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What Have We Learned?
By Eric Ries
As an entrepreneur, nothing plagued me more than the question of whether my company was making progress toward creating a successful business. As an engineer and later as a manager, I was accustomed to measuring progress by making sure our work proceeded according to plan, was high-quality, and cost about what we had projected.
After many years as an entrepreneur, I started to worry about measuring progress in this way. What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case, what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget? When I went home at the end of a day’s work, the only thing I knew for sure was that I kept people busy and spent money that day. I hoped that my team’s efforts took us closer to our goal. If we wound up taking a wrong turn, I’d have to take comfort in the fact that at least we’d learned something important.
Unfortunately, “learning” is the oldest excuse in the book for a failure of execution. It’s what managers fall back on when they fail to achieve the results they promised. Entrepreneurs, under pressure to succeed, are wildly creative when it comes to demonstrating what they have learned. We can all tell a good story when our job, career, or reputation depends on it.
However, learning is cold comfort to the employees who are following an entrepreneur into the unknown. It is cold comfort to the investors who allocate precious money, time, and energy to entrepreneurial teams. It is cold comfort to the organizations—large and small—that depend on entrepreneurial innovation to survive. You can’t take learning to the bank; you can’t spend it or invest it. You cannot give it to customers and cannot return it to limited partners. Is it any wonder that learning has a bad name in entrepreneurial and managerial circles?
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