Reality Distortion Fields and Lean Startups: Compatible?

by Joyce Chan

Many entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs, create a “reality distortion field” that allows them to sell their vision to potential employees, investors and partners. Is an RDF compatible with the lean startup?

Lean startups are: constantly changing products to fit the customer needs and maximizing the learning process from every marketing / product change.  The ability to create a “reality distortion field” (RDF) is an extremely powerful skill. An RDF is only compatible with a lean startup when the entrepreneur has a vision that is in touch with the customers’ needs and is willing to hold to lean startup principles. An entrepreneur with a great understanding of market demands only needs to hone his ideas in the lean start up; the business’s general concepts are already appealing to the user.  However, RDFs may be harmful to employees, investors and partners as their leader’s vision may be wrong, risking lost time, money and effort. 

RDFs are an excellent tool for the entrepreneur attempting to lead a team of people in a highly viable environment.   These leaders can emote a certain passion and charisma that energizes employees to reach goals more quickly, allowing for more iteration.  Investors see these individuals as trusted guides that walking them through the convoluted and crowded market of partially formed ideas.  To partners, these entrepreneurs have long coat tails that can be ridden to the land fame and fortune.  All players believe they, both collectively and individually, have the power to triumph through every pivot regardless of the barriers.  This overwhelming exhibition of positive thinking is effective at keeping moral high.  In the right environments, RDFs centralize the driving vision of the audience.  This unity acts as the stabilizing force in a continuously changing work place, giving people security in a potentially risky situation.

However, RDF may also inhibit creativity in a team and could lead to pivoting in the wrong direction.  The purpose of a lean start up is to create a product through a rapid trial and error process, making improvements as new insights come to the surface.  It is possible for the iterative process to move the product out of the original scope.  However, entrepreneur’s RDF could skew better judgment, potentially encouraging team members to ignore key takeaways from the past round to keep the product within the original vision.  Learning is a key component to lean startups as it prevents creators from making the same mistake twice.  If learning is imparted by a RDF, the team may just spend time spinning their wheels making little progress or progress in the wrong direction.

A RDF can be compatible with a lean startup as long as the entrepreneur holds to lean startup primary principles.  RDFs empower other to move forward with a common grand goal and inspire them to look beyond potential obstacles.  These are great qualities for any business, especially ones with tight deadlines. However, entrepreneurs must be comfortable learning from mistakes and pivoting when they receive feedback to go in a different direction. Steve Jobs is hailed as the man with the ultimate RDF and even he could not force Apple TV on to the market.  With the right vision and consideration of lean startup principles, RDFs have the potential to propel a lean startup to success.


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