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.
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.
“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:
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:
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 thestartupway.com
Thank you, as always, for your support. I can’t wait to hear more about how you use the #StartupWay in your work.
We’ve had an amazing first week following publication of The Startup Way. I’ve loved traveling to talk about the book and hearing what readers and supporters have to say and what their most pressing questions are. Launch week was busy to say the least, with lots of interviews, Quora and Reddit AMAs, and events across three states. A heartfelt thank you to everyone for turning out, reading, and offering support!
A few thing as we move into Week 2 of my book tour:
I'm now in Los Angeles and San Francisco to promote The Startup Way. If this week is anything like the last, attendees are in for great events.
In conversation with Mark Suster, Managing Partner at Upfront Ventures 10/25 | Los Angeles, CA | 7:45am | Cross Campus Downtown LA
In conversation with Krisztina Holly, Founder of MAKE IT IN LA
10/25 | San Francisco, CA | 4:30pm | Bunker Labs Muster @ Slack HQ In conversation with Todd Connor, Founder and CEO, Bunker Labs
10/25 | San Francisco, CA | 6:30pm | Commonwealth Club of San Francisco In conversation with Todd Park, former US CTO
Speaking of events! An important reminder: Lean Startup Week is in San Francisco October 30 - November 5
The Lean Startup Week team has been working around the clock to put together a program that will suit the needs of any entrepreneur in any organization, all themed around The Startup Way. Whether you're a student or the head of a division at a large company, we have a package to help you get the most out of the conference. You can see the full program agenda here and register for the package that suits your needs here. See you there!
Here’s a round up of early media for The Startup Way
Why big companies need to innovate like entrepreneurs (Wired UK)
EDITOR'S CHOICE: The Startup Way (800CEOread) (a terrific in depth review)
Silicon Valley Vs. Wall Street: Can the New Long-Term Stock Exchange Disrupt Capitalism? (WSJ) (nice piece about our efforts with The Long Term Stock Exchange)
One final reminder!
Each copy of the first printing of the hardcover edition of The Startup Way in the US and Canada contains a unique code that grants you access to bonus features at thestartupway.com/bonus. Register with the code in your copy to get access to a five-part video series, a visualization of The Startup Way, bonus MVP examples courtesy of Intuit, and more.
If you're outside the US or purchased via Kindle or Audible, sign up on the site without a bonus code and you'll receive some bonus materials as well.
As always, thank you for your support, and I look forward to hearing what you think as you delve into the book.
Today, my new book, The Startup Way, finally hits bookshelves! It's a huge day for any author, but I also hope it can be a huge day for the future and growth of the startup movement and for the future of our country.
I want people to use my book as a way to start conversations about the critical roles of innovation and sustainable growth everywhere from startups to large corporations to public policy. Together, these institutions can help transform the United States into a thriving entrepreneurial nation that supports and values all of its citizens. The success of the startup movement is about so much more than making cool new products; it's about adapting our country for an uncertain future that holds as many opportunities as it does challenges.
In order to start those discussions, though, people need to read the book. I've always found that the best book recommendations come from the very same source that has powered the startup movement so far: smart, creative, busy people. People like you. We have so many ways of getting information today, and I would really appreciate you using any channel you feel comfortable with to tell your friends and colleagues about The Startup Way. Here are a few suggestions for spreading the word:
1. Share the book socially. Conversations at cocktail parties or over the dinner table are welcome, as, of course, is social media. If you do post online, it would be great if you tag your enthusiasm with #StartupWay. I've included some ideas below and encourage you to create your own based on your experience with the book. • Insights on how continuous innovation leads to continuous transformation in @ericries new book The #StartupWay. http://bit.ly/2y3lIeY • The #LeanStartup has grown up to become The #StartupWay, w/innovation framework for orgs of every size. Out now! http://bit.ly/2y3lIeY • Entrepreneurial mgmt is difference btwn modern & old fashioned co’s. @ericries new book #StartupWay shows why. http://bit.ly/2y3lIeY
2. Write a review on Amazon. The book got some amazing blurbs in advance of publication, but reader reviews also have a huge effect on the buying decision. If you enjoy the book it would mean a lot if you could take a few minutes to write a positive review. Thank you!
