Developing A “Lean” Personality

One of the newest phenomenons in the marketing world is stemmed from the startup scene – The Lean Startup. Back in 2011, Eric Ries, who happens to be a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a trusted thought leader in the field of technology and the startup boom, argues that the best method of building a successful startup is through an iterative process, called an “agile process.” The premise of this development model is rooted in having a simple and dirty prototype to put out in the market, to test. This basic prototype, called “the minimum viable product” goes through numerous development cycles that are tried and tested by real users. Consumers, known as users in the technology world, provide live feedback through their interactions and data. And through this process of testing, iterating, modifying, pivoting and so on and so forth, emerges a perfect product. This continuous process of “build-measure-learn” is an infinite loop.

An oversimplification of Ries’ model has been a part of many industries for several decades. Research, product development and even business uses these principles – to build a perfect product, one must continuously work on improving the product, based on consumer feedback.

Can we learn something from this model in our personal lives? Can we apply an agile, lean development model to our personalities?

I sure hope so. 

Often times, humans learn from past experiences. Be it historic figures, or history itself. Be it from education or childhood and adolescent socialization. We learn from our friends, families, spouses and children. We learn from movies, music, books and the stranger in the supermarket or the lady crossing the road. We learn from old people, young people, infants and our peers. At work, in school, at the gym, or across the hallway; we learn. Consider this, data.

In the world of business and innovation, the way we learn to iterate and improve our products is through constant feedback and data from our consumers. Our consumers are our audience. And our audience is our reason for being in business. We deliver a superior product, and in return, we get incentives in the form of money and recognition.

This is how the world works.

From business to politics, we receive feedback and change our product. From astrophysics to medicine, we receive feedback and evolve our product. From sex to going grocery shopping, we give or receive feedback and evolve our product. Feedback is a blessing. Take it like it is one. And give it like it is one.

This is why the greatest minds in the world always had mentors. They were well read. They were well educated. And above all, they listened. But not only did they listen, they learned. What Ries would call, “iterated.” What philosophers would call, “evolved.” And what scientists would call, “improved.” This assimilation is what makes us humans great. We change based on the feedback we get. It is a part of our human condition. 

We listen, we iterate, we improve.

By definition, this evolutionary process is what brought us here. Our culture is a product of generations of assimilation and adoption. Through time, this culture has evolved. And so have our science, math, economics, and philosophy. And our religion. In the beginning there was Hinduism, and later Judaism. Today, not only have these two religions evolved in of themselves, but have given birth to new religions stemmed from the same root – like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and whatnot. In the beginning there were dinosaurs, and mammoths. As we grew, and our habits changed, the apes evolved into homo sapiens. If in doubt, ask a friend who recently got their appendix removed, or someone who is lactose intolerant. These evolutionary changes are stemmed from human decisions – to eat this way or that way, to believe in this over that, and to innovative in this direction rather than another.

As we evolve as a human race, we will change. That change is inevitable. We have to learn to accept it. Perhaps, in the future, Artificial Intelligence will be superior to human kind. Perhaps, in the future, the Earth will be a planet in ruins and we will have already migrated across the galaxies. Perhaps, cloning is God’s clue to us as the method of sustaining our bodies and minds. Perhaps.

Nothing is permanent. Everything evolves.

If we are certain of this evolution, then why do we fight it? Accept the change that faces us. More importantly, let us contribute to it. Every industry, across the board, is innovating and evolving. So is our mind. But not all of us have accepted the evolution of the mind. Only the enlightened are the privileged.

Are you enlightened?

The core of Ries’ “Lean model” is the customer. The core of marketing is also the customer. The core of politics is the voter. The core of any change in the world is rooted in the audience – the person who receives the change. Call it whatever you must – customer, consumer, users, human, whatever. But we live for others.

We are men and women for others. This is a central part of the Jesuit teaching. We are here to serve other people. We are here to give them what they want. We are here to educate, contribute, enlighten, and above all, listen. Perhaps, an extension of the Jesuit teaching is also to assimilate, evolve and change, after listening. 

