Friday, March 16, 2018

Lean Impact : Innovating for Social Good

Ann Mei Chang is the Executive Director of Lean Impact, the social good division of the Lean Startup Company. This fall, her book based her own experiences using lean approaches to innovate in the social sector, including during her time at USAID, as well as stories from nonprofits, social enterprises, companies, government agencies, foundations, and philanthropists all over the world, will be published. Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good is going to be an amazing resource for so many people from innovators to funders and everyone in between. Ann Mei recently talked with me about the book, some of the structural problems that impede social innovation, how lean approaches are leading to better solutions, and how she came to Lean Impact. It was incredibly energizing!

Let’s talk about what the idea of lean impact is and how you came to it. It’s such an inspiring story of taking skills from one sector to another for social good.

I spent most of my career in Silicon Valley in the tech industry, about 23 years. Then about seven years ago, I decided to make a pivot to spend the second half of my career in the public or social sector, particularly focused on global poverty. I ended up doing a fellowship at the State Department, then I worked at a non-profit called Mercy Corps. After that, I served at USAID as the Chief Innovation Officer and the Executive Director for the U.S. Global Development Lab. It was really a dream job. Our charter was to identify breakthrough innovations that could really bend the curve of progress and also transform the way we the practice of global development itself. We worked on issues around global health, around economic development, around democracy and governance, around agriculture and access to energy--across the board and around the world. I became really inspired at the possibilities of taking some of the best practices for innovation that I learned throughout my career in Silicon Valley and applying them to solving some of the worlds' toughest problems.

What are some of the biggest issues with the way projects happen in the social sector that prevents those problems from being attacked in an effective way?

The traditional approach to global development, and much of the social sector, is to run fairly large size programs that are usually designed in detail upfront, then executed accordingly - something I call an enforced waterfall model. It’s very risk-averse. A foundation or government agency puts out an RFP, and non-profits or contractors then submit a detailed proposal. Then once an award is given, the grantee is expected to spend the next three to five years dutifully implementing on the program as designed.

There's very little room for experimentation, for risk taking, for iteration. You have to stick to the letter of the proposal. That's not a great way to innovate. At the Global Development Lab we were pioneering some different ways to tackle problems, to structure our funding so that we could give out smaller grants for people to experiment, give them a lot more flexibility to do so, and then give them increased grants based on their successes. This happened both through development innovation ventures--we called these DIV--which was an open innovation window where we took ideas from anywhere and across sectors, and also through our grand challenges, which we called directed innovation. Those would focus on specific problems where we felt like the solutions we had were insufficient and we were seeking to tap into the worlds' greatest minds to come up with better solutions that could move the needle.

You’ve now spent the last year writing a book about all of this, also called Lean Impact. Can you talk a little about why you wanted to do it in that format and about the process?

When I left USAID, I wanted to continue to take the things I’d done there forward, and a book seemed like the right way to do it. I think a book is a really helpful reference point that anyone can access, whereas only a limited number of people can make it to any individual conference or presentation. We’re also doing events and conferences, either in conjunction with the lean startup community or potentially some independent ones as well, along with workshops and consulting services, all with a nonprofit mindset of looking at how we can help the social sector as a whole become more innovative.

A book is a way to capture all the ideas in one place that can serve as a foundation. The intent of the book is to lay out how we can adapt the same approaches that we've seen lean startup bring to accelerating innovation in business to solving some of the world’s greatest problems.  Yet, innovation is far more challenging in the social sector, and doesn’t always easily translate. Lean Impact addresses these unique barriers head on, and shares compelling examples from different organizations who have overcome them. I talked to over 200 organizations in the course of my research for the book, and it’s been really inspiring to hear their stories of how they managed to innovate in the work that they do.

Were there any universal challenges among all the stories?

Absolutely. One of the biggest ones is funding. Startup companies are typically funded by venture capitalist or angel funding that is fairly flexible; you can experiment, you can take risks, and it’s expected, in a sense, when you're a startup company.