3. Pick up a copy. Or five! Every sale makes a difference, even more so if it's from a local retailer, and the first week's sales can make or break a book's trajectory. I encourage you to grab copies for you and your colleagues. We’ve created resources on the Startup Way website for people who buy the US hardcover edition -- there’s a code in each book -- that I hope will help facilitate group discussions.
I am deeply grateful for your support throughout this process. It was an honor to see the impact that The Lean Startup had on so many and to have the support of such terrific friends and readers. I’m hoping The Startup Way will continue that conversation and am so glad to have you along for the ride.
Guest post by Jennifer Maerz, Program Chair of Lean Startup Co.
For eight years, our flagship conference has focused on sharing stories and lessons of putting Lean Startup’s entrepreneurial methodology into practice. We’ve hosted talks, workshops, and interactive sessions on the challenges and successes of modern management techniques from a wide variety of business leaders around the world. Lean Startup Week (Oct. 30 - Nov. 5 in San Francisco) allows you to experience seven days of interactive innovation training from our experts and true Lean Startup practitioners—in a city that’s known for being the hotbed of high-growth startups and iconic tech companies (not to mention a great place to eat, drink, sightsee, and shop while you’re talking shop).
This year, we’re really honing in on the feedback from our past conferences, as well as our smaller, more focused conferences in New York and London this year. What we heard was that you want more opportunities to have your specific challenges answered—so to that end, we’ve added new sessions where you can ask our experts your questions directly, including Roundtable Discussions and Live Office Hours with Eric for all attendees, along with our regularly popular sessions such as Speed Mentoring, Networking Dinners, and our Women’s Breakfast. We’re also working very closely with all of our speakers to ensure that the expert knowledge they impart is not only in line with Eric’s new book, The Startup Way, but focuses on actionable takeaways.
We want you to leave Lean Startup Week feeling like you understand your next steps when you’re back at your office trying to put all the pieces together. Because while it’s great to feel inspired after a conference, we can have a bigger impact when we leave you feeling empowered to make entrepreneurship a core function of your organization. And that kind of empowerment only comes when you have 90+ speakers and mentors offering you practical, actionable knowledge, learned from their time in the trenches.
Here are some of the specific things we want to help you tackle:
Connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs and experts who share your challenges and concerns
Turning an old school-minded organization on to modern entrepreneurial management techniques
Starting and scaling an innovation practice in your organization
Connecting Lean methodology to hiring, team-creation, organizing boards, leading engineering teams, and more
Ensuring your organization remains committed to innovation practices as you grow
We’ll help you with these solutions by approaching them from a variety of formats:
A rare workshop with Eric Ries (co-led by Lean Startup Labs senior faculty member Marilyn Gorman) on enterprise transformation using the Lean Startup way on Oct. 31 (limited to the first 200 Gold Passholders.) Side Note: Eric and Marilyn will be doing a webcast as a preview to their workshop on Oct 11. Sign up for free here.
Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of Asana, presents a new approach to thinking about your startup's culture from the ground up, mapping the idea of intentional culture design to the familiar tenets of product research, design, and management
Tim O’Reilly, founder & CEO of O’Reilly Media, discusses how to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of me-too thinking by ensuring all the parts of your business work together, a theme from his new book, WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us
Anil Dash, CEO of Fog Creek Software, on mindfully building modern companies in a more humane and ethical way
Chip Heath, best-selling author & Stanford Graduate School of Business professor, on The Power of Moments in creating organizational change
Zach Nies, VP of Education at Techstars & Marcus Gosling, VP of Product at Long-Term Stock Exchange, co-host Startup Office Hours, an interactive Q&A where you can ask the experts your questions on sustainably implementing Lean Startup and other like-minded methodologies into your growing business
Vanessa Colella, Head Of Citi Ventures & Chief Innovation Officer, Citi, on how Citibank uses growth boards to provide seed funding to internal startups
Alex Osterwalder, co-founder of Strategyzer, on protecting your organization from disruption
Eric Ries & GE FastWorks Co-Founders Viv Goldstein & Janice Semper on GE’s Startup Way strategy
Bionic CEO David Kidder and Procter & Gamble CTO Kathy Fish on P&G’s innovation pathway
Making diversity & inclusion an actionable, trackable metric at your company with industry thought leaders, including eBay’s Helen Kim, CodePath’s Michael Ellison, Pivotal’s Michele Perras, and Intuit’s Cassie Divine
Innovation, Impact & Design Thinking for social good with IDEO.org
Sounds great! So how to attend?
If you haven’t been to one of our Lean Startup Conferences, this is the year you won’t want to miss. So get ready to take selfies with the Bay Bridge, snag a burrito in the Mission district, and step foot into some of the hottest tech companies up and down Market St. We have passes for all budgets:
Gold Pass - For those who are serious about diving deep into the Lean Startup methodology and getting hands-on experience, join us for the full seven days of innovation training at Lean Startup Week (Oct. 30 - Nov. 5). This is perfect for teams looking for their best off-site yet! Register here.
Silver Pass - For those who are tight on time but want to get highlights of what we offer, get access to the two-day main conference on Nov. 2 & 3 and a seat at our Ignite Opening Night on Nov. 1.
Bootstrapper Pass - Offers the same benefits as the Silver Pass, but brings the cost of the conference down to $350 for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend (think: fledgling solopreneurs, employees at very young startups, and small non-profits). Apply for a Bootstrapper Pass here.
Livestream - Because we’re all about community building, we invite you to host or join one of our free livestream meetups. Get details here. You get all the mainstage talks and the most popular breakouts, along with access to live Q&A and moderated chat.
-- Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers The Alliance and The Startup of You
In just a few weeks, my new book, The Startup Way, will be available in print, digital, and audio formats.
One of the most gratifying parts of writing a book is heading off on tour with it and finding out how it’s engaging actual readers. Some of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had about my work have happened at book events, and I’m looking forward to more of them. I can't wait to get out on the road with The Startup Way and talk to you about the methods and principles of modern management.
Here’s the current list of my planned stops. If your city is on the list, come by and say hello! More information and tickets available at the links below:
10/16 | Philadelphia, PA | 6:45pm | Prince Theater In conversation with Adam Grant, author of Give and Take, Originals, and Option B 10/17 | New York, NY | 12:00pm | Grand Central Tech 10/18 | New York, NY | 7:00pm | The Strand In conversation with Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of GE 10/19 | Cambridge, MA | 7:00pm | First Parish Church In conversation with Tom Eisenmann, Harvard Business School professor 10/24 | Los Angeles, CA | 8:00pm | Ann and Jerry Moss Theater 10/25 | Los Angeles, CA | 7:45am | Cross Campus Downtown LA 10/25 | San Francisco, CA | 6:30pm | Commonwealth Club of San Francisco In conversation with Todd Park, former US CTO
Meanwhile, I’m offering early access to a special 5-part video series on The Startup Way for those of you who pre-order. Enter your order confirmation information at bit.ly/thestartupway to see the videos. I had a great time exploring another medium for sharing my ideas and hope you find the series beneficial in advance of the release of the book. I can’t wait to hear what you think. Join me on Twitter using #StartupWay to share your reactions.
“If The Startup Way can transform the federal government—and it has—it can transform your company. For everyone who's thought 'there has to be a better way,' here's your proof and a playbook to make it happen.” -- Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director, Code for America
Finally, the 2017 Lean Startup Week is themed around The Startup Way. October 30 through November 5, we're gathering thousands of thought leaders in downtown San Francisco for a week of keynote talks, interactive workshops, speed mentoring, roundtable discussions, industry dinners, innovation bootcamps, and startup tours. You'll take in the book's concepts and learn from technology thought leaders like Tim O'Reilly and Anil Dash, seasoned enterprise leaders including Viv Goldstein and Janice Semper of GE, founders of high-growth startups like Justin Rosenstein of Asana, government innovators from the NSA and 18F, and non-profit practitioners deep in the trenches. Plus, every attendee will receive a copy of the book. I hope you'll join me there.
