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The “Lean Startup” Movement: The Big-Bang vs. Start-Small Approaches to Going into the Future

By Jay Rao

These days, the Lean Startup Movement is in full swing, largely thanks to the momentum of important books such as The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The tomes popularize correct, useful, and powerful concepts that have been successfully practiced by select firms in certain industries for decades.

However, to get started understanding and teaching these concepts, it’s important to distinguish “Lean” and “Lean Startup.” The concepts, tools, and principles of Lean (quality, tqm and six-sigma) and Kaizen are very important for “incremental innovation.” The methods and techniques of Lean are as applicable on the revenue and customer side as they are for the cost and efficiency side. This approach is structured, analytical, and step by step.

On the other hand, the concepts and methods of Lean Startup are less structured; they are more about rapid prototyping, faster learning, and emergent strategy development. In short, they are more applicable to “radical innovation.” Specifically, the Lean Startup thinking helps us get away from the Big Bang approaches that most large firms, governments, and NGOs tend to prefer or use; at most times because of the lack of knowledge about alternatives. Lean Startup concepts are the right tools to use when there is uncertainty and ambiguity, i.e., in all startup situations and radical innovation (as opposed to incremental).

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Jay Rao

About the Author

Jay Rao teaches two MBA courses and Babson Executive Education programs. His research has appeared in The Sloan Management Review, Journal of Innovative Management, and the Academy of Management Executive. He is a member of the Innovation Board at Ocean Spray, has a family-business background and sits on the board of The HJKP Educational Trust (India).


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