Lean and Mean?

Crowd ControlThe ‘Lean’ (as in ‘Lean Startup‘) methodology may prove instrumental in guiding us into the Information Age, but perhaps it is time to disassociate ourselves from the perceived need to be ‘Mean,’ at least within the context of entrepreneurship. If we agree that we’re striving to contribute to society and improve upon the human condition, we might want to be mindful of the language we use in the process.

Here are a couple of quotes to support my position. I always welcome any feedback to the contrary, all the while making no claims whatsoever that I am immune to cognitive dissonance.


So you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become fascinated by how close you can walk without losing your balance.” Richard Milhous Nixon

These sounds like the words of someone with a death wish. Without question:

Risk is a necessary component of every entrepreneurial endeavor.

Nevertheless, pathological ideations in a group setting can lead to the ruin of many lives. That’s the reality. I’ll spare you the history lesson.

Reverend Friendly

In America, we hurry–which is well; but when the day’s work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us…we burn up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into a lean and mean old age at a time of life which they call a man’s prime in Europe…What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges!” Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Anger can be a great motivator. Over time, it will wear you down, if it doesn’t kill you outright. In the meantime, it might turn you into a miserable bastard no one else wants to be around or worse, foster an angry mob.

Hitler Youth

A German boy must be lean and mean, quick like a greyhound, tough as leather, and hard as Krupp steel. He must learn self-denial, to endure reproaches and injustice, to be reliable, silent, obedient, and loyal.” Motto of the Hitler Youth

I do not consider myself a Pacifist, nor do I advocate rolling over in the face of adversity. Self defense is our prerogative. Rather, I caution against exclusionary, adversarial tactics.

It’s worth noting that both Stages Three and Four require an adversary. When we work with people and groups, people in Stage Three groups will say, ‘I’m great because I sold more last quarter than anyone’ or ‘I just bought a huge house.’ They begin to notice that these statements are all comparative, netting out to ‘I’m better than others.’ At Stage Four, people will say, ‘We’re great because our team is winning’ or ‘We have the best people.’ Again, this language system implies ‘We’re better than them.’ At Three, the enemy is other individuals. At Four, it’s another group, or a company, or even an industry. Only at Stage Five does the need for an enemy go away.” Dave Logan and John King, Tribal Leadership

Logan and King are referring to the Five Tribal Stages, the fifth of which is embodied by altruism, a focus on values, a ‘noble cause.’ At this stage, the need for adversaries vanishes. After all, we’re in this to make the world a better place, together. Aren’t we?

Are you operating like it’s “You Against the World?”

On Rock Bands, Kindergarten and Startups

Entrepreneurs are no different from other creative types. They are startup idea machines. We all are, really, until we start growing up and listening to the rest of the world talking about how uncreative they are. The drive to create is at increasing odds with the longing to fit in, thus we settle in and cease innovating. That’s the thing to do, if you’re “normal.”

Some of us (I choose to think of us as “the fortunate ones”) never really grow up. This childlike creativity carries with it the requisite full range of emotions and behaviors, notably self-centeredness, delusions of grandeur, possessiveness, as well as gregariousness.

Children love to play together until they get sick of each other.

The Rock Band Startup Metaphor

Ready to Conquer the WorldPutting together a rock band means assembling a group of people you’re going to be spending a lot of time with, chasing your dreams, adjusting your course, “pivoting,” for better or worse. You can bet there is going to be quite a bit of “worse.”

My own musical career case study involved witnessing (and, admittedly, playing an active role in) bands throwing away any chance of success by allowing their emotions to get in the way. Some great music was made amidst the chaos of flying fists, exchanged romantic interests, and shifting alliances, but ultimately, attention spans were short, much like those of Kindergarten classes. Ultimately, bands broke up because we weren’t emotionally prepared to stick it out through the rough times. Indeed, this is why most relationships end.

Kindergarten is the Only Education You’ll Ever Need

If you’ve never volunteered in a Kindergarten, give it a shot. There’s a crash course in human behavior, lessons you may have forgotten over the years. Go get a refresher.

Kindergarten students can be remarkably focused when there is a clear task at hand.

They’ll even work together, happily, and share in the joy of completing things, before moving onto the next endeavor.

Who Do You Want to Spend Nearly All of Your Time With?

There needs to be an emotional contract amongst co-founders. Choose wisely. You will be sharing some trials and tribulations. Your initial ideas are merely seeds. The real question is whether you can get along through thick and thin, inspire each other, maintain some optimism and above all, not give up – unless you’re really not meant to be together. Avoid the initial impulse to break up. Don’t do what my bands did. There were at least a couple of them that may have amounted to something if only they didn’t get carried away and make rash decisions.

Twenty years later, I still speak to my old band mates. With few exceptions, we regret those decisions to this day, all of us left wondering what might have been.

Can your inner child sit still long enough to preserve valuable working relationships?