Yesterday, I went to a talk from Eric Ries on the ideas in his new book, Lean Startup, hosted by the British Leaders Network. to start, it was a great event and well oragnized with an open bar and free book for every attendee.
As expected, the discussion was lively and entertaining including a session at the end when some actual entreprenuers got on stage to discuss their businesses with him. Generally, the ideas reasonated with me.
Obviously, most of the evening revolved around businesses that were implementing the lean start-up ethos and unenlightened one ones that weren’t.
One idea that seemed to exist on both sides of the equation in talk was the role of ‘great men’ or the entreprenuer.
The Contradiction of Great Men
In discussing the world of Frederick Taylor and management at the beginning of the 20th century, Ries offered the following perspective (paraphrasing):
The idea of management or how you run a business was simple. You found a Great Man, someone whose skill, intellect and moral fiber would drive the business forward. If the business failed, it was obviously a judgement on the quality of its leader and you would find a new one.
Not much has really changed in the last hundred years.
Nothing very controversial there but fast forward to the Start-up clinic part of the session and, on stage, a young entreprenuer is asking how to overcome resistance from his technical team to launch a product – It’s ready and working but not tested fully. The product was much more than a minimum viable product so Ries was pushing him to get into the market and get feedback.
What stopping you? It can’t be your technical team, afterall do you work for them or do they work for you? If it’s ready, then you need to launch and start learning. You need to be right but forceful. They work for you.
These two sections are making opposite points but strangely aligned in the idea that the leader, the Great Man or the entreprenuer plays a central role in the driving the business, the start-up or the organization forward.
Full Disclosure: I haven’t read the book yet but will over the next fews weeks — with enthusiam.
One theme I’ll be avidly trying to understand is the role of the individual versus the team in creating a successful start-up. For example, does the lean startup mantra ‘to learn faster’ refer to the only the entreprenuer learning or to the team generally? How does the organization learn and what type of culture do you need to foster to make institutionalize this in your people?
Anyone with a clear idea of how the lean start-up methodology and leadership interact, I’d love to hear your thoughts.