Lean creativity

By David Wilmot (Leaning Tower of Pisa) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons“What the hell is that?” you are probably asking yourself.

Well, it’s the juxtaposition of two topics that I wanted to talk about.  So it may be a new concept, or it may be linkbait. You choose!

I am a big fan of the Lean Launchpad work of Steve Blank, Eric Reis and Alex Osterwalder, but much less a fan of the growing trend to put ‘Lean’ in front of everything in a vain attempt to refresh old ideas. (It’s a scandal. Perhaps we should call it ‘Leangate’.)

For me, one of the big take-aways from Lean Launchpad is the profound difference between the initial stage of a startup and the growth stage. In the initial stage you are searching for a business model, a highly unstructured and uncertain activity. In the second stage you are executing a growth plan, which is a much more structured, predictable and linear process. It’s still quite risky but it looks like the sort of thing larger businesses do and it requires us to do what we are trained to do and often measured on – to execute a plan.

However, it is the early stage that causes all the problems. It is quite different to what business is normally about. The measures that are normally applied, as Eric Reis points out in The Lean Startup, just don’t work. It’s discovery. It’s learning. It’s creativity. Not things that are valued or recognised in the every day push-and-shove of business, especially in a large corporate. (I speak from painful personal experience here).

I refer to these two stages as ‘Search’ and ‘Execution’ and I often highlight the difference to explain why businesses find innovation so difficult. You can’t do Search and Execution at the same time, it’s mentally impossible. You must be aware of what stage you are in, and consciously get into Search mode when you are looking to generate new ideas.

Sometimes, however, when you are in Execution mode you may run into a roadblock that necessitates you returning to Search mode to find a new approach. Being able to move between the two consciously is key to your chance of success.

I recently came across this video of John Cleese speaking about Creativity. (This is the original Brainpickings blog).He defines two states of mind required to be creative, Open and Closed. Here’s what he has to say about them

‘We need to be in the open mode when pondering a problem — but! — once we come up with a solution, we must then switch to the closed mode to implement it. Because once we’ve made a decision, we are efficient only if we go through with it decisively, undistracted by doubts about its correctness.’

‘To be at our most efficient, we need to be able to switch backwards and forward between the two modes. But — here’s the problem — we too often get stuck in the closed mode. Under the pressures which are all too familiar to us, we tend to maintain tunnel vision at times when we really need to step back and contemplate the wider view.’

Sound familiar?

The truth is that starting a business, searching for a viable and scalable business model, is a fundamentally creative act. Whilst Lean brings some scientific structure and rigour to it, it remains an act of art. (BTW, if you think science isn’t creative, you don’t know much about it.)

Cleese makes another important point. Humour is an essential component. As he puts it ““The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”

So, when it all goes pear-shaped (and it will, and probably quite often) don’t forget to laugh.

Picture: By David Wilmot (Leaning Tower of Pisa)
[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons



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