How Lean Startup Optimizes For Annoyance

I’ve taught lean startup tools at a bootcamp, spoken about lean case studies in workshops, judged on application of lean techniques at competitions, and guided people to think through it all while I ran an accelerator. It’s not a perfect methodology. There’s lots of confusion about it. It doesn’t explain everything. And that’s just fine.

But now lean startup is starting to become a religion. Or, what’s worse, a meal ticket for enough people selling lean shovels rather than panning for gold themselves. So, to avoid alienating people, I suggest that lean startup advocates stop caring about criticism (often well thought out and respectful) that they receive about lean startup. Otherwise, lean startup will be optimizing for annoyance. Here’s how it’s happening today:

  • As a new religion. Lean startup advocates (who are advocates for rationality) get irrationally upset when people say it doesn’t work. I say, apply lean in your life and stop caring about these blog posts. (Or just stop sending them to me.) If lean weren’t a religion (or a meal ticket), you could read about it and not have to get worked up when someone threatens it.
  • It is unrealistic for everyone’s mindset to dramatically change over the course of a weekend workshop. Personally, I think we should move beyond these weekend workshop things. Yes, they are great for distribution (lots of people can commit to a weekend, few can commit to months and years of work). So, as long as you run weekend workshops, I say you don’t have the authority to complain when people don’t “get it” before they walk out the door at the end, because after all, that was your responsibility. There’s too much content and mind-shifting to do in a short time. Actually, why haven’t lean startup programs substantially iterated away from the weekend? Or is the weekend a local maximum?
  • Lean startup at conferences. If you know me, you know I almost never go to conferences. But I get why it can be annoying to hear the talks. Hearing lots of talks about what didn’t work, or cherry-picked case studies on what did work sometimes coming from people who haven’t done that much yet, can be bewildering. At the same time, the exact same tactics that worked in one case (to gain users, convert to paid, etc) can’t be expected to keep working forever.

When I was about to judge at a weekend event for the first time I thought about how to really add value. My conclusion was that I needed to participate in the weekend myself to really understand it, but there were no other events going on nearby before I was judging. So, I ran my own one-person Startup Weekend. It was rough. I don’t think it would be easy for me to walk out of a Startup Weekend or Lean Startup Machine and think: “I totally get this.”

Time to do something harder than a conference or a weekend, or talk about a case study. And as is typical, the best examples of this work are hidden from view at first.