The Lean Startup methodology for life

By Alexandria DeVito

In our lunch session with Brad Feld, he mentioned something that got me thinking: “Use lean methodology for everything you do in life…including relationships. The best relationships are agile.”
Interesting concept. It made me realize that so often we spend time carefully managing our careers, our network, our calendar…but we may have a tendency not to actively manage our relationships with as much forethought and diligence. Somehow, personal relationships should just work or organically find their way. For many people, it almost seems unnatural to consciously manage their personal relationships. But why is that the case?
Going back to The Lean Startup, the core question it seeks to answer is: How can we learn more quickly what works, and discard what doesn't?
This seems like a valid question for all walks of life. Why not use it more broadly?
If we look at some other principles of The Lean Startup and how they might apply more generally, they are:
1) Iterative customer feedback
Continuing Feld’s point from above, he suggested that you and your partner have daily check-ins, weekly commits, monthly reviews and quarterly releases, just as you do with your employees. It seems so intuitive and yet it is rarely practiced.
Any book on interpersonal interactions will tell you that maintaining consistent and open communication is essential to a successful relationship. So, why not build it in to your daily, weekly and monthly rituals?
2) Validated learning
Once we receive customer feedback, The Lean Startup teaches us to eliminate wasteful practices and increase value-generating practices.
I’d like to make a valid but slightly hokey reference here. I relate this concept of wasteful practices to another book, The 5 Love Languages, in the relationship realm. Just as we all have different personalities and preferences, we also speak different love languages. A love language is the way that one most feels loved and cared for; love languages can be broken into 5 main categories: words of affirmation, acts of service, affection, quality time and gift-giving. Basically, we tend to feel most loved and cared for when someone expresses our dominant love language to us (e.g., washing the dishes– acts of service; purchasing flowers– gift-giving). The caveat here is that most people tend to love in the way they desire to be loved, rather than finding out their partner’s preferred love language and expressing that towards them.
In that same way, businesses tend to project their own preferences onto their customer base, rather than finding out what their customers truly desire. The Lean Startup was designed to address this very blind spot.
In the relationship realm, if you don’t express the appropriate love language, your partner will likely not recognize your expression of love in the way it was intended; your efforts will be wasted if you do not show love in the way your partner best receives it. Rather than doing what you think your partner wants you to do, ask them or have them show you what they prefer.
In the business realm, if you don’t create a product that speaks to your customers’ core needs, your customers will not buy it. The Lean Startup encourages businesses not to invest time creating features or services that consumers do not want. Instead of guessing, go and find out. Try something and be open to receiving feedback. Try something else, receive feedback again. In essence, you keep changing things that are not working until you figure out what does work (product-market fit). The same should apply in a relationship: 1) find out what doesn’t work and discard that, 2) find out what does work and keep doing that. And then do it again.
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It seems to me that there are a lot of parallels between how we manage entrepreneurship and how we manage relationships. And for me, this connected with what Professor Bussgang said in his final lecture: “entrepreneurship is about passion”…and then added that “life is about passion.”
Far too often, I think we tend to draw bright lines between our careers and our personal lives; as a result, I think we don’t take as much advantage of the cross-pollination of ideas, techniques and practices between the two domains. Our business selves could learn something from our personal selves, and vice versa.

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