The Lean (Entrepreneurship) Reading List

Vacation time is upon us. And if you are like me, you will have an impossible list of books you would like to read.

But rather than telling you all the books I still want to read, let me share with you my list of books I have already read and can recommend for one reason or another. They all share a common thread – they are all exploring ‘Entrepreneurship”. Both inside of established companies or in startups.

The term Lean Startup was first publicized by Eric Ries in his Book with the same name. (Cashing in on the popularity he subsequently trademarked the term). In his book he is describing his experiences of implement the ‘Customer Development’ process from Steve Blank. Steve Blank was a member of the board of his startup at that time.

Which brings us to Steve Blank. He is teaching Entrepreneurship at the Stanford University and has formalized his experience as entrepreneur and mentor in a process called Customer Development. He published the process the first time in his book The four steps to epiphany. It is still a worthwhile read. Steve Blank subsequently incorporated the works from Eric Ries and Alexander Osterwalder into his own thinking and published The Startup Owner Manual last year.

Alexander Osterwalder is best known for his Business Model Canvas which he subsequently publicized in his book Business Model Generation.

Based on the Business Model Canvas Ash Maurya developed his Lean Canvas and published Running Lean.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint) the above approaches are heavily influenced by the Silicon Valley startup culture and have only limited value within established companies.

In those kind of circumstances I found the work from Clayton Christensen on his Theory of Disruptive Innovation highly relevant. His classic The Innovators Dilemma is still a fascinating read. But beyond just analyzing the root causes of why well managed companies fail, he proposes an alternative framework for dealing with disruptive innovation in The Innovators Solution. If you are an intrapreneur or managing an inhouse-incubator, this is the one book you ought to read.

Interestingly only Clayton Christensen is referencing one of the foundational works on which Lean Startup/Customer Development appears to be based upon – the so called Emergent Business Strategy. It is building upon research by Rita McGrath (and others) at the Harvard Business School. Rita McGrath and Ian McMillan published a first paper on Discovery-Driven Planning in summer of 1995. They further refined their work in the book Discovery-Driven Growth.

Since there is now an almost inflationary ‘Lean’ hype, it often pays to go back to where ‘Lean’ started – to ‘Toyota’. While ‘Lean’ is mostly associated with the production processes, I personally find the book The Toyota Product Development System more relevant. It is an inspiring read, even though most of its concrete practices are rooted within the Toyota culture and can not be applied literally in other settings.

To step outside of the ‘Lean’ hype, there are books which describe very similar approaches without using the word ‘Lean’ at all. The book If You Build It Will They Come by Rob Adams describes a process very similar to Customer Development, but from a marketing perspective.

And while the hype is all about startups and venture funding I have a special fondness for the little guy, the SMB market. I think Tim Berner ought to be included in any kind of review of books and tools for entrepreneurs. What is makes the SMB market special is that it is not funded by VC money, but instead relies on bank credits. And no bank is willing to give you a credit for a ‘Business Model Canvas’, but instead requires an old fashioned business plan. Tim Berner has been pushing on combining the traditional business plan with the kind of agile, discovery-driven planning processes mostly characterized as ‘Lean Startup’. I found his book The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan a refreshing reminder of the other 95% of businesses which do not have the luxury to burn through VC money but have to make ends meet the old-fashioned way.

if I can convince you to read at least one of the books from my favorite Lean (Summer) Reading list, then this blog will have been worth it. I would love to hear from your what other books you have found and why you would recommend them.

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