The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Eric Ries, New York: Crown Publishing, 2011.

Review by Trevar Riley-Reid

Entrepreneurs and librarians might not drink from the same water hole, but author Eric Ries illustrates how his Lean Startup model is applicable to any organization in any field. He defines an entrepreneur as anyone who tries to build an organization under conditions of extreme uncertainty. As library budgets continue to be slashed and librarians from all sectors are told to “do more with less,” we are well acquainted with the notion of trying to accomplish a great many things with few resources and having to reinvent ourselves or our programs to appeal to the ever-changing needs of our users.

Ries contends that oftentimes the goals of a business don’t always match the ways consumers want or need a product or service. Most startups, new products and new ventures fail at some point or simply don’t live up to their full potential. The key concept behind the Lean Startup model, which is an adaptation of a management style taken from the leaders of Toyota Motors, is to create an atmosphere that enables new ideas to flourish while exploring ways to eliminate waste. Sometimes as hard as it might be, the best way forward might be to ditch what you have and start over from scratch.

This book is a fairly quick read; the writing is fluid and informal. There are three main sections: vision, steer and accelerate. The chapters which comprise the vision section focus mainly on ways to experiment in order to achieve desired results. The steer section explores ways to measure progress and to determine the next steps of action. Should the plan stay the course or do we need to pivot and go in a completely different direction? The final section of the book, accelerate, deals with ways to adapt to the environment in order to grow and further innovate.

According to Ries, the myth that gets perpetuated in the media is that hard work and perseverance, along with past predictors, are automatic indicators of success. He argues the world is more and more uncertain and the old ways of working are simply not applicable. The management of the last century does not work for the uncertainty of today’s marketplace.

Ries is co-founder of IMVU, the internet startup company where users create their own avatars to socialize with others, to chat or to play games. Throughout the book, Ries uses a number of specific examples from his experiences at IMVU along with the case studies of a variety of companies such Intuit, Grockit, Zappos and Hewlett-Packard. Frustrated with traditional methods and approaches to entrepreneurship, Ries sought other theories to put to the test and came up with the Lean Startup model which emphasizes experimentation and really getting to know the needs and behaviors of customers in order to build a better product or service.

There is a “just do it” sense about this book, but despite that, Ries also emphasizes the fact that the boring and mundane nitty-gritty everyday stuff also matters too. The idea is to follow the right process: to work smarter and not necessarily harder and to overcome the legacy thinking in order to build an innovation factory which encourages employees to experiment.

The takeaway here for librarians and other information specialists is that in order to succeed, there must be failure; we must fail in order to learn. Success hinges not only on the failures—but on the speedy response and subsequent maneuvers (what Ries calls the pivot) which can make the difference between something that limps along and something that transcends expectations. Don’t let the title of this book fool you into thinking that librarians can’t benefit from its message. Seasoned professionals or those in a managerial capacity can certainly get ideas about making better decisions and moving their organization forward. Newcomers to the profession can definitely benefit from its “think outside of the box” rhetoric. We can all be inspired to aim to achieve more with far less.


Reviewed by: Trevar Riley-Reid.  Trevar is a recent MLIS graduate from the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers University; she is also a reference librarian and digital archivist at Kean University in Union, NJ.