Living Lean

If I were to explain Lean Startup as briefly as I’m able, I’d say it’s an approach where you

  • form a hypothesis about business viability then
  • test that hypothesis in the smallest possible way
  • to see if it is a valid hypothesis or not
  • before committing resources to it.

For example, several people say they want to take my Designer as Founder class. I form a hypothesis, maybe I could sell it as a remote learning! I could go make a kickstarter campaign, and start looking for platforms. Instead, I made a little survey monkey survey ( takes me 10 minutes) to see how many people are willing to even put in the effort of answering three questions and leaving an email address. This will start to tell me if there is real demand, or if it’s just people being nice.

When I left Zynga, I was pretty burned out on climbing the tech ladder. I’ve written on this before; I decided to optimize for joy rather than money, prestige or position. But I was so burned out that for the first time in my life, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do. Perhaps if I was someone else, I might have taken another job. I know people like me who did look to a job to give them meaning and goals; people who joined a start-up or a VC firm. They moved on to what other people thought they should do next. But I’d been working lean, so I applied that approach to my life. I formed a couple of hypothesis, and started to test them the smallest way possible. 

Hypothesis: I might like to work in the food industry
Based on: I am happy when I cook. I love food, eating, writing, TV everything.
Test: Take “Serious Amateurs” basic techniques course, and cook all day, every day for six weeks.
Result: Too physical for me, but I have mad knife skills now.  And I discovered I love butchery. Who knew?

Hypothesis: How about a food start up?
Based on: I like food, I like the web.
Test: Consult full time at a food startup.
Result: I started to not like food. Simple realities around the economics of the food industry spoiled my simple joy in cooking and eating. Decide to keep it as a passion, not a job.

Hypothesis: Teaching might suit me.
Based on: I like mentoring, and I like transferring knowledge through books, articles and talks
Test: Teach a 12 week, 2 hour 2 night a-week course at General Assembly.
This was easy for me, because unlike larger institutions, there weren’t many bureaucratic hoops to hop through, and it wasn’t a huge time sink.
Result: I got joy and meaning from teaching.

This has been followed by more hypothesis and learnings around my teaching. I’ve learned teaching full-time is too much for me. I like teaching as an aspect of my life, not my entire life. I’ve learned teaching UX is getting a bit old, and that I like to learn while I teach.  As well, UX is not my greatest passion, and I hope that my Designer as Founder will tap into my entrepreneurial love.

I learned I like the creative act of figuring out how to teach a subject, and designing new classes. I definitely like teaching adults, but don’t know if teaching younger folks might be fun also.  I’m starting to wonder if I want to consider designing educational structures next. That’s going to be a hard one to design a small experiment for, but I have an idea about that….

In any case, next time you are frustrated and want to chuck it all and change careers, ask yourself how can I save myself the expense of radical change, and discover if I am right about what I want? How can I simulate living the new life I’m considering? What are the pass/fail signals?

Instead of a midlife crises, perhaps a midlife prototype might be in order….