For organizations in the social sector, the funding that you get from government agencies, from philanthropists, and from foundations is often fairly restricted and fairly risk averse, as I was saying. It's a real challenge and this is the most common concern that I heard from the people I've spoken with. They wanted to innovate, they wanted to experiment, they wanted to take risks. But the way that they were funded, they felt like their hands were tied behind their back and they didn't have a lot of room to do it. That's one of the things that the book really focuses on: how to make the room, how to be able to do this type of work within the constraints that organizations often have.

Are there some solutions you’ve seen work even for organizations that are in the early stages of adopting lean methods?

I do think there are a lot of things organizations can do, even in the current landscape. It does involve taking some risk. One tactic is that some of the best organizations I spoke with have actually turned down grants that are too restrictive or poorly aligned. It's something that people are often hesitant to do, because they are trying to keep the doors open and they're trying to grow. It's very tempting to take money when it's offered to you. But some of the most successful organizations I know of were picky. They made the difficult choice to turn down money that was offered to them because it didn't allow them to move forward on the things that they thought would be most effective. They took a gamble that they could find other money that would be more flexible and many have. Sometimes it's just making that tough choice and really being patient to find the right kind of funding.

The other problem I would say is that because of how the social sector is structured, we often have a mindset that everything needs to be done fairly big. We create these proposals, we run these big programs. Innovation in general and particularly with lean approaches, should start small. Experimentation isn't something that takes a lot of money. That’s more of a mindset shift: even if we don't have a lot of flexibility, we should take what flexibility we have and for example, just get out of the building. Go talk to your customers. Spending a day doing that can glean enormous insights, even if you're not able to completely transform the way you work. Injecting what you can by running a few small experiments or talking to customers can make a big difference.

What would you say to people who might say that starting small is a little pointless when facing such huge problems?

There's this great graph that the World Bank put out in a report a few years back that really shows the progress that we've made on some traditional poverty alleviation intervention, such as clean water, access to electricity, access to education, and so forth. What we've seen is very slow but steady progress. But if you overlay that with the trajectory of adoption of mobile phones, for example, you see a completely different curve where there's an acceleration of adoption that rapidly eclipses all of those traditional problems. Mobile phones were this new innovation that people wanted, that solved real problems for them, and that had a business model that enabled rapid scaling.

I think it's absolutely possible to bend the curve of progress when it comes to global poverty. What it means is rather than brute forcing our way there--by taking the tried and true things we've been doing for decades and needing another dollar to reach another person--we need to step back and look at how can we find more effective interventions that get us greater bang for buck. We need solutions that people really want and embrace and we need to look at different ways we might go about solving some of these problems and finding one that has the capacity to reach much greater scale and impact in what we are doing today. That’s exactly what small experiments are for.

Who can make that happen? Is it up to funders? Or the people getting the grant money?

I'd love to see funders take a different stance in terms of how they give out grants and the kind of flexibility they offer, to really shift the way they fund to better support innovation in the industry. But I think grantees can help with that shift. One of the things that I've been a big advocate for is building in an innovation window when you apply for a grant. It may very well be the case that your funders out there are going to fund a certain way, so you need to write a proposal to access that funding. But you can include in that proposal, say, a 5% innovation window, where you say I'm going to use 5% of those funds to experiment in order to try to figure out how I can make the other 95% far more cost effective or impactful or scalable. It's a very good use of money. When you show that experimentation does really yield results, then hopefully the funder might consider even larger windows in the future. It's not necessarily what funders are thinking, but by taking some of that risk, I think the reward can be really outsized in terms of what they can deliver in the long run.

It’s pretty clear these issues really need to be addressed from a lot of different angles at once. Can you talk about how lean impact fits into that?

In the social sector, it takes a whole ecosystem to get projects done. In business, the individual business can do a lot on their own: You create a great product, you can go out and there's infrastructure to market that product, to take payments for the product, to be able to distribute the product and so forth. In the social sector, one non-profit, one social enterprise often can't solve the problem completely on their own. They need to work with donors, other partners, government policy, distributors, missing infrastructure. Just getting payments or getting distribution for products can be a big challenge. It ends up being a much more complicated problem that involves bringing together multiple players, multiple stakeholders that can really tackle the problem from different angles. So this concept of lean impact is for all of those stakeholders as well as the philanthropists, foundations, or government agencies distributing foreign aid. It can also be for individuals who are looking at how they can most effectively volunteer their time or make donations of their money to be able to create social change in the areas that they care about.

