Barry O’Reilly is excited to welcome Eric Ries to the Unlearn Podcast. Eric is an entrepreneur who currently heads the Long Term Stock Exchange. He is best known, however, as the author of the international bestseller: The Lean Startup.

The principles of Lean Startup were birthed from seeing many startups and Silicon Valley companies fail for lack of customer engagement, slow iteration, and long feedback cycles—experiences that inspired Eric to think about different ways to work. He shares how he discovered, and subsequently helped people unlearn many of the methods that were holding them back, and relearn counterintuitive methods to help them succeed in situations of high uncertainty.

Pioneering Change

In his early days at IMVU, Eric found himself constantly explaining why his new methods had merit. At one point he had to decide whether to continue to advocate for his ideas or agree to work the conventional way. He chose to advocate for what he believed in. He reflects that had he not had the courage of his convictions he would never have found out who his ideas resonated with. [Listen from 3:25]

Counterintuitive ideas cause frustration and difficulty for people. If counterintuitive thinking is key to the success of your business culture, then you need to help people rewire their brains. To have reform, and move people to the next steps, you must find the sweet spot between familiarity and novelty: you can’t be too radical, or too conservative. [Listen from 8:35]



Principles and Long-Term Vision

Business strategy must be guided by principles in the context of a long-term vision. Barry commends Eric for the iterations he made to his business over time, which were guided by a continuous loop of customer feedback and testing new features in small batches. Eric shares the many pivots he had to make noting that you can always change strategy, but keep the vision. [Listen from 18:10]

Opening Minds Through Empathy

Eric says that he has spent years trying to understand what would it take to change public companies from being short-term focused on multi-stakeholder long-term focused organizations. He would often face vehement opposition from officials when he promoted his ideas. He notes that when people vehemently oppose an idea, method or technique but their reasons are poor, it’s usually a signal that they’re reacting emotionally, trying to protect the status quo. Barry adds this is a behavior he also sees a lot when people don’t deeply understand why they’re doing what they are doing, missing underlying principles instead of sticking to the only practice they know. [Listen from 23:30]

Eric is sympathetic because he understands: they’re trying to do a difficult, often thankless job, using the tools and techniques they’ve refined over years. He represents a threat to their comfort zone. He tries to understand what they care about so that his plans and ideas are compatible with their values. They appreciate his respectful approach and work with him to find a comfortable compromise. Empathy, he finds, is the path to greater effectiveness. [Listen from 32:35]

Barry agrees that empathy is key. It leads to mutual understanding. If you are willing to listen to people and they feel that they’re being heard, the quality of information that you get just skyrockets. When you have high-quality information and a good decision-making process, you have a better chance of getting the results you want. [Listen from 36:50]

Changing the World

Our grandparents built the institutions that were needed in their world, with the institutional infrastructure that their time demanded. Our world today is very different, and those institutions – hotels, hospitals, unions, schools, and universities – are all collapsing at the same time. Eric says that we need to establish the institutional infrastructure that our time demands. If we fail in our responsibility to confront these problems on our society’s behalf, we will soon be replaced. [Listen from 38:40]

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Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results by Barry O’Reilly

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