Get out of the building to get out of your head

Steve Blank’s famous “get out of the building” call have permeated startup ecosystems around the world reminding entrepreneurs of the important quest to balance their hypothesis with tests in the real world.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs miss the main point and enter into the nightmare of forcing their storytelling opposite of what was suggested by Steve Blank.

As many successful entrepreneurs know, the expression fundamentally asks for entrepreneurs to get out of their heads, to start learning, to stop guessing, to give up on using few data points, to stop lying to themselves...you get the idea.

Because a lot of entrepreneurs are always in a hurry, and because they need to make quick decisions with partial data, they run the risk of not seeing the big picture. In this regard, I dug out another metaphor from Steve Blank — the 72 hour rule — to help as a reminder about the core problem. Next, I have summarized some entrepreneurial characteristics and, on the flip side, warnings to avoid risky situations. At the end, I close with a historical episode from Morse that is an inspiration about a way to look and act upon the challenges ahead of us.

Out of the building bias syndrome

According to Steve Blank in an interview with MAP, some entrepreneurs get out of the building but after initial interactions with limited data points, they come back to the office and announce sudden changes to the team:

“We need to pivot, we need to pivot, and we need to pivot again. Pivots, on one extreme, are now being used as an excuse for attention deficit disorder.” (Steve Blank @ MAP Unimelb, 2014, 23:51s)

The response for that is “the 72 hour rule” for founders:

Keep your mouth shut from when you think you got an insight to when you are allowed to announce the word “pivot,” inside your company. (Steve Blank @ MAP Unimelb, 24m34s)

Entrepreneur traits and side effects

In an attempt to look for the forces acting upon founders that push them to step into risky situations, I have compiled some founders’ standard traits and contrasted each of them with a balancing point about a potential side effect.

Being a believer — being too much of a believer can lead to rejection when, for example, one hears that her baby is ugly. Therefore, entrepreneurs need to monitor how they react when others disagree and how much they are willing to be open to feedback.

Having a goal — the leader quest is for something to change the world and the premise for the entrepreneur-believer is strong. Conversely, the residual risk would be the idea that the world is against them. According to Steve Blank, no matter how visionary they are, there is no way for them to be smarter than the collective intelligence of the customers.

Being a listener — Always being a listener is key. While that is a special trait, founders need to be able to also look at themselves, the process, and the program they are coordinating from another level. They need to bring the right advisors and considerations to balance possible misunderstandings that may arise as they need to make decisions quick.

Responsibility and proactiveness — A founder is proactive. He or she strategically moves to the center of the action to be responsible and to improve the chances to drive change. On the other hand, stepping up too abruptly may actually send the founder down a path of wasting time. An example would be when the founder feels the need to give an answer too quickly. It’s okay to think, reflect, and reason. Founders should be focusing on getting back to the main threads instead of living by the pressure of the moment.

According to Steve Blank, being a great founder is about figuring out which data to process and which data to discard. Therefore, getting out of the building should not be taken as a duty — like a job to be done. It’s a totally different idea; it’s a latent opportunity for reflection, testing, learning, and evolving hypotheses based in data and constraints that can support a promising business model.

Don’t force success, force reality constraints

To close this essay, I have included a historical event in the hopes of inspiring entrepreneurs to get closer to the reality of testing hypotheses. instead of forcing their lovely storytelling. In 1837, inventor Samuel Morse sought help from professor Leonard Gale. Together they wired about 10 miles of wire in a classroom and were able to explore a precursor version of the telegraph solution:

“Gale examined Morse’s setup and saw the solution at once. He had read Henry’s article describing an intensity battery and told Morse to wind hundreds of [feet of] wire around the electromagnet and use a battery of many cells rather than only one. Morse gave him a puzzled look but made the changes. Before long, he could send a message [about] a thousand feet. Then, in November, Gale strung reels of wire around his own classroom and sent a message ten miles.” Maury Klein, The Power Makers pg 106, 2008 edition

The metaphorical purpose of this event exactly resonates with the idea of seeking realities and additional data points. Whether you’re in the room or out of it, it does not matter.

What matters is the intention to explore assumptions, to seek multiple data points, and to learn in the attempt to bring ideas into the world, as opposed to continuing to procrastinate by inventing confined stories.

Steve Blank @ MAP Unimelb, Published on Mar 13, 2014 [video], https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFx2CQUTpYo

Maury Klein, The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America, 2008 edition.

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