In the lean start-up theory, there’s a very popular concept called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The idea is that you don’t build the whole shiny expensive product and then launch it on the market and see the market response (because maybe nobody will buy it and the investment for doing that is big), instead you build the minimum set of features needed to start learning about what the market really wants. The MVP is the smallest thing you can build that tests the value you’ve promised to the market. You build an MVP to start learning about market needs and getting customer insights; or, if you want a fancier definition, a minimum viable product is the product with the highest return on investment versus risk.
An important part of the MVP concept is that you stop thinking about the big picture and about your desired final outcome, and start thinking about immediately creating value and learning about your potential customers. You’ve probably heard Mike Tyson’s quote that everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. That’s why you have to test all the small parts of your plan, regularly getting feedback and constantly adjusting. In the lean startup philosophy, that’s also called testing your hypothesis with an MVP (validated learning).
The important emphasis is also that the MVP is not only a crappy or minimal version of your final product, but a strategy and process aimed towards making and selling a product to customers. It’s a process of idea generation, prototyping, presentation, data collection, analysis and learning.
In the startup world, you learn the most when you have direct contact with a market – with your potential clients or customers, everything else before are nothing but your personal assumptions and assumptions from your team; and as you know, wrong assumptions are the mother of all fuckups and you’re usually wrong before you’re right. When you have the MVP and are in contact with your market, you can engage in the build-measure-learn feedback loop. You can test and add or remove feature by feature of your product by building it, measuring results with carefully chosen metrics and learning about market response.
MVPs in business can be landing pages (smoke test), explainer videos, e-mail tests, crowdfunding campaigns, concierge MVPs (manual service instead of a product) and so on. A popular method is also called a Wizard of Oz MVP (or Flinstoning), where you put up a front of the webpage that looks like a real working product, but you carry out product functions manually. There are many ideas for testing and comparing your assumptions (subjective reality) to actual market needs (objective realities); the point is that you don’t fully commit and put all eggs in one basket based just on your ego and what you believe is true. Because at the end, the market always wins in business, no matter what your beliefs are.
To summarize, the purpose of an MVP is to accelerate learning about the customers and the market, to be able to test hypotheses (your assumptions) with minimal resources, to reduce waste such as engineering hours and financial resources, to get the product to early customers as soon as possible and to have really good customer insight into which features you should actually build. An MVP is also the basis for the final product.
An MVP doesn’t only save you a lot of money and energy before getting a market response and prevents you from failing big, it can also help you avoid becoming a zombie company. A zombie company is a company that finds itself in a situation where there’s no death, no growth, no progress and no moving ahead. It’s consuming an enormous amount of resources and is a terrible drain on human energy. A zombie company is a company stuck in the land of the living dead.
It’s no different in your personal life. You don’t want to fail big in any area of life after a big investment, and you want to become a zombie even less. The MVP concept from the lean startup philosophy can help you with that. Let’s see how.
Using the MVP concept in your personal life
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in life is committing to something that isn’t really you, investing your whole self into something that isn’t your perfect fit. One of the biggest wastes in life is doing something you don’t really want, something that you don’t really enjoy. And people do a lot of that shit. They commit to wrong jobs, wrong people, wrong diets and wrong investments.
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In order to not fail yourself and your needs, you must first know yourself and all the options you have in life really well. If you want to be successful in life, you have to know yourself and what you want out of life very clearly, and the best way to get to know yourself and your environment is by experimenting, reflecting and learning. The best way to do personal validated learning is introducing the so-called search mode into your life, testing what your best fits are by using the MVP concept.
The core idea is that when you’re in the search mode, you shouldn’t have any expectations, you shouldn’t have any commitments and you shouldn’t do any hard work. Expectations lead to disappointments and before you understand something, you definitely have expectations that are completely wrong. Commitments lead to heavy energy investments, and you shouldn’t be investing before you know what you’re truly investing into and whether the investment really fits your character. Hard work should always also be smart work, but you can’t work smartly if you don’t have the right map and coordinates.
In the search phase, using the MVP concept, you just try, experiment, observe, reflect and learn about yourself and the world. The most important thing is to have no fixed ideas and no expectations at all in this phase. Your only job is to test the assumptions you’ve written down, correct them, and try different things to find out what suits you best. Your only job is to learn about yourself and the world. No goals. No measurement of progress. Just learning and playing.
To do that, you need MVPs. The idea of MVPs is to not only talk about things (what you should try, what you think you may like etc.), but to go and try them. You don’t assume, you go out and test. Testing and trying is the best way to gain firsthand knowledge about yourself and the world. For every new experience you get, you should decide whether to keep it in your life or not (pivot or presevere). Every new experience should also give you ideas and insights into what to try next. The difference between what you think is valuable to you and what really is valuable for your life creates waste.
Don’t assume anything, try and test everything.
The best thing ever is that today, it’s so easy to test and try everything. You have so many options, access to knowledge and many different disciplines in sports, arts, business and other areas in life you can try and test. You can really have a lot of fun testing and trying in today’s times. The world is basically an endless pool of possibilities.