Guest Post by Misti Yang, Writer for Lean Startup Co.
“Think big. Start small. Scale fast.” This is the mantra of Lean teams described by Eric Ries in his upcoming book, The Startup Way. Whether you’re struggling in an actual startup or trying to build an internal one at an established organization, a Lean team approach can maximize efficiency and results in uncertain times. But assembling a group that can execute on this vision comes with the routine challenges of team-building as well as questions unique to the methodology. Drawing on the advice of experts and recent research, here are seven insights on how to best build a Lean team.
Eric often refers to Amazon’s “two-pizza team,” which means starting small when it comes to new innovation groups, aiming for a number that you could easily feed with just two pizzas. A tighter team provides several advantages. First, small groups typically bond faster, leading to better communication within the team. Second, with fewer decision-makers, experiments can happen faster. There is also greater accountability because it’s easy to know who’s doing what.
Make your team cross-functional.
Just because the team size is diminutive doesn’t mean its skillset should be. A hallmark of Lean teams is cross-functionality. Members should bring a diversity of skills and/or represent different departments within the company. In enterprise organizations, teams are often comprised of employees from the same department, and once their work is “completed,” the results are passed along to another department. This siloed approach is inefficient, and the lack of varied perspectives often results in subpar solutions.
To build a cross-functional team, Eric suggests starting by asking what departments are needed to make meaningful progress that won’t get roadblocked along the way. In The Startup Way, Eric provides the example of an industrial project that might require a product designer, someone with manufacturing expertise, and a salesperson who understands customers’ wants and needs. An IT project, on the other hand, might include an engineer, a designer, and a marketer. As Eric says in the book, “There are endless permutations, depending on what needs to get done.”
Every team leader should also know whether you’re planning to do something that could require approval from legal. If so, be sure to include a representative from that department to prevent delays. Another tip from Eric: If you lack the budget or influence to get someone from a necessary department assigned to your team, ask for volunteers.
Don’t over-rely on your natural team players.
Relying on the same employees to contribute to teams can create collaboration overload, which in turn negatively impacts work satisfaction and productivity. A study published in Harvard Business Review found that typically 3 to 5 percent of employees contribute 20 to 35 percent of effective collaborations, but “those seen as the best sources of information and in highest demand as collaborators in their companies—have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores.” According to the researchers, simple solutions for avoiding collaboration overload is to cancel unnecessary meetings and to let individuals who are most often tapped for teams know it’s okay to say no and to suggest another capable person to take their place.
Train people to be team smart.
To ensure that every employee can excel in workgroups, invest in team training. “[Companies] focus a lot on professional development at the individual level. They have robust programs for people, but they won't necessarily be focused on teams,” says Janet Brunckhorst, principal product manager at Carbon Five. Employees and managers are rarely educated in how to be an effective contributor or how to make a better team. In short, many companies are team dumb, which is a problem because there’s evidence supporting the idea that a team’s collective intelligence is independent of the intelligence of its individual members.
Even if a company has the smartest employees, its teams can fail. In research published in the journal Science in 2010, psychologists from Carnegie Mellon, M.I.T. and Union College found that what they label the “c factor” (another term for collective intelligence) is correlated with “the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.” The same research suggested that a team that failed at one thing was likely to fail at every task it attempted. A simple way to increase your team’s c factor is to bring in someone versed in guiding groups through the best practices of teamwork and Lean methodologies, whether that’s an internal leader or an external coach.
Create a pro-risk environment.
