The first time Lean Startup was introduced to me I was really excited. It seemed the perfect method and process for succeeding in the highly competitive world of software products and services. As I read and learned more the excitement waned and doubts formed. Even acknowledging this feeling I struggled to articulate the reasons why.

After many conversations about Lean Startup, and Lean Startup-based planning sessions and customer interviews I couldn't really argue with the results. The clarity was proof, but things still felt off. Furthermore, I felt uneasy talking about these feelings. My feelings were vague and nebulous. A feeling of doubt and uncertainty, questioning my own priorities was competing directly against the results Lean Startup promised to deliver and fulfilled.

Recently, as part of the Keen IO Book Club, we've been reading Reinventing Organizations. While there are plenty of concepts in that read I find debatable, I finally was able to reconcile my feelings about Lean Startup and articulate these doubts. Lean Startup provides results, to be sure. Results are not necessarily the best outcome, though. Results may lead to some ideal outcome, but the results provided by following a customer-driven, revenue-focused approach will not deliver an outcome I want.

In the end, following Lean Startup is likely to lead to a profitable, successful business building a product that nobody is particularly enthusiastic about. I'm sure there are many ways to use Lean Startup as an effective guide to find an elevated purpose, but all too often the message is about compromise for the benefit of competitive advantage. I don't want to compromise, I want to find the third peak.

Nothing says you can't adapt Lean Startup to maintain core values, but it can be very difficult. The Lean Startup canvas roughly follows these steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. List customers likely to suffer
  3. Identify a specific solution
  4. Decide how to measure success with key metrics
  5. Declare an unfair advantage and unique value proposition
  6. Figure out cost structure and revenue

It's a good system. It clearly lists out a path to success, and I believe that if you follow these steps and communicate with your potential and current customers a profitable business will be created. Unless the "unfair advantage" is "building a product everybody is proud of" this is will turn into a battle of attrition. People do not put their best work unless they can hear and respond to the call of purpose and meaning.

Purpose and meaning cannot be measured in a profit and loss statement. There is no revenue source that creates a happy, motivated, and focused workforce. Revenue, and optimizing for revenue, creates a necessity for work-life balance. That's the problem for me.

The idea of work life balance is bullshit. Work should not be an opposition to life. - @JerryColonna

This definitely doesn't mean that revenue isn't important. Revenue and profits are important, without them we die. As stated in Reinventing Organizations, profit is like the air we breathe. We need air to live, but we don't live to breathe.

I want to build a purpose-driven business. I want everybody involved to feel they are working on products that matter, but more importantly that they are growing and their lives are improving through skills acquired. This absolutely means we support our customers, and deliver a valuable product. Without a valuable product, whatever skills we build will be untested and ultimately pointless. The product is the result of understanding customers, understanding the people in the organization, and doing good work.

Lean Startup is a model to achieve success. The organizations discussed in Reinventing Organizations are not focused towards achievement.  The entire philosophy behind Reinventing Organizations is to rethink Achievement. Achievements occur as a byproduct of living an undivided life, filled with purpose and sense of self. It means focusing on durability, value, belief, and mission. Which one is better? I have no idea for you, only for myself.

I don't want to pursue work-life balance. I want to find integration. I want my work, my family, my friends to be integrated and interdependent. I want to find a path where everybody feels they are growing, including potential customers.

Parker Palmer, from the Center for Courage & Renewal, explains this concept and the symptoms afflicting those who live divided lives in the video below.