Lean and Mean

The ‘Lean’ (as in ‘Lean Startup‘) methodology may prove instrumental in guiding us into the Information Age, but perhaps it is time to disassociate ourselves from the perceived need to be ‘Mean,’ at least within the context of entrepreneurship. If we agree that we’re striving to contribute to society and improve upon the human condition, we might want to be mindful of the language we use in the process.

Here are a couple of quotes to support my position. I always welcome any feedback to the contrary, all the while making no claims whatsoever that I am immune to cognitive dissonance.

So you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become fascinated by how close you can walk without losing your balance. Richard Milhous Nixon

These sounds like the words of someone with a death wish. Without question:

Risk is a necessary component of every entrepreneurial endeavor.

Nevertheless, pathological ideations in a group setting can lead to the ruin of many lives. That’s the reality. I’ll spare you the history lesson.

In America, we hurry–which is well; but when the day’s work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us…we burn up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into a lean and mean old age at a time of life which they call a man’s prime in Europe…What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally and renew our edges! Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Anger can be a great motivator. Over time, it will wear you down, if it doesn’t kill you outright. In the meantime, it might turn you into a miserable bastard no one else wants to be around or worse, foster an angry mob.

A German boy must be lean and mean, quick like a greyhound, tough as leather, and hard as Krupp steel. He must learn self-denial, to endure reproaches and injustice, to be reliable, silent, obedient, and loyal. Motto of the Hitler Youth

I do not consider myself a Pacifist, nor do I advocate rolling over in the face of adversity. Self defense is our prerogative. Rather, I caution against exclusionary, adversarial tactics.

It’s worth noting that both Stages Three and Four require an adversary. When we work with people and groups, people in Stage Three groups will say, ‘I’m great because I sold more last quarter than anyone’ or ‘I just bought a huge house.’ They begin to notice that these statements are all comparative, netting out to ‘I’m better than others.’ At Stage Four, people will say, ‘We’re great because our team is winning’ or ‘We have the best people.’ Again, this language system implies ‘We’re better than them.’ At Three, the enemy is other individuals. At Four, it’s another group, or a company, or even an industry. Only at Stage Five does the need for an enemy go away. Dave Logan and John King, Tribal Leadership

Logan and King are referring to the Five Tribal Stages, the fifth of which is embodied by altruism, a focus on values, a ‘noble cause.’ At this stage, the need for adversaries vanishes. After all, we’re in this to make the world a better place, together. Aren’t we?

Are you operating like it’s “You Against the World?”


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