Finding innovative solutions and creating breakthrough products requires bold ideas and often big missteps, so individuals on Lean teams must learn to welcome risk and failure. Creating this mindset can be challenging in a traditional failure-is-not-an-option environment, and the dynamics of a team can exacerbate the desire to play it safe. (Nobody wants to look foolish in front of their colleagues.) However, with some psychological insights and pragmatic tools, teams can be coached to feel good about taking risks and failing.
“There are lots of things that carry through all teams. Mostly, that we are all human, and the psychological and behavioral patterns are the same,” says Carbon Five’s Janet Brunckhorst. While it may seem obvious, the insight is often overlooked. Companies often focus on expertise or personalities when selecting team members, but research suggests that any group of people can succeed if the right atmosphere is created.
Google’s Aristotle Project, an effort launched by the company in 2012 that surveyed 180 of their teams to better understand what made them work, found that the key to a highly-functioning team was psychological safety. In a 2016 New York Times article discussing the Aristotle Project, Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division, said, “The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter.’’ In other words, it wasn’t about the balance of skills or diversity of personalities. Instead, high performing teams shared two characteristics: 1. Members contributed to conversations equally, and 2. They were adept at interpreting how others were feeling based on nonverbal cues and addressing those feelings. Creating this type of environment does not come with a one-size-fits-all approach, but Google found that simply sharing the research findings inspired teams to work differently.
People also need to know that their decisions will not result in the loss of millions of dollars or litigation. This is an idea that Courtney Hemphill, partner at Carbon Five, calls reversible risk. It means that teams understand what can be undone. “Teams need to have a reverse button,” she says. “Productive teams are able to say, ‘Well, that didn’t work. Let’s fix it, learn from it, and not do it again.’ But then continue to make decisions and move quickly.” If a team can define its reversible risks, people are less likely to get bogged down in a blame game.
Understanding what your team needs means understanding their assumptions.
Everyone comes to a team with certain assumptions about how work gets done, how to communicate, and a million other things. To function as a cohesive unit, people need to understand what assumptions they are working with. “In a team, there may be someone interrupting and talking all the time, and your assumption might be that they’re a jerk,” says Christina Wodtke, principal of her firm, Wodtke Consulting, and professor at California College of the Arts and Stanford Continuing Education. “Everybody is walking around with an idea of how you are supposed to behave in business, and it is not the same idea, believe you me.”
For this reason Christina recommends that every team create a charter of norms: “Norms are just, ‘How do we agree we are going to work together? What are we going to do when we disagree? Are we going to make proposals? Are we going to just fight it out? How do we make a decision?’” To help develop a team charter, she suggests starting with the eight scales outlined in Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map. The scales address expectations surrounding communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling.
Measure to learn and improve your team.
Whether you’re starting a new team or trying to improve an existing team, “you can’t really take your first step without looking at the team and measuring,” Janet says. This could mean tabulating assumptions, as with The Culture Map scales, or assessing the current sentiment—in other words, how do people feel about the team spirit. “It could be something as simple as every time you have a team meeting, doing a team temperature gage—a one-to-five scale or thumbs up/thumbs down,” Janet says. From there, the important thing is acting on that information. For example, understanding why a team may be feeling closer to a one, and then working to remedy the problem. Fundamentally, it is applying the Lean Startup methodology of build-measure-learn to your team dynamics.
Although teams vary across companies, an effective Lean team should start small and be cross-functional. Creating clear ground rules, working to ensure everyone contributes, and checking in regularly to assess how individuals are feeling helps create a productive working environment, and from there, you can continually fine-tune based on feedback. Accept that you will have to iterate your team because effective teams are committed to continuous improvement. “It means never accepting your team as done,” says Christina.
To learn more about building Lean teams, join us at Lean Startup Week October 30th - November 5th in San Francisco. Christina Wodtke, Courtney Hemphill, and Janet Brunckhorst will be leading breakout sessions on crafting effective teams.
Written by Misti Yang, Contributor for Lean Startup Co.
