Lean Startup vs. the Great Man

  • January 22, 2012
  • Scott

In Brakoniecki’s post on Lean Start-ups and the idea of Entrepreneur, he delves into the apparent conflict between the Taylor “Great Man” theory, and the Lean Startup’s emphasis on leadership, and learning (all while in essence refuting the idea of the Great Man). I commented on his blog directly but thought I’d share my thoughts here as well:

The relationship between the Great Man theory and Entrepreneur is a bit of a quandary in the lean startup community.  On the one hand, many people in the startup business contend, paraphrased, that “entrepreneurs are born rather than made.”  But the lean startup seems to say that entrepreneurship can be taught, learned, rather than born inside you.

The “born with it” argument, to me, seems to be in alignment with the idea of building companies around Great Men (very Ayn Rand, in my humble opinion).  But that doesn’t make it correct.  In my experience, these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

I’d put it this way.  For some people, being a good entrepreneur *appears* to be innate.  We don’t know the person well enough to know how this talent developed, and what their experiences were – they’re a black box. To us, as if by magic, they are really good at entrepreneurship (and leading).  For others, it is more obviously a learned, thoughtfully acquired skill.

But I would argue that for literally everyone – born with it or not – if you decide to begin the journey of entrepreneurship, you can improve your chances if you learn.  And learning what Lean Startup has to offer is clearly a benefit- even if you choose not to apply lean startup methods to your efforts, at least you’re making an informed decision.  If you do apply lean startup, then of course the goal is that you also learn about your potential market and customers faster as well.

One thing clear to me is that lean startup (any startup) still requires leadership.  It’s hard to imagine any other possibility.  Critical decisions, pivots, and hires have to be made.  I just don’t see how you do that without good leadership.

And of course the other wrinkle is that not all leadership looks the same.  Contrast Tony Hsieh‘s style with Steve Jobs for example…

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