5 Agile Ways to Rock the Boat with Eric Ries

Eric Ries Interview by Lara Druyan at Hackers and Founders, July 2011According to Eric Ries, another way to say “agile” is “extreme troublemaker.” If you think you know what’s given, constant, and unchangeable – think again.

In an interview with Lara Druyan at a recent Silicon Valley gathering hosted by 106 Miles and Hackers & Founders – Eric poked holes in the foundation of entrepreneurial sense and sensibility we all “know” so well.

From his interview, my favorite five agile ways to rock the boat of status quo are:

1. Redefine Entrepreneurship.
Think you need to live on ramen noodles, sign your world over to venture capital, and camp in a garage to be an entrepreneur? Maybe not. In Eric’s view – entrepreneurship is a management discipline for creating value in an environment with a high degree of uncertainty. Entrepreneurship lives in large corporations, small startups, and nonprofits everywhere. And considering the high degree of uncertainty that pervades our lives these days – even my kitchen is a hot bed of entrepreneurialism as I ponder the uncertainty of what’s for dinner tonight.

2. Put your Idea up for Adoption.
Got an idea? Afraid someone else will steal it? Eric advises that surrounding your baby in a cloak of stealth will very likely be the thing that kills your idea. Stealth mode is like having a conversation with yourself. As an experiment, take your second best idea – and actively go out and try to have someone else steal it. Established organizations moored in the status quo won’t be interested. Other folks won’t have the juice to run with it. But talk it up – walk your idea like your favorite puppy. And when it grows up – it won’t bear the tiniest resemblance to your original doggy idea.

3. Loosen the constraints.
Ever hear the old adage of “Time, quality, money – pick two?” Fact or fiction? As someone who has regularly used this adage in previous corporate lives – I had never considered that maybe it’s not always true. Eric believes that the waterfall model of product development creates this “pick any 2” constraint, and by changing your process – you change your constraints as well.

4. Aim for Failure.
“Every failure is our most precious opportunity to discover what is true.” Create learning milestones, not product milestones. Listen hard for leap of faith assumptions. If you are assuming that your click-through rate on a given page will be 2% – don’t bury that assumption in a footnote on page 32. Print your assumptions in 97-point font and post them on your front door. Then test the assumption quickly and adapt. Interestingly, there’s a lot of failure in startups – except in the media where only success gets sold to Hollywood.

5. Visualize Success.
As an entrepreneur, success is having a vision of the world as a better place, and then building a sustainable business organization to fulfill that vision. It’s up to you to define what is a “better place” – more connected, better informed, entertained, you get to choose. Success comes from creating that vision and then failing your way to success.


ERIC RIES is an entrepreneur and author of the popular blog Startup Lessons Learned. He co-founded and served as CTO of IMVU, his third startup, and has had plenty of startup failures along the way. Eric’s first book THE LEAN STARTUP will be published in September 2011.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Bockman
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m familar with that old adage, and the way I heard it was: “Good, Fast, Cheap. — Pick 2.” I heartily agree that agile principles and practices can invalidate that particular constraint.

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