In the opening paragraphs of Eric Ries’s upcoming book The Startup Way, Eric sets the scene: He arrived at GE in the summer of 2012 amidst a multi-hundred-million-dollar, five-year plan to develop a new diesel and natural gas engine. He knew next to nothing about the engine but a good bit about entrepreneurial management, and GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt and Vice Chair Beth Comstock thought the insights he’d developed in The Lean Startup could ensure that the plan would succeed.
And the plan did succeed. GE released the test engine, known as Series X, sooner than originally anticipated and immediately received an order for five engines.
It was the start of a partnership that lasted several years and transformed GE’s business practices while also inspiring the company’s FastWorks program. It demonstrated to Eric that Lean Startup methodologies could help organizations of all sizes, and it inspired GE to train every CEO and top manager in what Eric now calls the Startup Way, which he explains in the book “combines the rigor of general management with the highly iterative nature of startups” and incorporates several Lean Startup processes.
The Startup Way includes several learnings from Eric’s work with GE (among other enterprise and high-growth organizations) and Marilyn Gorman was part of the original team at GE that worked with him to build training for senior leaders. Today, she is senior faculty at Lean Startup Co. and travels the world providing businesses with innovation tools and training. As a special treat for our community, Marilyn and Eric will be co-facilitating a limited-capacity workshop focused on The Startup Way during Lean Startup Week (Oct. 30 - Nov. 5) this fall.
As a teaser for that workshop, below are a few lessons Marilyn has learned about teaching an established corporation to practice the Startup Way, along with additional insights from the book.
You need a leader.
The subtitle of The Startup Way is: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture and Drive Long-Term Growth. Understanding fundamental distinctions between “modern companies” and “old-fashioned companies” is an important first step in refashioning management in a large enterprise. One of the many distinctions Eric points out is that an old-fashioned company “is composed of managers and their subordinates.” But a modern company “is composed of leaders and the entrepreneurs they empower.”
Marilyn knows this truth firsthand. “A lot of people are saying, ‘We’re trying to drive a change to a more entrepreneurial mindset from the bottom up,’ and while it is important to start with small teams, you do need leader support. It is critical,” she says.
Without a commitment to a new approach from higher-ups, teams tasked to work with Lean Startup methodologies are more likely to be blocked by existing procedures and expectations. For example, being told, “There is no budget,” shuts down a project pretty quickly. As Eric recounts in The Startup Way, when working with GE, he asked teams to be honest about what they really needed, and “many of them simply needed senior leadership’s assurance that if they worked in this new way they wouldn’t be eaten alive by middle managers.”
Be ready to change more than your scorecards.
“I had companies call me when I was at GE and say, ‘Tell me about how you changed your performance management approach,’” Marilyn says, “and I couldn’t do it without talking about the Lean Startup mindset of building, measuring and learning. People would sometimes reply, ‘We just want to change how we score people at the end of the year,’ but there is no shortcut for implementing a Lean Startup approach.”
Marilyn recalls that as GE started to implement Lean Startup practices, management began to recognize that there were systems and processes that stood in the way of being successful. “Corporations have lots of policies in place to reduce risk and to put out as perfect a product as possible, but Lean Startup is all about taking risk and putting test products in front of customers,” she explains. “The natural evolution was realizing that we needed to change other things inside of the company.”
GE’s realization reflects two of the five key principles of the Startup Way: continuous innovation and the missing function of entrepreneurship. Leaders often want one key innovation that will unlock unrealized potential, but companies should be focused on developing a method for finding breakthroughs as a sustainable part of their long-term pathway.
However, without embracing entrepreneurship, long-term growth driven by new products is unlikely. In the book, Eric recommends starting by making entrepreneurship a core discipline, which means ensuring that someone is responsible for it on the org chart just as departments are responsible for marketing and finance.
Start with, “What can we do.”
Of course, a fully functional Startup Way practice will take more than a box on an org chart. Ultimately, every department will be asked to work a little differently, and that requires some tough conversations across an organization. “Often the conversation will start with, ‘Here is what we can’t do,’ and in fact, the focus needs to be on what you can do,” Marilyn advises.