What stage would you say social sector innovation is in, overall? And what’s needed, besides just spreading the word and the methods, to help it grow?

Innovation has become probably the most overused buzzword in the English language. In the social sector, there has been a lot of interest because people are seeing the kinds of results that innovation is having in business, and they see an opportunity to make better, faster progress on intractable social issues. However, in many cases, I think there has been a misunderstanding of innovation--which has resulted in lots of new ideas being generated for social good, but very few of those ideas are reaching significant impact at significant scale.

One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison, who said that genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration. That inspiration is the invention, the new idea, which we absolutely need to get started. Lean impact is about that 99%, which is the blood, sweat and tears that goes into the constant testing, iteration, experimentation and feedback loops that take a germ of a great idea, and turn it into a solution that really can reach massive impact at scale. Ultimately the reason to become more innovative is to become more effective, and make a bigger difference more quickly for more people.

To learn more about Lean Impact, go to

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What Top Performers at Startups and Large Organizations Have in Common…More Than You Would Think

While doing research for his extraordinary new book, Great at Work, Morten Hansen studied more than 5,000 managers and employees in corporate America to identify the key practices that explain why some perform better than others. What he and his research team discovered is that seven key practices explain a whopping 66% of the difference in performance among people in the sample. 

I was really curious to learn more about his research and findings, but also how these practices apply to working in startups. Both kinds of organizations are experiencing high degrees of uncertainty, and I’ve found they can be more similar than people expect (though there are clear differences when it comes to scale and building new things vs transforming existing structures or processes). We talked about what being “great at work” means in both contexts.

Q: Startups are inherently unstable. Can you explain how the principles that make people successful in more traditional, less volatile work environments can also work for startups? Are there common factors?

A: Startups are clearly different from established companies, yet there are also similarities. Many established companies today are experiencing unprecedented levels of instability in their business models, brought on by technological disruption and, yes, those startups chasing their markets. We found that the best performing people in established companies are constantly innovating in their work. They look for ways to redesign their jobs to add more value, and they keep on learning new things. That means that they experiment and pivot from time to time, just like startups. For example, there’s a high school principal in my book who was leading a severely under-performing school in Detroit where 80% of students were on food stamps. He started experimenting with new ways of teaching which led his school to be the first in the entire United States to flip the classroom for the entire school—homework at school, lectures at home via video clips. Essentially, he applied the “startup way” inside a school. He had a very tight budget, not unlike a startup, and started out by using A/B testing his hypothesis around flipping with a minimal viable approach (using some basic videos and teaching plans) to see how it would work in two social studies courses. The rest is chronicled in the book, but we find these kinds of innovators and learners throughout the corporate world. We just need to give them tools, frameworks, and right encouragement.

Q: In your research, you found that top performers at big companies had two critical skills: they knew how to set a short list of priorities and also how to protect them by being really good at saying no to anything that didn’t align with those priorities—including their bosses. What happens when people at both large organizations, and startups, don’t follow your principle: “Do less, then obsess”?

A: In my experience, startup teams do obsess—they go all in on their startup and fully commit to their work. Their problem maybe the opposite which is too much hyper focus. I recently spoke with a founder of an online education marketplace. He had a laser-like focus on his key for-profit segment, but then some high-profile people approached him to extend this to a non-profit area. Flattered by their attention, he re-allocated resources to that new effort, only to encounter problems in the core area. After a while, he realized that he had prematurely branched out and had to re-focus the effort. It’s a real concern given startups have very, very limited resources. Doing less—and sticking to that narrow scope—is key, yet the temptations to prematurely expand to new customer groups, new features, new products and services, and new geographies is very strong. It requires real discipline to master this principle in a startup environment when little is known and resources are scarce.

