Lean Startup: Pivot, Persevere or Portfolio?

Because the current criticism of lean startup and customer development is, for the most part, so markedly atrocious, so lacking concrete insight and usually amounts to no more than an annoying child playing with a noisy cap gun loaded with sour grapes and Freudian projection; I will happily provide the critics with some real, live ammunition with which they might be able to arm themselves.

The following are meant to be constructive critical observations of various facets of lean startup and customer development. I have provided a few brief thoughts about each one, albeit each one probably merits multiple blog posts.

In no particular order and surely not exhaustive:

PIVOT, PERSEVERE OR PORTFOLIO: Lean Startup may be optimized for investors, not entrepreneurs.

The startup then becomes nothing more than an option for a Jane McVentureCapitalist, who has access to data and information rights which inform her future investments, the ones she actually cares about. Even assuming the VC is not malicious, this could engender back-seat driving behavior.

NATURAL LIMITATIONS ON HYPOTHESIS TESTING: Some environments are too complex and too chaotic for meaningful hypotheses to be formed and tested.

Hypothesis testing is appropriate for a complex system where the decision-making process is: Probe, Sense, Respond. But in a chaotic system, the decision-making process is Act (quickly), Sense, and Respond to stabilize the situation.

If this seems familiar, then you likely know of David Snowden’s Cynefin framework.

Also, if you really wanted to pedantically quibble, one might be able to make the case that Talebian stochastic tinkering/bricolage is fundamentally different than Lean Startup trial-and-error hypothesis testing. Or not.  (See note 116 for further background.)

LEAN STARTUP ITSELF IS THE RESISTANCE: Coming up with perfect experiments is the perfect excuse not to take action.

If you are unfamiliar with The Resistance, buy The War of Art immediately.

PEOPLE VS PROCESS: Lean startup is just another battle in the never-ending People vs Process war.

Moreover, Lean Startup enthusiasts miss the point that fighting over People vs Process is mostly sand-in-your-eyes.

STARTUP CULT-BUILDING IS NEXT TO IMPOSSIBLE WITH LEAN STARTUP: Hard to get people fired up to fight in the startup trenches when upon a pivot, you decide that this isn’t a war to fight for.

Synching a romantic and adventurous raison d’être-cum-vision (“We’re gonna change the world or die trying!”) that motivates foot soldiers and investors with boring metrics is not trivial, perhaps harder with Lean Startup.

You are warned: all of the above are dialetheia, at some level, both simultaneously true and false. Also, most of the above are not exclusive to Lean Startup.

Critics, consider yourselves armed – so fire away, try not to shoot yourself in the process.

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