In the book, Eric shares the story of a leader who realized that the legal department was preventing rapid innovation, and he wanted a solution. He facilitated a meeting with everyone in the legal department. The legal team actually lamented having to always tell people no, but felt constrained by rules and regulations. The solution: a one-page document that laid out a series of parameters within which teams would be pre-cleared to experiment with new ideas. By working with the legal team to brainstorm what could be done, the company was able to speed up product development.
When things get hard, eat chocolate.
“Making this kind of profound change to an organization’s structure is like founding the company all over again, whether it’s five or a hundred years old,” Eric reflects in The Startup Way. It is what he calls “the second founding,” and founding a company is not easy work.
“It’s hard, and it’s going to take time. But, chocolate helps,” Marilyn jokes. Plus, it is worth the effort. “At GE, we started to work faster and simpler. We were learning more quickly about opportunities for success and what opportunities would fail, so we could stop wasting time on them. It definitely had a positive impact.”
Join us at Lean Startup Week October 30th-November 5th, where Eric Ries and Marilyn Gorman will co-lead a 4-hour workshop focused on "The Startup Way". It will give participants an opportunity to consider some of the challenges of bringing Lean Startup practices into an enterprise and address what it takes to scale and deploy new approaches in their own companies. Participants will also receive a workbook featuring tools that they can use to implement the Startup Way. You can pre-order "The Startup Way" here.
Guest post by Jennifer Maerz, Program Chair of Lean Startup Co.
Some exciting news about this year’s Lean Startup Week (Oct. 30-Nov. 5) for all you potential speakers out there: we’re shaking things up in 2017. The flagship conference is directly tied to Eric Ries’s upcoming book, The Startup Way, and we’re hosting the event at two locations in downtown San Francisco (The Warfield and The Village). We’re bringing to life new case studies, advanced strategies, and inspiring areas where Lean Startup is making an impact around the globe, with an emphasis on how to put the practice into place for the long haul at large organizations—from the tiny startup that ballooned to the government or corporate team that’s only known extra large operations. If you’ve ever considered applying to speak at our conferences, now’s the time to go for it. This year will be a biggie for the Lean Startup community.
What We’re Looking For
This part hasn’t changed. We’re passionate about bringing in fresh stories about how Lean Startup methods are being practiced in startups and established companies, nonprofits and civic organizations, and other areas we’ve yet to explore from the stage.
Our goal is to bring the most interesting, relevant, and impactful stories to the conference. We’re looking for practitioners who are doing the real work, particularly women and people of color, and specifically Lean Startup practitioners working at the intermediate and advanced levels. That’s where you come in—especially if you haven’t spoken at our conferences before. As a speaker, you’ll have the opportunity to share your advice, insight, failures, and successes in order to help and benefit from the Lean Startup community.
What is Your Lean Startup Story?
If you have Lean Startup experience to share, we encourage you to propose a talk via our Call For Proposals form regardless of whether you have public speaking experience. Submit your idea as a short video, ideally under three minutes. iPhone videos are totally acceptable, just make sure the sound quality is high enough that we can hear you. Here’s an example of a speaker application that we loved.
There are a limited number of spots available to speak. Below, you’ll find a few helpful tips on how to submit a proposal:
You don’t have to be a Lean Startup all-star to apply. You just need a good story, useful tips for intermediate/advanced practitioners, compelling advice, or practical applications to share.
The core of your proposal should be simple. Focus on answering one of the questions posed in the Call For Proposals form (you’ll find them on page 2).
Deliver the pitch in your application as though you’re speaking from a stage. Although there’s still time to practice, stage presence matters.
Would You Rather Attend?
Lean Startup Week is the best way to connect with 2000+ other experts in the Lean Startup community. You’ll receive practical ways to immediately implement the Lean Startup methodology into your daily business. We’ve got a package for every budget (and options to bring your entire team at an affordable rate). Join us.
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