In larger, established companies my data show the situation is the opposite and often worse. A lot of people working in innovation encounter the problems of both lack of focus and lack of obsession. Many people in our data reported work environments where people “do more, then stress”. They take on many priorities—for example, working on 3 product development projects simultaneously—and then work hard to accomplish all of them, which means they cannot go all in and obsess over a few things.

“Do more” types fall into two traps: they spread themselves too thin, which leads to them to miss deadlines and deliver lower-quality work. They also fall into the complexity traps: they spend time coordinating and juggling multiple activities. Things get dropped, and error rates go up. Many cope by working long hours and stressing to just keep all these activities afloat. It can work to some extent, but it doesn’t produce excellent work. It certainly isn’t being great at work.

Q: We tend to think of people who succeed at their jobs or in launching a startup as people who are passionate about what they do. Is passion a prerequisite to being a top performer?

A: I initially thought that people who do very well did so because they “followed their passion.” That idea has become cliched, it’s repeated so often. The problem is this: What it really implies is that passion should dictate what you choose to do, regardless of other considerations (the assumption being that it will all work out in the end). Ignoring your passion, doesn’t sound like such good advice, either, as it may just lead to a life of drudgery.

We discovered a solution to this conundrum. Top performers found a third way: they matched their passion with purpose. Passion is do what you love; purpose is do what contributes. Passion asks, what can the world give me (a hedonistic view). Purpose asks, what can you give to the world (an other-orientation). I call this “P-squared”: People who infused their work with both passion and purpose performed much better in our data set than people who had just passion, or just purpose, or neither. They placed in the 80th percentile in the performance ranking on average, while people with only passion (but no purpose) placed in the 20th percentile, and people with purpose (but not passion) placed in the 64th percentile (note that purpose more than passion correlated with high performance).

Having passion and purpose in one’s job is important because when you inspire yourself first, it’s easier to inspire others. In today’s workplaces, whether in large companies or startups, you need to get others excited about your initiatives and projects—you can’t just rely on the old style “command and control.” We found that the top performers were really good at inspiring others, surprisingly not through charisma but through other easily adopted techniques to evoke emotions in others (both positive and negative). For example, by “showing and not telling.” One purchasing supervisor we spoke to was charged with the thankless tasks of converting paper to electronic forms in the company, and no one was excited to support him. Then he learned that the CEO would be visiting his office building for a meeting, and he arranged to use the adjacent conference room. He grabbed the CEO in a break and guided him into his room, where he had displayed a mountain of paper on a giant conference table. “Holy cow, what is this?”, the CEO asked excitedly (and not in a good way!) to which he responded, “this is all the paper forms we use in this company.” His project got the support it needed.

If you’re a founder or working in a startup or thinking about forming or joining one, think about this. Don’t just follow your passion in deciding which startup and which role. Try to formulate how you can take your unique strengths and find ways to contribute to the world. What’s your personal purpose statement? We found that a very strong purpose orientation has three components: what value do you create for others—customers, co-workers, company? Is that value meaningful to you personally? And does that value provide societal benefits beyond sales and profits? Then apply this to the startup itself: What value does the company create—and for whom—and is this formidable value creation? How many of the employees find that value proposition personally meaningful? What societal benefits does the company bring, beyond generating its sales and profits and selling stuff to customers (selling advertising or selling an app to a corporate customer does not necessarily provide societal benefits).

Q: So how can people working in both startups and corporate jobs determine if they’re creating that kind of value and those benefits for the people who they work with?

A: They need to pursue different, better metrics. We discovered in our research that people in established companies oftentimes pursue the wrong metrics. They emphasize volumes of activities or internal goals, over value-creating metrics. For example, one logistics manager in a high-tech industrial company tracked the extent to which their industrial products left the warehouse on time, achieving an impressive 99% on-time shipment rate. The problem was, the customers complained that only 65% of the shipments arrived when they needed them. The 99% metric was an internal goal, whereas the 65% metric measured customer value. You need to measure value-metrics and not internal “volume” metrics.

