On Wednesday’s lecture at the Lean Startup Circle, I was introduced to the concept of Lean Thinking, a type of approach to doing business which has apparently been gaining traction in some areas of the startup world. There were 100+ people in attendance at the seminar, most of them having heard of the event from a simple meetup.com post, so that seemed to be an indication that there’s a fairly significant level of interest in the movement right now.
The make-up of the crowd was very diverse — people of all ages, ethnicities, genders and nationalities from all different walks of life came together to network and trade ideas about their business and business strategies. (I could’ve sworn that there were a few high school kids in the audience, too.) The room was full of visionaries, with everyone sharing a similar passion of wanting to make their dreams and aspirations a reality. The energy and talent in the room was at a very high level, but nonetheless very friendly and amicable. Some were experienced entrepreneurs (founded and ran several startups already at that point), others were newbies looking to start their first venture (like me), while a few were day-job workers checking the scene out for a possible change in their career. The highlight of the evening was a talk done by Janice Fraser from LUXr, on the topic of Lean User-Experience (UX, which is an updated version of the term, UI, user-interface).
Because this was a seminar oriented toward technology, I initially thought that the meeting would be extremely technical, way over my head and I would feel out of place. The presentation, however, was surprisingly easy to digest, mostly because it focused on the cultural and procedural aspects of the UX methodologies, rather than of its technique. I briefly talked to Janice after the presentation was over asking for advice about our OK Music projects, and in the end she said that the method was really just about understanding people and servicing their actual needs and wants. (As opposed to projections of what you think they want, which are mistakes that Lean Thinking attempts to correct as a methodology.) It seems that User-Experience can be seen as more of a philosophy toward approaching business rather than something that can be necessarily codified in purely technical details — judging by the responses from the people who attended the talk, inspirations were running high and the event was a big success for its organizers.
Fortunately, of the people I’ve spoken to, OK Music’s ideas about running e-cards and personalized music services seemed to at least be a potentially viable one. Though after sitting through the seminar, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of similarities in thinking that I had with the rest of the group, despite coming from a background (mostly) rooted in music and music theory.
Musical Improvisation and the “Lean” Method
“Lean Thinking” originally started as a type of management style that was developed at Toyota Motors, as means of improving the company’s business and research models for future products. The phrase “Lean Startup” is a term coined by programmer, entrepreneur, and author Eric Reis, who noticed that many tenants from the Lean Thinking methodology were being used fairly extensively in many areas of recent entrepreneurship. (The tech sector, in particular, where he found employment.)
In a nutshell, “Lean Thinking”, as the name implies, is where the reduction of waste becomes a high priority in the company during any given business cycle. ”Reductions” come in many different forms — it might include the elimination of unnecessary uses of resources, the establishment of clear and realistic goals in order to save personnel time, or the act of assigning the minimum number of staff to company projects in order to lower the likelihood of problems arising out of miscommunication. Though the idea itself has its origins in the Toyota corporation, the practice is in many ways a reaction against bureaucratic excess, giving preference to the outputs that come out of small, lean, and “agile” teams. It’s not so surprising, then, that these methodologies eventually found its way into small business practices where companies often have no choice but to make the most out of limited amounts of resources and staff.
As mentioned in the post earlier, what’s interesting is that there are many similarities in thinking between the “Lean Startup” methods of business and the methodologies that music improvisers often use in order to generate musical performances. Some parallels that I’ve noticed:
- As seen in the chart above, the lean process is circular and its processes continuously feeds back into itself in order to perpetuate a continuously generative form. I’ve read a couple of articles on topics of improvisation that have flowcharts that look fairly similar to the one above — the terminologies used are somewhat different, but the overall scheme can be said to be corresponsive. (Ideas -> [Translate (into an instrument)]->Performance -> [Play] -> Sound -> [Listen] -> Ideas, etc.) Note: The picture is just there for explanatory reasons — nobody actually goes around looking at flowcharts while working or playing. (At least, I hope not.)
- The reduced reliance on bureaucratic processes (notation and its customs/formalities) in order to get the job done.
- Both groups create methodologies based on outcomes that are largely uncertain. Improvising musicians face uncertain outcomes, while startups (especially those that are looking to create entirely new products) face uncertainty in market demand and supply.
- Increased emphasis on communication and collaboration, as opposed to rule systems, in order to govern decision-making processes. Actions and responses based on those decisions are done very quickly, and are purposefully kept flexible in order to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Shares a common ideology of “creating something out of nothing”. Acknowledges the fact that creativity requires periods of unstructured chaos before new models or ideas can be generated.
- An interest in community-based approaches. Improvisers often engage the audience directly through audience-participatory works, while the tech community in recent years have leaned towards interactive and user-generated content in order to sustain its customer’s interest. (Ex. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter).
- Due to budgetary constraints, many practitioners on both sides often own modestly priced cars made by Japanese companies. (I happen to own a Corolla — coincidence?)
- The Lean movement has been around long enough to produce sub-groups and sub-cultures of its own. The two main ones seem to be Kanban and Scrum — many of its core tenants are similar to one another but they differ in how its ideas are used and applied. This is similar to how jazz has evolved and produced numerous sub-genres and sub-categories (Latin Jazz, Free Jazz, Jazz Funk, etc.) during the 20th Century as well.
So lately I’ve been thinking that it might be interesting to try to put the two groups together, since there seems to be enough of a common cause to support each other’s interests. First I’ve been contacting people within the entrepreneurial community to see if they might need musicians to play at their events. The second would be to invite entrepreneurs to the performances that we put on and see what they think.
Any other ideas?