Lean Startup Judo: Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort

Judo is a sport which translates roughly into the “supple/gentle/soft way” in Japanese.  The central guiding principle of judo is “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort”.  This distilled means that to defeat your opponent in the context of a judo match you should first unbalance him so:

when your opponent pulls you, you push him.

when your opponent pushes you, you pull him.

In an actual judo match, please believe me, things are significantly more complex, dynamic and chaotic than that.  But the zenith of elegant, beautiful and, I should emphasize, effective judo is always one that preserves this elemental principle:  non-resistance and taking advantage of the opponent’s loss of equilibrium.

Good judo also subordinates physical strength to actual judo technique based on the principle above.  That is not say that physical strength is unimportant — it most certainly is and ceteris paribus, the bigger judo player almost always wins — but that extreme strength should be applied at the right time, once one’s opponent is off-balanced.  In good judo, technique is paramount, while strength is secondary.

Beginning judo players (and often in the heavy-weight category where I fought) tend to “muscle” their opponents in effort to throw them, in other words, minimum efficiency with maximal effort.  And generally speaking, to be a world-class judoka, technique scales much more effectively than strength.

Here is what good judo looks like in in the “real-world” of international judo competition. Watch as the Brazilian judo player (in the blue judogi) times and initiates his throw upon the French player (in the white judogi) as the French player steps forward with his left foot.

It is plain to see that the Frenchman has forward inertia that is being exploited by the Brazilian. The Frenchman has effectively pushed, and in response, the Brazilian has very literally pulled, resulting in a beautiful throw by the Brazilian to win the match…in six seconds BTW.

Now, I have no desire to stretch, exaggerate (and break) judo as a metaphor for life, business or startups — this has already been done — but I do think there are certain parallels between judo and Lean Startups/Customer Development that are worthwhile exploring.

Leaving aside the fact that your customers aren’t your opponents and your aim is not to defeat them, I think much can be said for a judo-like approach of Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort, by establishing marketing and positioning (initiating and timing your throws) based upon on what your customers’ perceptions are or aren’t about your product (their pushes or pulls), rather than forcing what you think your positioning should be upon them (only your brute strength).

What does this look like in the real world of startups?

It looks like what Sean Ellis espouses with Survey.io and what Chris O’Donnell of Markitechture describes in a recent post, A/B Testing for Product-Market Fit.

Use your customers’ pushes and pulls to your advantage.  Don’t try to simply muscle them to where you think you want them.

Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort.  Can you think of any additional examples?

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