I suspect that many startups also don’t do this. A few months ago, I spoke to the CIO of a large company that is one of the largest paying customers of Slack software. She reported that they tracked very high usage of the software. When I asked whether they had seen higher productivity as a result of Slack or tracked that, she said they had no idea and that it wasn’t clear. Then I asked them to ask Slack whether they tracked such measures of their clients, and so they did and got a negative response. That’s no surprise. When I read about Slack in the news, I come across two typical metrics: the number of users and user engagement (hours of use per day). But those are volume metrics: the fact that a group of engineers in a client company uses Slack extensively during the day doesn’t mean that they are doing better work (that’s like saying that meetings using video-conference tools are good meetings). This is not to single out Slack, which is a terrific company, but to make a general point. Startups also need value-creating metrics: what value do we create for our customers, really? And how can we modify our work and offerings to increase value?

For that logistic person shipping goods, that meant re-organizing the schedule to get better delivery time for customers (value metric: % of shipments arriving when customers needed them). For Slack and many others like that, the real measure of value is the improved results by the customers like the one I interacted with (higher engineering productivity, speed of product development etc). Yes, those are harder to measure, but they are the real measure of value.

Q: Your concept of the “learning loop” draws on the build-measure-learn cycle that is one of the pillars of The Lean Startup and The Startup Way. What does it look like for people who set themselves apart from their colleagues?

A: One of the great virtues with The Lean Startup and The Startup Way methods is the focus on learning empirically, for example by doing A/B testing on MVPs, learning from those, and pivoting if necessary. We found in our research that the best performers apply a similar “learning loop.” They try out a new way of working (say leading a meeting), then get some measurements and feedback (say, feedback on meeting effectiveness), then modify their behaviors, and then repeat. It was also striking to discover how few people do this while working. Many people become competent at a professional skill, then they stop improving—good enough is good enough, it seems. This paucity means that startups and other companies pursuing the lean method in innovation have a huge advantage over others who are not learning at the same rate. Moreover, we discovered that the learning loop method really works not just for idea development but also for most “soft” professional skills, like running a meeting, prioritizing, doing a sales pitch, and so on. Everyone can apply this to managerial and professional skill development. For example, if you’re a sales person in a startup: do you apply such a learning loop to your sales pitch? Do you A/B test it and modify it constantly to become better? Those who did in our dataset improved faster and outperformed the rest. Continuous learning and growth are important in any work environment.

Morten Hansen’s new book GREAT AT WORK is on sale today and available at bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

7 Highlights from Lean Startup Week

Guest Post by Misti Yang, Writer for Lean Startup Co.

Editor’s Note: We wrapped up the 2017 Lean Startup Week in San Francisco just a few weeks ago, and we’re excited to share with you some of the best lessons learned in entrepreneurship and corporate innovation. Expect to read a new story each week straight from our keynote and breakout stages.

In an interview with GE’s Culture Transformation Leader Janice Semper during Lean Startup Week, Eric Ries remarked, “Listen, that's our specialty here. We try to talk to real practitioners about actual, real issues.” And the effort was reflected by the 140 speakers and mentors who took the stage and ran workshops over the course of the seven-day conference. We'll share the lessons we learned from these inspired leaders over the next few months, and give you a taste with these seven highlights from Lean Startup Week.

LESSON #1: Equip your business with a portfolio map and a 21st century org chart.

With industries from banking to transportation being transformed and, in some instances, undermined by new business models and technology, executives are smart to wonder, “Are we next?” To confidently answer no, co-founder of Strategyzer Alex Osterwalder told our attendees, “What you really want to do is work more like Amazon. … The reason Amazon [is invincible] is because they've put a system in place that allows them to continuously innovate.”

To do the same, Alex recommends building two things: a business portfolio map that recognizes invention as necessary and an updated organization chart. “You need a pipeline of tested and validated ideas,” Alex said. The pipeline starts by dividing your business into two distinct functions: innovation and execution. The innovation motto is “Fail fast.” The execution motto: “Failure is not an option.” The innovation function is dedicated to iterative search through experimentation. The execution function is dedicated to the day-to-day business.

