Posted by: Tayo Akinyemi | February 28, 2012

Success, Failure and the Lean Startup as a Metaphor for Life

I just finished listening to an interview with Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson on GPS Your Career: A Woman’s Guide to Success, in which she discusses practical, evidence-based strategies for success.  What really caught my attention is her assertion that while it’s useful to visualize a desired future state, it’s equally, if not more important, to consider the challenges one is likely to encounter and implement a plan of action to address them.  She also suggested, and this is critical, that success isn’t a function of “who you are,” but “what you do.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, this reminded me of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, a book I’d finished yesterday. (Adapt was written by Tim Harford, also known as the “undercover economist.”)  Through highly-engaging vignettes, Harford asserts that success is really a function of trial and error.  You have to try a lot of different things, do it in such a way that failure isn’t fatal, and use feedback to learn from your mistakes, i.e. what works and what doesn’t.  Harford refers to these principles as variation, survivability, and selection.  Pretty clever, eh?  Anyway, this chain of ideas makes me think that success in life (however you choose to define it) is really about two things: 1) trial and error; and 2) the method you use to engage in it.

That mini insight is what brought me back to The Lean Startup and why I like it so much.  Initially, I was enamored with the idea of applying  a thoughtful, disciplined process to an activity that seemed best-suited to gamblers and/or charismatic super-leaders.  The idea of creating order from chaos, especially given the cache (let’s call it the “badge of bad-assery”) that was associated with it, is compelling.  But now I realize that for me, it’s about recognizing that entrepreneurship is an activity, not a character trait.  It’s empowering to think that entrepreneurship can be “figured out,” albeit in a systematic way, by ordinary folks who are willing to jump in the deep end with the intention of learning to swim (quickly and well).

Does this mean that there aren’t discernible characteristics of successful people?  I think not.  But it does offer hope to those of us who are “figuring it out,” that our efforts do mean something.

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