Man in the Box

Yes, that’s a reference to Alice in Chains.

Disclaimer: In no way am I anti-lean/cust-dev/bmgen. I actually find them quite useful and rather practical at times. I don’t, however, buy into the the lean “movement” or any other trend brought about by these books and their authors. These are merely tools and I use them as such.

Anyhow, I’d like to share my thoughts on how entrepreneurs and the people that give them advice have the tendency to constrain themselves to a particular framework or methodology, simply known as a  “box”. I see it more and more these days, especially since lean, customer development, and business model generation methodologies have hit the mainstream. I fear that entrepreneurs are jumping into these boxes and using them without actually thinking about whether they are suitable for their start-ups. They are limiting and labeling themselves as “lean” when entrepreneurs shouldn’t set limits or put labels on themselves. It seems like the lean movement has created a huge wave of “me too” entrepreneurs who just follow some steps in a book and that worries me. A lot of these entrepreneurs label their companies as “lean startups”. I, on the other hand, refuse to do this as something I create is much more than a particular tool that’s used in the process.

Here is what really bugs me. Advisors are blindly prescribing these methodologies when they don’t have a clue about the business they are trying to help. A few months back, I met with a pair of advisors who I had been matched with through a local non-profit that helps entrepreneurs Several weeks before the meeting, I was asked to submit a lengthy survey which contained details of the start-up I was working on. During the meeting the advisors did two things that had me scratching my head. First, neither of them actually read my file before coming to the meeting. Fine, maybe they were busy. That’s understandable. What’s not understandable, or acceptable for that matter, is that they then proceeded to tell me that the lean methodology is perfect for businesses like mine. You mean the business that you know next to nothing about? Unbelievable. Sure lean may have been helpful. I actually was using some of it at that time but that’s not the point. The point here is that people are surrendering their critical faculties and treating lean as some magical pill while prescribing it blindly.

So here’s my advice. Read the book, question everything, take what you think is useful, and thenthrow the book away. Your start-up is unique and if its aim is to make some sort of impact, which it should, it requires a unique approach. This approach should be a combination of experience, advice, careful observation, books, and so on. Entrepreneurs should have the vision and critical thinking skills to come up with their own strategies. You shouldn’t be asking whether or not your start-up is lean but whether or not lean is right for your start-up.

Don’t put yourself in a box and don’t let others put a label on you because you are an entrepreneur and you are more than just a tool that you use.

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