Most important statement in Lean.. “I don’t know..”

“I don’t know..” (or what do I need to learn, first and fast.)

I’m finally able to sit down and think about the great workshop produced by Tristan Kromer of the Lean Startup Circle – San Francisco for us yesterday hosted at Velocity SI. He was artful in his ‘design-thinking’ approach to the Lean Startup method which seeks to minimize waste or ‘muda’ in order to ‘validate learning’ faster.

So, to startup (I mean start off) he mentioned, we have to be willing to say to ourselves, “I don’t know” (and mean it) in order to get past our ongoing bias and assumptions that we all have. We need to be willing to ‘test’ our basic assumptions and the keyword is ‘fast.’ In the words of the AT&T commercial, what’s better faster or slower? Even a child will tell you “FASTER!”

So, off we go, developing our products (or value proposition) with the customer in mind, taking into consideration our channels to distribute, our relationships with the customer and finally, most importantly what ‘activities’ do we need to consider AND prioritize?

While considering the the foundational work of Alexander Osterwalder and Eric Ries, his workshop quickly pointed out, we really just need to be mindful of the most important tasks that need to be completed in order to quickly and iteratively validate our basic assumption(s). He took a very ‘design-centric’ focus.  What can we learn from our potential customer using either quantifiable (data) OR qualifiable (information) through interviews metrics?

Quantitative and Qualitative

What is our experiment to get feedback faster to improve our value proposition for the next iteration.  He really was hammering in on the ABSOLUTE ‘minimum’ viable product.  Not so much a useful product as much as something that conveys the message so the customer “gets it” and “signs on” or signs up as the case may be.

complex MVP, paper on paper..

complex MVP, paper on paper..

We quickly diverged into our individual projects with a sharpie and a stack of post-it notes. He asked us to quickly write down one idea on each post-it for our value prop.  Consider how would our customer like to ‘perceive’ the value they receive from our product? Not how we want them to perceive it, but what value does the customer perceive as important.


  • “feel like I’m knowledgeable”
  • “feel like important”
  • or feel like effective, efficient…

Then we narrowed it down to 3 post-its, all reluctantly throwing away the rest of the ideas. While difficult to tear those other ideas in half, this quickly prioritized the work into the ‘highest’ priority value-props to design on.
We then, did the same process with Channels, Relationships and finally Activities. Typically, he said they would spend a whole day on this program, but he had to condense it into less than two hours remaining.

Another important aspect.

The stopwatch, he would not let us look or think of more ideas after the two minute buzzer, making us focus, not letting our mind meander on additional complexities.  Our partner would pull the information when asking, what does mean? Or maybe they would get it right away.  Thank Paul for being my partner, I know at times it was a challenge!

our table

our table

This was a great exercise, it made us focus on the most important aspects of the project – fast. No longer could we hold onto other assumptions, the other details that may (or may not be) important at this time, we could only consider the options that we and our partner felt made the most sense, ASAP.

Afterward, I had a chance to catch up with Tristan to ask him about the focus of his Lean Startup Circle – San Fran. How are they continuously improving?  As this is important to my role as the local LS Organizer. He said, they’re looking at doing more peer-to-peer work as opposed to doing presentations. In his experience, he felt these exercises were more meaningful and beneficial and provided better outcomes.

I agree.

I see many organizations planning functions with presenters, but I personally get the most value from workshops that allow me to work with just one or maybe two others. We don’t even have to be working on the same project. We just need to get the validation from someone else.  Find out if they know what the hell we’re talking about, as opposed to us trying to think we know how to communicate based only on assumptions in our own heads.

A common theme I’ve heard about entrepreneurs is that we all live in our own reality distortion field. It’s not until you get feedback from someone else that you can navigate a path or message that resonates with someone else, your most important person, ‘the potential customer.’ I mean, if they can’t understand or give you feedback, what are you actually learning by just speaking to yourself?

Key: You have to have someone else, anybody else (except your mother) give you feedback.

You need a valid feedback loop mechanism. I record the audio with my smartphone. It’s awful, so if anybody has any good suggestions for recording a program that you can listen to later-I need it.  Or maybe someone can tell me how to filter the noise out of the audio.

I’m hoping I can use it with ear buds to refer back and reflect on the exercises he had us do. They really did help me:

  • get ideas out quickly,
  • get customer feedback quickly,
  • prioritize the most important task quickly
  • discover what that I need to do more formally.

Not waste time doing additional activity and task that didn’t add value.

Tristan, great job.. Look forward to staying engaged with the Lean Method and in particular, reading Laura Klein’s book ‘UX for Lean Startups.’ As he suggested the Lean UX is for intra-preneurs or those who are trying to design within an ‘enterprise’ setting.

The most important take-away, be sure to tell yourself “I don’t know” (and mean it) then go ask somebody that’s not your mother.  The Lean Startup Circle -Louisville Meetup is the 1st Tuesday night of each month at i-Hub.  We’re not having a meetup in October in order to wind-down from Idea Festival!

Frequently used words
assumptions customer doing don’t else faster feedback finally focus get great he his important into just know lean more most need not our quickly someone startup tristan us value work


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