To successfully support experimentation, Alex explained you must also create an org chart that mirrors the roles overseeing execution. For example, if a chief executive officer manages the daily operation, a chief entrepreneur heads up innovation efforts. “And the chief entrepreneur has a staff of chief portfolio manager, chief venture capitalist, and chief risk officer, right? Because these Lean Startup people, they do crazy stuff,” Alex joked. “So that gives us two different management structures for these two different portfolios.” Two particularly important roles include the chief venture capitalist, because the investment philosophy for invention is different than traditional finance, and the chief internal ambassador “who connects the two [functions] and builds bridges.”

LESSON #2: Forget innovation. Remember your customers, culture, and connections.

ING Group is an exemplar of supporting continual improvement, so it may be surprising that their Chief Innovation Officer Ignacio Julia Vilar told the Lean Startup crowd that “innovation” is “a little bit [of] a buzzword.” So, ING has redefined the I word. “And to be honest,” Ignacio shared, “the first thing that we said is what it's not about. And innovation is really not about gadgets.” Instead, ING has adopted a company-wide focus on three Cs: customers, culture, and connection. It’s “creating something really useful for the customer that is solving the need of the customer.” And to do this, ING has had to create the right culture and sometimes connect with outside fintech companies.

To support the three Cs, ING has also developed their own iterative practice named PACE. Describing the development of this methodology, Ignacio explained, “We just sat down together and said, ‘Well, let's look at what we're doing. … Let's see what works well, what doesn't work well for us, for our organization, for our culture.’ We tried to define the best for us, and then we started practicing.” The result is a combination of design thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile Scrum, and Ignacio’s innovation team includes 25 coaches who train employees in PACE best practices. To “embed this in the organization,” the company has created PACE Everyday, “a simplified version…to force our organization to always start with what is a problem that we are trying to solve and to test it and to test it in a real way.”

LESSON #3: Avoid these three hiring mistakes.

When it comes time to grow your team, Jeff Jordan and Eric pointed out three hiring mistakes to avoid.

First, do not hire someone just because they have the domain expertise. You want to be sure that they can work with the resources you can provide in terms of staff size and budgets. In other words, be sure they are ready to work at a startup. Jeff elaborated, “You want to tee [your hires] to the state of the company.” For example, don’t court public-ready CFOs when your financials aren’t even on QuickBooks yet.

Second, don’t simply hire your buddies. “You’re kind of looking for founders,” not friends, remarked Jeff. “If you know the true story of any [startup], the early employees are every bit as entrepreneurial, every bit as dedicated … as the true founder,” Eric seconded.

Lastly, question any hiring decision based on “culture fit” alone. While Jeff and Eric agreed that company culture can be powerful and effective, it can also result in a homogeneous company with unexplored opportunities and weaknesses. Eric recounted, “I was just in an interview where someone was saying, ‘I don’t want to hire this person. They’re qualified. I liked all their answers, but my Spidey-sense is tingling. I didn’t feel like they’re a fit around here.’ The human brain is really good at producing intuitive leaps, but we know from the research that those leaps can be biased by irrelevant characteristics. Whenever you hear, ‘They’re not a fit,’ you have to look really carefully.”

LESSON #4: Get creative with your MVPs.

