Striving for the Minimum Viable Product in Life
Perfection would be nice, but what about good-enough?
Is it our responsibility to set out for and accept only the best, or should we be focused on achieving ‘good enough’? When the quest for perfection constrains us, makes us unable to accept anything but than perfect, or worse-still puts us off trying in the first place, then perhaps good-enough would be a more appropriate goal?
There’s a trend within my working life towards Agile Project Management. The exact substance of Agile is largely irrelevant, but for context one of its primary aims is to bring forward results by breaking big problems into smaller chunks. The emphasis of Agile is to define the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for each element of the solution to the problem, and to build each of these in turn. The Minimum Viable Product then, is a list of must-have criteria that must be met to deem the delivery a solution that is good-enough.
The bells-and-whistles, the nice-to-haves and the icing for the cake may come later. The focus in Agile is to speed up the delivery of the basic cake itself, by delivering the MVP and then enhancing that where necessary.
As you’d expect, there’s a whole lot more to it than I’ve described, but I’m not here to educate you on Agile. In learning about how it works, I’ve become quite attached to the idea of striving to achieve the minimum viable product across many aspects of life to bring forward results, minimise procrastination and encourage action.
The pursuit of perfection is an admirable quest, and few would dispute that if you strive for mediocrity then that is the best you’re ever likely to attain. However, as desirable as perfection may be when sketching out elements of our ideal life, how many are put-off from even trying to achieve them as a result of placing such achievements on an untouchable pedestal?
How many people discourage themselves from taking up a cause on the basis that perfection seems an impossibility? If they stopped to consider whether perfection was really what they needed, then maybe they’d realise that their minimum viable product was within their reach with just a little concerted effort and focus.
It can feel daunting, demoralising and even depressing when faced with an endeavour, the achievement of which seems insurmountable. We set and carry goals that are seldom based on a pragmatic consideration of where we are now and where we want to get to. We don’t consider what would be good-enough to enrich and enhance our life. Instead the bold, audacious and seductive course of action appears to be to aspire for greatness, to reach the pinnacle and to settle for nothing but the best.
We aspire to the ripped-abs, single-digit body fat percentages and picture ourselves running marathons. Somehow, setting out for a modest improvement in health and a steady, consistent attendance at the gym and better dietary choices 75% of the time seems like the weak option, the cheat’s way out. How often though do those who aspire to the former fail or come up short, and end up back where they started? I suspect that those who set out with more modest intentions are often more successful in achieving their goals. The minimum viable product is attainable, and for this reason might be more motivating that the ‘guts and glory’ option.
In our business ventures and careers, we dream that the next move will be the one that defines our career, that the next product we launch will be the one that dominates the market and makes us our first million. Why though are these the only acceptable outcomes? Might not our next job be one that teaches us a new skill or affords us a further qualification, acting as a bridge to our eventual dream job? Shouldn’t we aspire to the next product launch being a means of connecting with new customers and maybe testing out an idea and learning something to take into the next iteration? Sure, if it becomes the one that sells beyond our wildest dreams then that’d be great, but is the minimum viable product not to connect, to learn, to grow and to seek to progress?
When we fixate on perfect, and build that up in our minds as the only acceptable outcome then we rob ourselves of the joy and satisfaction that could be taken from the achieving the minimum viable product.
Part of the satisfaction in any process of growth or improvement is in the recognition and accomplishment of goals; the micro-achievements and the stepping stones on the path to success. If we sacrifice ourselves on the altar of perfection too instinctively, then we are also writing-off the chance to recognise how far we’ve come in achieving the minimal viable product. It doesn’t mean that we can’t then push ourselves further, achieve more and build upon the foundations we’ve laid. Striving for the MVP though should be seen as good enough to start with.
It’s tough to define minimum viable product in the context of personal development and growth when the rhetoric pushes us to constantly strive for the greatest, to become the best version of ourselves we can be. At times though, maybe this puts too much pressure on finding our sense of direction and maintaining the self-belief to pursue it. Many who feel that the best is unattainable instead opt to do nothing, sticking with the safe, steady and occasionally disappointing status quo.
Thinking in terms of the minimum viable product is one possible way to cease the procrastination and overwhelm that can often accompany the setting of goals. The audacious goal is broken down to palatable and achievable chunks, the achievement of which take us in the same overall direction, which can only be a positive for those who find themselves daunted by the scale of the challenge.
“The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions”
With our minimum viable product defined clearly in our mind, we’re better placed to move forwards, acknowledging that there is more to our goals than the boldness and scale with which they are stated. The most important aspect is that they help to guide and motivate us to take action towards their achievement.
Toby Hazlewood is a writer, parent, husband, project manager, entrepreneur and in his spare time, a cycling enthusiast.
As founder of the Kintsugi-Life movement, he advocates treating times of hardship, challenge and adversity as an opportunity not just to survive or recover, but as a prompt to grow and strengthen, equipping ourselves to live a better, more fulfilled and successful life.
You can learn more about Kintsugi Life and receive a free video overview describing the Kintsugi Life concept, here.