Has This Been All a Waste of Time?
That question ran through my mind in the summer of 2012. I had just hung up the phone with a startup team that recently attended one of my multi-day Continuous Innovation workshops.
This particular team had been very engaged during the workshop and had demonstrated the biggest transformation in thinking. I had reached out to check up on them and was amazed to find that even though they still positively referenced many of the key takeaways from the workshop, they were hardly applying any of them.
For instance, it had been a month since the workshop, and they still hadn’t spoken to a single customer. When I asked why they cited a new release that they were waiting to complete. The release was (maybe) 6 weeks away.
I knew then that they had reverted to business as usual.
I was now really curious and decided to follow up with other past workshop attendees. While I was glad to find some evidence of the application of the Continuous Innovation Framework, I was still disappointed to see many teams simply cherry-picking the easiest versus riskiest aspects of their business models to test. Others had started running experiments with the best of intentions but then got stuck or discouraged after just a few failed experiments.
The core tenets of the framework weren't sticking.
That’s when it dawned on me.
The challenge for adoption wasn’t just motivation but overcoming old habits and new anxieties.
All these teams had been motivated enough to attend and make it through an intensive two-day workshop. There had to be other forces in their environment that sabotaged their declared intentions for putting these principles to practice.
Behavioral economics teaches us that even though we know that certain activities are good for us (like eating healthy, exercising regularly, and saving money), we struggle to implement them into our regular routines.
Adopting anything new takes effort. It requires us to go from being experts in the old way (the familiar) to becoming beginners in the new way (the uncertain). This is uncomfortable — especially when we are met with negative versus positive reinforcement (like a failed experiment). What happens next is quite predictable — we revert to the old way.
Once I understood this, I shifted my attention to studying causes for anxieties and ways to overcome old habits and establishing new habits around the practice of the framework.
A bootcamp was born…
That’s when I had the idea of running an immersive 10-week bootcamp. I would recruit the most motivated early adopters and lead them through a high-touch coaching program. My logic was that if I couldn’t get motivated early adopters to apply this framework successfully, there was no way it would work with more mainstream entrepreneurs.
To maximize learning, I needed a similar enough cohort of teams. I decided to focus on the journey from idea to first customers (Problem/Solution Fit). Apart from being the first stage in the product lifecycle, this period of a startup is also the riskiest and most underserved.
I launched the first bootcamp in September 2012 with just a napkin sketch of a curriculum and a unique value proposition of: “Go from idea to paying customers in less than 10 weeks”.
To recruit a diversity of teams, I decided to run this bootcamp remotely. I used live webinars to deliver weekly lessons, the online platform for coursework, and 1:1 sessions to provide personalized coaching. All very lean.
Even though everyone didn’t make it to problem/solution fit by the end of the first bootcamp, the transformation created was obvious.
So I doubled down…
I have since then run over two dozen bootcamps over the last six years with hundreds of startup and corporate teams spanning the globe — all delivered virtually from Austin, TX, where I live.
Each bootcamp was built on the previous one and underwent many iteration cycles and lots of experimentation. Along the way, I got to see what worked and what didn’t, patterns emerged, and more tools got built.
Immersing oneself in the world of customers and their problems is the best way I know to find solutions to problems worth solving. This is exactly how I wrote all my books and developed tools like Lean Canvas. And exactly how this bootcamp was also iterated from a high-touch coaching program to a repeatable and practicable set of stage-based playbooks.
In parallel, I got pulled into advising, training, and helping roll out several startup and corporate accelerator programs. I witnessed the same patterns and challenges to adoption there too.
Codifying and sharing my learning…
I started codifying and sharing my learning through train-the-trainer Coaching Lean workshops aimed at mentors, coaches, and educators, which I still run regularly.
Fast forward to today, we’ve trained hundreds of coaches and implemented these playbooks across hundreds of accelerators, universities, corporates, and thousands of teams.
As I have done with all my other products, I am ready to share these learnings more publicly through this newsletter.
My mission with this newsletter is to advance the practice of Continuous Innovation and help you achieve breakthrough innovation with your teams.
While we will certainly cover key concepts from the Continous Innovation Framework, my bigger objective here is to share coaching meta-skills, without which none of these principles ever get put into practice. Practice trumps theory.
Topics will include
How to instill the right mindsets in early-stage product teams
How to coach (not lecture) for transformation
How to coach any team in any industry, even if you don’t have domain expertise in that industry
How to scale your coaching efforts
How to best leverage your most valuable asset - time
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Life’s Too Short to Build Something Nobody Wants.