In an interview with Eric reflecting on their work together at GE, Viv Goldstein and Janice Semper, co-founders of GE’s FastWorks, demonstrated that even a hundred billion dollar company can learn from creative, low-cost MVPs. When the CEO of GE’s Sustainable Healthcare Solutions business in India called Viv one day and said, “We've got a problem selling our neonatal incubator,” Viv explained: “We started by asking what is the customer problem we're trying to solve for? What is the impact that our customers need? And what are some of the challenges they're facing with the product right now? Not, ‘what's the technology?’ In GE, technology used to be our lead, and instead we reframed that and started with the customer.” The team discovered that medical professionals in rural clinics in India needed a more suitable and convenient way to place the babies in the incubator, and needed incubators that could hold multiple babies while still providing the right amount of heat and light to each baby and withstand the one type of disinfectant clinics could afford. The first MVP was “a shoebox and a doll.”
When confronted with a “safety valve hydraulic thing,” Eric remembered that “all the conversation in the room was about the technology of hydraulics.” But, “the ultimate MVP they had involved sending a team member to go sit on the rig … to find out what the actual safety problems were.” What did the rig-sitter find? The problem “had nothing to do with hydraulics and everything to do with 29 kinds of human error.”
And, in response to employees’ desire for more continuous feedback from their manager and peers, a GE team had built a simple MVP for enabling real time 360 feedback; but when they tested the tool, they found that absolutely nobody used it. “What we discovered is that it had absolutely nothing to do with the tool,” Janice shared. Instead, employees “were like, ‘Well, I don't know how to give my peer feedback. I've never done that before. I can't really give my manager feedback. How is he or she going to take that?’” The team learned that they didn’t need to build a better product. It “was much more [about] training around the behavior.”

LESSON #5: Build-measure-learn with an innovation thesis.

According to Tendayi Viki, 54 percent of companies struggle to bridge the gap between innovation strategy and business strategy. He suggested starting by adopting a build-measure-learn loop for your innovation strategy. Here is the step-by step process that he outlined in his presentation:

First, sit down with your team and develop a point of view on where the world is going. Ask “what are the trends that are impacting our business? And what are the things that are coming up in the future that we think we need to respond to? What products in our portfolio are declining that we need to fix?”

Then, decide how you will use innovation to respond to these challenges; this is your innovation thesis. Tendayi explained, “It's actually based on the venture capital notion of investment thesis. If you're a venture capitalist, the whole time you're getting pitched a lot of ideas by a thousand people. You can't invest in everything, so you have to make a decision about the kind of things you invest in and the kind of things you don't invest in.”

Once you have a thesis, every project you support becomes an experiment testing it, and you should review it on a quarterly or biannual basis and change it as needed. This approach also structures your budget decisions. “Not a single dollar moves from the company's bank account into some project except when it’s a specific expression of [your] strategic intentions. There's no let's-see-what-happens dollar. Every dollar moves as an expression of [your] strategic intentions.”

LESSON #6: Fall in love with your problems, not your solutions.

“I always thought, ‘How are we going to affect this organization whose heritage is world-class innovation?’ reflected David Kidder during his interview of Procter & Gamble CTO Kathy Fish. Reflecting on how Lean Startup methodologies have changed P&G, Kathy shared that “when you fall in love with the problem and not the solution it opens your mind up in a really different way. So we would typically fall in love with the solution, which would always be a product … As you fall in love with the problem, you start seeing business model opportunities; you start seeing marketing and education opportunities in addition to product opportunities, and it's just much, much richer.”

Focusing on the problem first has also proven cost-effective. Before working with Lean experimentation, the company was “spending a lot of money sometimes before we really should have,” Kathy said. “We've now shifted to a more metered funding approach . . . And we're finding on some of our biggest programs that we're learning faster; we're getting to the consumer a lot faster; and we're spending 25 to 50 percent less money along the journey. It's amazing.”

LESSON #7: Create peak moments.

While Kathy encouraged companies to embrace their problems, co-author of The Power of Moments Chip Heath asked the Lean Startup crowd to create peak moments, or moments that evoke an emotional response. To illustrate his point he told the story of the second highest rated hotel in Los Angeles on TripAdvisor, the Magic Castle. Number three is the Four Seasons. The Magic Castle’s secret is not their shoddy bathrooms, but their butler popsicle service, free candy at the front desk, and free laundry—peak moments.

In Chip’s “toolkit for creating a happy face” are four elements. The first one is elevation. “Elevated experiences are experiences that bring us up in sensory experience to something that rises above the day-to-day.” Chip’s examples included fireworks, sunsets, and cupcakes. The second element is insight. Chip shared the story of the executive who displayed the 424 kinds of gloves his company was buying to help his senior leadership team realize they had a procurement problem.

