Image: The Lean Startup Canvas from https://leanstack.com.
Every career choice is a hypothesis. Test yourself on your proposition and be prepared to pivot and adapt.
When I left my corporate role, my initial plans were a little vague. I knew I wanted better balance in my life. I knew I wanted to have a bigger impact on my personal purpose and I was prepared to make changes. I was deliberately taking time off to reflect but I wasn’t yet sure of whether I wanted another job or to start a business.
Because I had been involved in a startup, I had followed the development of Lean Startup thinking with keen interest. I also had ongoing conversations, with founders using the approach. As I pondered what to do with my career, I realised I had a chance to do the lean startup of me.
Expand Your Hypotheses
I had a few ideas of what I wanted to be involved in as I searched for new work and roles. These were my initial hypotheses. Some of these have proved to be valuable. Many were ruled out quickly because nobody else was interested in my offer or because the circumstances didn’t deliver the returns or impact on purpose that I wanted.
A simple example was that I initially thought I had an opportunity to work with startups or medium sized businesses. Firstly, these proved to be two completely different hypotheses with little overlap. In both cases, I found when there was money to pay mostly they didn’t want advice, they wanted outsourced management, access to my networks or some other proposition.
Also, I quickly discovered my initial hypotheses were too narrow and limited. People also started to offer me opportunities to do things that I had never considered before. Some of those opportunities, like the chance to join Change Agents Worldwide, to go to Do Lectures Australia, or the opportunity to work on development of a corporate university helped me expand my sense of what was possible.
Working through the hypotheses and pushing myself to consider the widest possible impact on purpose changed the work I do and the organisations that I chose to target dramatically. Along the journey I stopped looking for a job and became a consultant actively working in the future of work, customer experience and leadership (and starting up the business of me).
Relentlessly Test Hypotheses
You don’t know until you do. The only way to determine whether a proposition you have offers value is if someone is prepared to pay you enough and consistently enough to do it. There’s two points there:
- You need to do stuff
- People need to pay you consistently
When you are starting yourself up, there is a phase of networking and building profile. The danger is that networking and profile can be all consuming. Coffee and conferences can become your job. Growing networks can become your only return.
Get in and do things. Think like a startup and push yourself to do work every day. If you need to create a project to work on it, then do so. I found the best sales tool was when I was suddenly unavailable due to the volume of work. People started calling with work because I didn’t have time for coffee.
It surprised me how many people expected me to do work without being paid for it. I have done a few of those activities, not for the much offered ‘exposure’ but to prove to myself & others the value I can bring in an activity. However, once that is proved once it is time to make money or move on. Continued offers to work for free is a failed test of a hypothesis. Some times people will only pay when you’ve said no several times first.
Invest small and widely. There will be lots of temptations to put all your eggs in one basket, but remember each opportunity is a hypothesis to be tested. You don’t want to over invest in a proposition that won’t continue. I have turned down investment opportunities, jobs and partnership opportunities for this reason. I ended up deciding the best current scale for my business is me supported by amazing networks of the best talent from around the world, Change Agents Worldwide.
When someone asks me to go all in, I work with them to start with a small test instead. That way we both get to work out what is working and how much we want to invest together.
Remember time is the commodity that you have in greatest scarcity. Allocate your time to investments in your future with care. When people are wasting your time or don’t value it, allocate your time elsewhere.
The power of a platform, channels or a consistent community is the ability to run many tests at once. Startups use platforms to learn faster. You can do the same.
Your network is a platform. Strengthen it (remembering your network is not your job). Your thought leadership activities are another platform (remembering it rarely pays the bills). Work with people who have platforms to run better and faster tests on your propositions.
International Working Out Loud week was born out of some casual conversations and unmet needs. It was a fun experiment. As we work to develop the idea further, it offers a platform for additional experiments in the potential of working out loud as a proposition to help others.
Pivot or Persevere
Every day as you test your hypotheses you are going to adapt what you do. You will make small and large pivots. When things work you will persevere and work to scale them like mad.
Recognise also that somethings that work don’t scale. For example, I have put on hold plans to work with a range of startups in favour of working on a few businesses like Sidekicker where we share a view of what it will take to realise a big potential.
I don’t see my pivots as failures. They are just opportunities to wait for better timing, a better understanding of a client segment or a better proposition. I know I will do work with more organisations in healthcare or more medium sized businesses. It is just a matter of finding the right proposition. While I wait I work still, building capabilities that will help in that eventual proposition.
Be Uniquely You
When I started my work, I wanted to be like all the other successful people. Over time, I realised my unfair advantage was being me.
My skills and experiences are relatively unique at least in the markets that I am working in. That is a very good thing. Trying to make myself more like others dilutes my unique value.
Some people won’t like your uniqueness. You also won’t enjoy working for them. If being you is not good enough for some, that is a failed test and it is time to move on and find someone who wants you for you.
The Lean Startup of You
You don’t need to quit your job, start a business or to become an independent consultant to apply lean startup thinking to your career. Start asking yourself how you create the most value, how you can do more of that and experiment to make it possible. You might find it requires a change of job over time but a lot can be accomplished right where you are now.
The power of a lean startup mindset is accelerated learning. Make sure you are putting what you learn into new actions.