Should You Have Faith in Lean Startups (or In Your Startup)?

Ash Maurya is asking a very good question:

Do you have faith in lean startups?

He goes on to digest the “faith” in lean startups and cautions the practitioners to have a healthy dose of skeptism:

  • Observe the Stockdale Paradox at play – faith of ultimate result must be compartmentalized from the brutal confrontation of the current reality
  • The lean startup movement itself need to cross the chasm
  • Do not confuse the tactical techniques with the methodology
  • Focus on learning, validating, and iterating, instead of just believing

What Ash said are all valid – he then further made a point that he believes fundamentally that the lean startup methodology is fundamentally different from other well-intentioned agile methodology that has gone astray.

This is where I beg to differ.

While I cannot predict how the lean startup movement will end up, the matter of fact is that when a methodology/ideology movement gone astray, it is not the methodology/ideology itself, but the people who participate in the movements.

The famed Technology Adoption Lifecycle has captured the people’s behaviors in a nutshell:

Technology Adoption Lifecycle
Technology Adoption Lifecycle

Whether you factor into the Chasm or not, the following categories of people are defined:

  • Innovators – people who are constantly seeking to push the boundary
  • Early adopters – people who quickly sees the vision for the new ideas and can relate to how it will help them
  • Early majority – people are conservative, but will still open to new ideas, but will wait for early adopters to adopt the ideas
  • Late majority – people who are conservative, and will not adopt new ideas until others have adopted the ideas
  • Laggards – people who will never adopt the ideas

Just based on the above information alone, we immediately know that not all potential adoptees are equally invested in trying out new ideas.  We can count on the innovators and the early adopters to try out the ideas and potentially help shape it, but late majority and laggards are not going to be invested in the ideas until it becomes inevitable (maybe not even then), and certainly they are not going to waste energies to figure out how to “make the idea work”.

In other words, lean startups will encounter more of people who will try to make the ideas work for them during the innovator and early adopter phase, but will encounter more of people who want the ideas to work for them during the later phases of adoption cycle.

Unfortunately, startups will require people who will make the ideas work, instead of the other way around.

So – if lean startup movement is ever successful enough to cross that chasm, it will encounter such the late majority and laggards, and will be met with the same market force that have subjected other technology/ideas/methodologies.

But that’s okay – because that does not impact your startup.

For your startup – you are looking for the best ideas to help it to become successful, but you know that it is prudent to prove that

  • the idea can help you, and
  • you can make the idea work

prior you go all-in, because you know your startup is a venture, not a speculation.

That “best idea” might be lean startup today, but it might be something different tomorrow.  You might want to stick with an idea long enough to realize its value, but you are certainly not going to be married to an idea just for “faith”.  But if it works, it will stay in your toolkit for further applications.  Why not?

All these ideas are means to an end – for your startup and your success.  Use your tools wisely.

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