If we truly live for others in our professional lives, why not live for others in our personal lives? We learn from our livelihood, that we must make our audience happy – no matter what industry you are in, you are tasked to serve your consumer. This is central to success in all professional fields. And this is central to the success of the human race.

However, in our personal lives, who is our audience? At home, at the gym, in our church, and in on our street, who is our audience? Do we consider our families, our friends, our peers, and our neighbors, our audience? Do we consider our parents, our siblings, our teachers and our maids, our audience? If not, I vehemently think we should. And if we consider them our audience, isn’t it important for us, as agents of change, and as moral, ethical people, to make our audience happy? How do we take up the Jesuit teaching and truly be men and women for others?

Agile development. The Lean method. 

Every single day, we receive data from our audience. We get feedback from the people in our lives. Some people we love, others we like, some we probably hate, and most we don’t know anything about. They are giving us feedback. Feedback that is a blessing. Do we receive it with open minds, or do we reject it and go back to our minimal viable product? Do we build, measure and learn, or do we remain adamant and just keep building without measuring, learning or assimilating? Little did I know that I would learn a valuable lesson about life from a theory about modern capitalism.

People around you are feeding you data. It is our human responsibility to accept it, reflect on it, and evolve to make us better. Not for us per se, but for our audience. In the end of the day, we, as the Jesuit teaching says, are men and women for others. How do we listen to the others in our lives and improve ourselves to make our audience satisfied. This is true happiness – for you and for the people around you.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot and be stagnated on the past. Don’t pigeon hole yourself, and be fixated on what life used to be like. An enlightened mind receives feedback like a blessing and changes for the better. Those fixated on the past will be weeded out of the system. Those bent in their old ways, will be thrown away. The ones who are quick to adopt, evolve and adapt, are the ones who will survive. This is the nature of the universe, as history has proven.

The next time you see a person stuck in his or her old ways, please share this piece with them. There is nothing more dangerous for humans than to be stuck on the past and refuse to change the present, for a better tomorrow. A better tomorrow is about having the most fruitful relationships with the people we love and care about today. If that means, giving the people in your life, what they want, then so be it. We are slaves to our consumers. And our consumers are the people around us. Is your personal brand liked by your audience? If not, then it is about time it is.

However, it is not a blind following of feedback that yields a perfect product – a perfect personality. Ries’ uses a method of hypothesis testing to validate consumer feedback. Medical researchers use samples of lab rats perhaps. Scientists use test subjects. So on and so forth. Being meticulous and diligent in receiving feedback and iterating your personality is another great skill of the enlightened. How do we test for the perfect personality then? Listen to the experienced, of course. Read, of course. Share, of course. Follow a mentor, of course. Reflect, of course. And the list goes on. If you are not pushing your mind to be enlightened every single day, then listening and evolving is as good as a waste of time.

This audience feedback loop has been an important part of most if not all of history’s major moments. Looking back at paradigm shifting changes from our past, they were all caused by the feedback of consumers. The industrial revolution, the communist revolution, the war against drugs, the Big Data revolution, the recession, the great depression, the birth of Christianity, and pretty much every single historic moment of our time has been the consequence of people’s reactions to their present condition. They evolved as a collective, when faced with feedback and advice. Broadly understood as opposing opinions, feedback has been the common factor of all major shifts in human kind. Revolutions are caused by constant evolution through assimilating feedback and evolving based on it.

Feedback is valuable. I would go as far as to call it as valuable as currency. Some currency is valued more than others. Some are bigger bills, and others are smaller ones. It is not about how many one-dollar bills you receive in life, but it is the skill of seeing a hundred dollar bill and treasuring it. Life will give us plenty of one-dollar bills – in the form of unsolicited advice and feedback, but an enlightened person can identity the one dollars’ from the hundred-dollar feedback. Once you figure this out, consider yourself rich, for you have cracked the code.      

The biggest challenge may be to pick out the good advice from the bad.

 Here is good advice:

An unexamined life is not worth living.


I wish you well. I wish you enlightenment. I wish you a bright future, for you and for the human race. I wish you a perfect personality.


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