At the end of the day, you must find your best fits and have your dream life composed like a beautiful mosaic – perfect diet, best exercise, best-fitting career, investments best suited to your character, perfect partner etc. The problem, of course, is that you only have one life and every experiment takes quite a lot of time. That’s why you need to use the MVP philosophy. You need to invest the minimum amount of effort possible into learning if something is your fit or not.
Minimum viable experience and emotional accounting
Instead of calling it Minimum Viable Product, let’s call it Minimum Viable Experience. The idea is that you try as many things as possible in life (your vision list), and based on your physical, emotional and intellectual response, you decide whether you should keep something in your life or pivot to something else.
To really use the MVP or MVE concept, you of course need to try something new in life, but you also need a system to measure feedback. The system for measuring feedback and your progress is called emotional accounting. The simple metric is that if you like something, if you enjoy a thing, activity or person, then keep it. If you like and enjoy something, then that thing probably fits you well. You can also set more complex metrics based on your goals, values and what matters to you.
Here are two examples from the Agile and Lean Life Manifesto:
There’s plenty of advice on fitness and diet. You can even find contradictory advice. But you can test what works and what doesn’t work for you as an individual. For someone, being vegetarian is the optimal diet. For others, far from it. There is no single formula for success. You can only try vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian, paleo and other verified diets until you find the one that suits you best. It doesn’t make sense to only read about it or argue about it, you have to try it for yourself and see. With no expectations and by keeping an open mind. After the search phase and finding what works for you best, you can execute (keep, set goals, measurements…) by optimizing details.
In this case, an MVP would be the new diet plan that you stick to for a few weeks. In addition to that, you also need a measuring system. That can be your weight, fat percentage, energy level and so on. Smart scale can be a great help with that. You can record what you eat, how you feel after a certain food and the kind of results you’re getting. You must also take into account that every change brings new stress into your life, so the first few days shouldn’t count as relevant feedback; but after a few months, you should definitely have a clear picture of what works for you and what doesn’t, where to persevere and where to pivot.
The second example would be looking for a new career. Your emotions mirror your complete dissatisfaction in your current career. Here’s how you would tackle this challenge in the first phase of an Agile and Lean Life. In your free time, you write down assumptions for careers you think you could blossom in. You start testing how much passion awakens in you when reading about specific industries, you join forums and attend online courses etc. You take some part-time projects, even for no payment, just to see how engaged you become. You continue experimenting until you find the new perfect fit for you. Then you go into the execution phase. At the end, you may find that design is your thing after trying to prepare an outstanding CV for a completely different industry.
An MVP in this case would be to execute a small project in your free time or do some additional work as a sole proprietor or whatever, just to learn about the industry and the new career you want to undertake. First you have to learn and only then can you fully commit.
Here are some other ideas and examples:
- You can try dozens of sports before you commit to any of them.
- You can do the same to discover your perfect investment profile, the competences you should develop, the things you enjoy in life, the technology you should use and maybe even a religion or life philosophy you should follow.
Here, you can find many ideas for the areas you should test and experiment in: Your life strategy
Minimum viable partner
The same concept also applies to relationships. You can’t just commit forever when you meet someone for the first time. It should be a process of milestones and small commitments that get bigger with time, much like the definition of an MVP states that it’s not about the product, but about the process.
There are around 7 billion people in the world. Most of them aren’t even close to being your fit, but a few are – in business and personal life. And you have to find them. Of course people who fit you best are people who have values and beliefs similar to yours, but are at the same time different enough that they can enable you to grow and learn. But how can you find them?
The key idea is that you first know what you want in relationships. Making personas and then testing your assumptions can help you with that a lot. Soon after experiencing a few relationships, you should know very well what your minimum viable partner is like, what are the mandatory characteristics a person must have in order for you to have a deep relationship with them.
When you know what you like and what you don’t, and what the deal breakers are, you can further explore what the purpose of every relationship in your life is, which relationships you should persevere in and which people you should remove from your life. You should date, meet and engage with as many people as possible. Again, you should have personal metrics to measure whether a relationship is giving you what you expect, be it emotionally, time-wise or however.
Another key point is to commit to relationships gradually. You don’t get married after the first date and you don’t form a joint venture after the first meeting. You can perform little relationship tests to see if a relationship is something you want. Usually that happens spontaneously (talking, first kiss, sex, taking a trip together etc.), but people often commit themselves to relationships too soon; and even more often, people stay stuck in relationships they don’t like (forever).
Since you don’t want to become a zombie, you have to constantly measure the quality of your relationships – what you give and what you get. Even after passing all the minimum viable experiences and fully committing to someone, you should somehow measure if you’re surrounded by people who empower you and make you happy. If not, you’re doing big damage to yourself and others.
Interested versus committed
Being interested in something definitely doesn’t mean being committed. Although interested isn’t being committed, you should only be interested at first. You should be curious, playful, and eager to discover. You should not think about commitment, but only learn and try new things.
But at one point, when you find the right thing, the right person, when you find your fit, you should commit. Really commit; and it shouldn’t be hard. Because when you find your fit, you know that this is exactly what you want and if you really want something, you’ll find a way; if you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. Now go play with the MVEs in your life.