I recently finished reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and I was thoroughly impressed by Ries’ Lean methodology. I’d like to use this blog post to discuss some of the concepts that are useful from a business perspective and a personal perspective. Ries spends the entire book discussing how you can use Lean methodology to innovate within a business or start a new business, but I also believe many of the fundamental principles he describes can be used to improve one’s personal life.
Build-Measure-Learn Your Life
One of the fundamental principles of the Lean Startup Methods is the Build-Measure-Learn activity and feedback loop. The idea is that you’re constantly building a product or releasing a feature, measuring the appropriate data, and learning from that data in order to improve the product.
If you’ve read the news lately, you’ll know that the job outlook for recent college graduates is not great. Many graduates were disappointed that their degree in Medieval French Literature did not lead to a job offer right after graduation. If it did lead to a job, many graduates found that they didn’t enjoy their work.
These are examples of hypotheses that turned out to be false.
Many college graduates just settle on the default vision or hypotheses. The hypotheses is this: good grades in college = well paying job = happiness.
This equation simply did not work out for many people. It obviously did for some and more power to them (though that may change later in life which probably explains the mid life crisis).
When the initial hypotheses didn’t work out, the standard reaction is to feel upset, fall into despair, and to continue to send out resume’s online.
This is not the proper reaction.
The proper reaction is to come up with several new hypotheses and test them one by one.
The simple fact is very few people have taken time to carefully consider what their goals are or figured out what the real problem is they’re trying to solve.
In a start-up, the founders are testing their product to find out whether it’s something people actually need or want and will pay for.
In a person’s life, the person in question is on a quest to figure out what will truly make them happy and what they need to do to achieve happiness.
Let’s take an example: I will be happy working in X field.
Obviously many people are struggling to find work in a field they think they will enjoy, but here’s the experiment I would run to test whether or not I would truly be happy working in X field.
1. Find a part-time job that will meet your minimal expenses. (Build)
2. Volunteer to work for a company in your field for 8-20 hours per week. (Build)
3. On the days you do work, take notes about how you feel. Do you feel tired or energized? Is the job making you more creative or less creative? Do you feel like you want to stay at work or are you watching the clock? (Measure)
4. Do this for 1-2 months.
5. Review your notes and see whether or not it indicates a positive feeling or negative feeling towards the work. (Learn)
6. If you’re happy, try to get your boss to hire you full time or at least pay you for the hours you work there. If that doesn’t work, start looking for a job at a similar company. If you’re not happy, leave the job and try to find field that you think you’d like and repeat the process. (Learn/Build Again)
The beauty of using The Lean approach (Build-Measure-Learn) is that you are no long “wandering” and hoping to stumble upon your passion. You are using a disciplined approach to discover what you enjoy doing and what you do not enjoy doing while expending minimal resources.
The Five Why’s and How to Find the Root of your Problems
Eric Ries’ section on the Five Why’s describes the process of asking “Why” five times to discover the root of a problem. This allows an organization to ensure they’re using a proportional solution. I think this is a brilliant process for figuring out personal problems as well.
Lets say you think you’re unhappy because you don’t make enough money. Let’s apply the 5 Why’s technique to this problem.
1. Why do you want to make more money? (I want to make more money because I’m living paycheck to paycheck)
2. Why are you living to paycheck to paycheck? (My expenses are equal to my income)
3. Why are you expenses equal to your income? (Because I spend a lot of money traveling)
4. Why do you spend a lot money traveling (Because I love the sense of freedom and autonomy traveling gives me?)
5. Why do you love the sense of freedom and autonomy traveling gives you? (Because I feel like I don’t have enough freedom and autonomy at work)
This example is obviously over simplified, but the principle remains the same. The desire to make more money wasn’t really the root problem. The primary problem was that the person didn’t feel like he had enough freedom and autonomy in his daily life at work. Travel was a way to make up for that. The solution might be more flexible work hours or maybe to quit being an employee altogether depending on the severity of the problem. It’s important to make sure you are using a proportional response to the problem so that you don’t mistakenly make a dramatic life change when a less risky solution would have done the job.
Ries’ section on innovation account was fascinating from a business perspective. His primary insight is that start-ups need to tailor their metrics to suit their own unique needs. Each start-up has certain hypotheses they want to test and every start-up has a growth strategy that does not fit with a one size fits all accounting approach.
I bet a smart person can come up with a personal happiness innovation accounting system. It would measure “happiness units” against individual behaviors and circumstances and foster unique insights into what makes the individual happy.
Of course, this has been done on a large scale. Generally speaking, time spent with family and friends, outdoor activity, and belonging to some sort of group or club will do a lot for one’s happiness. Check out the The Happy Movie if you haven’t already.
If I were making this accounting system, I would measure actions and circumstances against happiness units. Actions would be things like spending time with friends, amount of time spent exercising, etc. Circumstances would involve things like your salary, how big your house is, and how many bosses you have. Happiness units would be a general measure of how happy you feel that day.
Using this system, you could track how changes in your circumstances or your actions contribute to your happiness level.
The ultimate benefit of this approach is that you would be forced to pay attention to the factors that most deliberately affect your happiness levels.
Concluding Dale Thoughts
The Lean Startup is an excellent book for entrepreneurs and corporate entrepreneurs who are looking to innovate and grow their respective businesses. I also believe that many of the tactics and strategies Ries describes can be used to create a “lean life.” The lifestyle design crowd would certainly appreciate the disciplined management centric approach Ries advocates.
Check it out here: The Lean Startup