There is no question at this point that 2009 is the worst economy we've all seen since the great depression. Good people are getting laid off left and right because their employer just doesn't have work for them. And of course it's very hard to get hired from outside a company that is the middle of layoffs. This clearly won't last forever, but I believe it will last for some time. What is a lean-minded person to do when faced with this reality?
Start your own business. There are three things that I believe make true lean thinkers potentially great entrepreneurs.
1. Customer obsession: A lean thinking is obsessed with providing value to customers. Most businesses are started up with this basic mindset. How can you provide value to customers? What are customers missing? Think about what consumers or businesses or even government and other entities are missing. Think about how you could solve a problem that they have. Too many wanna-be entrepreneurs start with a solution and then go looking for a customer, only to find out they are providing something that adds value. A lean thinker wouldn't make that mistake. Start with how you could add value to a group of potential customers, and develop a solution around that. The solution could be a service or product. It doesn't even have to be new. It could simply be a gap in the market, such as the local lawn-moving service seems to do a really poor job and doesn't solve the customers full set of problems as well as you might.
2. Direct observation: Whether you call it direct observation, or going to the gemba, a lean thinker knows how to go to the point of activity and gather the ground truth current reality about any problem. This is critical in starting a business. You need a firm grasp on current reality. You need to understand the problem first hand, because you will be solving it first hand.
3. Respect for people: Very few businesses start up only on the backs of the sole founder. It takes a team. It takes the energy, commitment, and alignment of the early employees, regardless of what skill level they begin from. Getting the initial team excited, on board with your vision, and moving forward together is a major accomplishment, and what better than a lean thinking to accomplish it.
This nation's economic success has always depended on entrepreneurs. It is the major source of job growth. And of course if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of not having a job, maybe this is a time to take those lean skills in a new direction.
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