There are few things in life that I find more appealing than a well-constructed business lesson that has been developed into a system or framework.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- David Allen’s system for personal productivity (Getting Things Done)
- The Steve Blank system for Customer Discovery (best explained in this free Udacity course)
- The system that guides Spotify Engineering Culture
- The Pragmatic Marketing Framework for Product Management
- Clayton Christensen’s RPV (resources, processes, values) Framework (described in The Innovators Solution)
- Derek Lidow’s Projects and Processes Framework for developing businesses (described in his book Startup Leadership)
However, among all of these incredible lessons there is one missing:
None of these systems or frameworks are ever executed 100% to the letter. In most cases, I’d be willing to bet that even the people who authored the work never executed them in exactly the same way as they appear in print.
What’s underneath the surface here is a strong human desire to wrap ideas up nicely, and tie them with a bow. It’s a tendency that’s explored at length in Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From. In his studies, Johnson shows empirical evidence that innovation is a sloppy, up and down process. He then juxtaposes his research with the way that people describe their own innovation: “I had a eureka moment.”
We say that eureka moments exist because it’s the easiest and most flattering way way to explain to other people how we came across an idea. It’s much harder to explain the actual process of slowly putting together the pieces over time.
The business systems listed above are really the equivalent of the “eureka” fable: neat and superficial packaging.
Real life is much messier than that. Real life is all about gradients of adherence to ideals. Mixing and matching different pieces of each lesson until you get something that is appropriate for your circumstance.
The most powerful way to use each of the theories above is not as an instruction manual, but rather as a case study. Learn what you can from them and do what you have to do to succeed.