based on unique technical insights”.

I actually disagree with this as too limited.

I think opportunity emerges from change — changes in technology, markets, and/or customer behavior. Change starts with technology breakthroughs, but also comes from the consequences of those break throughs. For example, many of the Internet startup successes from the last 5 years are business model or service/experience innovations, rather than technology innovations. But they were made possible by technical breakthroughs.

Startups often get created because a founder has a personal pain point to solve, and is willing to “question received ideas and rethink business from scratch” (Peter Thiel). In other words, they don’t know what is impossible.

The phrase “timing is everything in startups” is really about whether changes have occurred that allow the impossible to become possible.

The trick is that you can’t wait to know that the impossible is now possible, because others will fill the void before you get there. That’s capitalism at work. So you need to leap before things are a sure bet. Lean startup then comes into play to help you steer and minimize waste.

Bigger companies need to institutionalize this opportunity finding. They can’t wait for personal pain points. But observing or predicting change is not enough, otherwise we would see more innovation and less buzz coming from the cool hunters.

My belief is that effective opportunity finding comes at an intersection point of several capabilities and mentalities: business strategy, design thinking, understanding/generation of scientific/engineering breakthroughs, and a scrappy “hack the impossible” makers attitude.

Lean Startup has helped cross-functional teams figure out how to attack ideas. I think a next breakthrough comes from how we find ideas. And in lean startup fashion, we at Neo are trying to combine vision and experiments to see if we can solve for it.

p.s. related to all this is how you operationalize working through your ideas

  • What are the indicators you see that tell you we are in the “post Lean” era?

    I see Brant Cooper is now talking about Lean 2.0 but both “post Lean” and “Lean 2.0” feel more like a re-branding effort. This reminds me of Tara Hunt talking about the post-ClueTrain era–I don’t think we have moved beyond the insight that markets are conversations and hyperlinks subvert hierarchy either.

    I don’t believe the hype that the “Lean Startup changes everything!!” but it still feels like we are in the early part of the S curve and have yet to see real widespread adoption beyond buzzword compatibility.

  • agreeing with @skmurpy here. I see some of Giff’s point in the sense that, for early adopters at least, this is now common knowledge and not an edge anymore, even tho a lot of the concepts weren’t new to begin with.

    But besides that Lean is far from common domain, especially when we talk about having properly interiorized it beyond the buzzword level (prototyping, doing an MVP or A/B testing something).

  • Yes spike that’s the intent. Lean isn’t over or out by any means. Nor is it deeply understood, any more than agile is after all these years. Nor was it ever the savior. It’s still very powerful. But for the people who really embraced it, we are looking for the next advance to push us even further.

    • yep, same here. And for what it’s worth it that next advance is more of the old (the same way that Lean principles weren’t new): psychology and a genuine intention to help.

      There’s so much practical and emotional overload today that cutting through just by innovation isn’t going to make it imho. On the other hand when everybody is out there first and foremost for their interest, truly adopting a “other first” stance will make you stand out and help you build trust and relationships that are at the base on any thriving business.

      But good intentions alone aren’t sufficient, actions need to follow and to be on point, and that’s where psychology comes in, behavioral irrationality to be precise mixed to economics. Once you actually understand how people think, starting with yourself, then you have an enormous advantage in being able in making a difference.

  • I think the post-Lean era goes into Systems Thinking, but in a way that makes it actually understandable by the normal human being. I felt that Lean Startup was successful because it made Lean more consumable. If you look at the current state of Systems Thinking, it is in dire need of someone to come in, knock all the crust off, and re-introduce it to the masses.

    I mean once you can build the right thing, the right way, you are quickly going to realize that your outdated thinking of funnels and customers is holding you back. That in fact, your product is a sub-system of your organization. Misalignment there will prevent even the right thing, the right way from taking root.