The third peak element is pride, and finally, there is connection. John Deere redesigned their employee orientation day to achieve both. The welcoming process starts with a personal text before your first day and includes a welcome email from the CEO letting you know that “on your desk is a model of the very first patented plow that John Deere manufactured" 175 years ago. “There is not better leverage than an employee orientation day at John Deere,” Chip said. He advised creating peak moments when you are bringing people onto a team, when you need alignment on direction, when you need people to get along, and when you need to show people how to act.

From startup hiring to enterprise alignment, Lean Startup Week offered learnings for a wide range of entrepreneurial thinkers, but as Eric noted in his opening remarks, one theme was clear: “We have to be thinking about how do we sustain our innovation into the next, and the next, and the next generation. In order to do that … we need to adopt the idea of the startup as an atomic unit of work.” We need to keep learning from the startup way.


This was originally published on Lean Startup Co.'s blog.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"The Startup Way" is Headed to London

“A remarkably useful playbook that every business, government, and nonprofit needs to ignite the spark of innovation and fuel the fire of change.”
-Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals, Give and Take, and OPTION B with Sheryl Sandberg

Since The Startup Way came out on October 17th, I’ve had a great time traveling with the book, speaking to audiences, and meeting amazing people creating change in all types of organizations. From New York, Philadelphia, and Boston to Los Angeles and San Francisco, entrepreneurs came out to share their enthusiasm -- you really are everywhere. Some great new reviews and interviews from smart, generous readers since my last post:

  • Don’t let your hot startup grow into a sluggish, old-fashioned company (LinkedIn Weekend Essay)
  • Digital Magic: How Eric Ries Brought The Startup Way to GE (GE Reports)
  • The Startup Guru Who Wants Everyone to Think Like a Founder (Wired)
  • How Creating An Entrepreneurship Function Can Help Sustain Corporate Innovation (Forbes)
  • How to Turn Your Lumbering Dinosaur of a Business Into a Nimble Butterfly (Inc.)
  • The missing function of entrepreneurship in most companies, creating a new accountability paradigm, and how to structure promotions and compensation in the new structure (Twenty Minute VC Podcast)

In addition to all the great press, I was honored to see the book make the Wall Street Journal bestseller list in its first week on shelves.

Next stop on the book tour: London. My UK publisher has put together a packed schedule and I can’t wait to talk about The Startup Way across the pond. You can learn more about each event and access tickets at the links below:

Nov 13 | Tech City Nations | 6:00pm | Cass Business School
    In conversation with Ingrid Lunden
Nov 14 | TechHub | 5:00pm | TechHub London
    Live coaching hosted by Elizabeth Varley, Founder & CEO TechHub
Nov 14 | Campus | 7:30pm | Google Campus London
   In conversation with Sarah Drinkwater, Head of Campus
Nov 15 | Bookomi / How To Academy | 9:00am | Emmanuel Centre
   Digital read-along and book discussion
Nov 15 | Business of Software | 6:00pm | Emmanuel Centre
Nov 16 | London School of Economics | 6:30pm | Old Theatre
   In conversation with Dr. Lourdes Sosa

Back in the US, the first printing of the hardcover edition is selling fast, but if you buy one now you can still get all the bonus content we’ve created, accessible only with a unique code printed inside the first edition US print run.

Bonus content includes:
  • A five-part video series introducing the key concepts and methods of The Startup Way
  • A case study on hiring and onboarding at hypergrowth startup Gusto, not included in the book
  • Bonus MVP examples courtesy of Intuit
  • A downloadable visualization of The Startup Way
  • A workbook to generate and analyze MVPs in your own organization
  • A primer on innovation accounting and its key metrics and questions
  • Access to The Leader’s Guide online community, a network of new and experienced lean practitioners

We’ll be adding more content over time as well, so be sure to pick up your hardcover copy while supplies last. Don’t forget to tweet a photo of your book to see it on

Thank you, as always, for your support. I can’t wait to hear more about how you use the #StartupWay in your work.