The slow brood is a notion that Brian (aka, Cartesian Faith) and I have been toying with here at Chez Guevarowe for a while now. Slow brood is an intentional riff on such catchphrases as slow food, slow brewed, cold brewed—things that are good because they require a significant amount of time and preparation. Brian may write about his own take on the slow brood, but here is mine.
The slow brood is a habit of mind I bring into my business life from academia, where ideas naturally have a long gestation period. The slow brood resists some of the trends that make me uncomfortable about business, specifically within the lean startup industry. Let me be explicit on this point: It’s not that I think that lean principles are fundamentally incompatible with social enterprise, or that lean startups don’t have the potential for spectacular growth and impact. What I take issue with, rather, is a very particular application of the methodology and the culture it fosters.
While I subscribe to the principle that fledgling enterprises should curb their ambitions and start small (I went through a lean startup for social good course myself), the way the method is taught in lean startup workshops can lead practitioners into the realm of the ridiculous. I refer to weekend bootcamps where participants are organized into teams, and each team must “develop its problem hypothesis, solution hypothesis and a series of assumptions which are core to the success of the business.”
Now consider the inspirational anecdotes we hear during these workshops. The general narrative goes like this: Oops, the “problem” we wanted to solve turned out not to be a problem for anyone at all! So what’s next? Pivot, pivot, pivot, ’til…bingo! Not only is the service/product we ended up launching totally different from what we initially planned (that can be a good thing), but the very problem itself has changed. So, ultimately, it’s not the need of your customer that you care about. In this model, who your customers are and what you’re trying to help them accomplish matter much less than finding customers with an actual problem you can solve.
This is all cloaked in scientific terms (hypothesis, test, experiment), though I suspect that the ready embrace of failure lends itself to lazy planning and shortsightedness, for you can always pivot. “This is just our MVP” can be another way of saying We put this together without thinking too deeply about it.
Yes, startup weekends are meant to be an artificial exercise, but success stories of sustainable businesses that come out of those weekends encourage and perpetuate what Brian calls “panning for gold.” Basically, you come up with an idea that’s easy to execute (remember, you’ve got to be able to build that MVP in a weekend) and hope that it catches on enough to make money.
Meanwhile, who’s attending to the big ideas? Who has the time, head space, and quiet to come up with them amid the rush and the noise? Who has the ability to write these ideas out? (And then who will have the patience to read them?) The expectation is that you be able to pitch such ideas in 30 seconds or less.
Ease is the currency for acceptability and popularity. Because the money people demand readily digestible ideas, especially ones that have already been “proven,” there is little room for fresh thought. Instead, we shoehorn ideas into pat analogies: “It’s like X for Y!” And just as this formula stifles creativity in Hollywood, so it inhibits real disruptive change. The very structure of the phrase requires any “new” ideas to be recognizable, to fit within already established categories. Anything too far ahead of its time is not perceived as brilliance. It’s just plain untimely.
But still I insist, and with a good bit of urgency: Let’s talk about the slow brood because we must, because circumstances demand it. Dialogue is essential to the growth of ideas, but ideas also need protracted periods of time to ferment in one’s mind. Real change will be imagined and elaborated over months, if not years. If you are too impatient for that, you’re in the wrong line of work. So, dear friends and readers, I invite you to start now: Give yourselves over to the #slowbrood. Let’s think and talk and think some more. I’d love to hear what you come up with.