Steve Blank: to solve the problems of the world

We were just congratulating start-up thinker (is that a better term Steve than guru?) and global problem solver (too grand a term maybe?) Steve Blank for the latest post he put up on his site about how “When Product Features Disappear” from our gadgets because companies like Apple or Amazon or Tesla decided to change the features or rules of the game, or due to some legal, technical, or even deadline issues. We were a great fan of Amazon, in spite of our great love for traditional physical books, but we now vow not to buy anything digital, or at least avoid it unless absolutely urgent. The last ebook we bought, incidentally, was “Holding A Cat By The Tail,” by Steve Blank. We just checked now, and we got billed for the book November 15, 2013. Just two days after we got a reply from Raghavender Sandan, described as Executive Customer Relations of, acknowledging the email we sent to Jeff Bezos. The issue we had with Amazon was that, once the free trial of the Prime subscription ended for our Kindle Fire, our magazines, that we had already paid for (Bloomberg, Philosophy Now, DotMed, India Today, Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review), disappeared. Or at least the old issues disappeared. This is because you are only allowed 7 magazines to be in your device, and according Sheila D. of Amazon customer service, 14 will be allowed in your Amazon cloud. Wow, we did not know that when we subscribed to those magazines: and we wasted a lot of time trying to get the transfer from our account to Cloud, but could only get 7 so far not 14, but we do have the 7 in our device, when we used to have maybe 20 or 30 or maybe even more. Whatever it is, we like to have our magazines, like our physical and digital books, easily accessible as reference, entertainment, inspiration, or security blanket. We cancelled all our subscriptions, except for DotMed, which is not readily available here in Manila. We are going back to hard, tactile, materially existent magazines.

Not having any propensity to writing fan mail, we found ourselves congratulating Steve for his post, which for us was very perceptive, and timely: he is not only a great educator and inspiration for start-up entrepreneurs, but he is a great advocate for consumers, both requiring different sets of radar systems to detect important Unidentified Flying Objects. Proof of our admiration for Steve is we bought his ebook (no hard copies for this compilation of blog entries) in spite of our issues with Amazon.

Steve Blank: photo from Wikipedia

Steve Blank: photo from Wikipedia

It just dawned on us that Steve might just visit our blog and find out that we did not include him in our list of important books on business and organizations. Imagine how embarrassing that is after gushing about being his biggest fan. He can actually be number 1 in our list if we were to do a list in order of importance. Why is he not there?

The answer is simple: we don’t associate Steve with a book, the way we associate Drucker with say “People and Performance;” or Ram Charam with “Execution.” We associate Steve Blank with some of the most visual, effective, and realistic words, ideas, challenges, and mental pictures of what it means to be a start-up and an entrepreneur, to scale, to pivot (with his student Eric Ries for the word pivot, of course). You find him in his books, youtube, workshops, seminars, quotes from other gurus and former students, interviews (like David Kidder’s “The Start-Up Playbook”). One of our partners, anti-capitalist and a published fiction writer, was convinced to help us build Sunfu by reading and listening to Steve, on start-ups as works of art by artists, as problem solving engines to some of the most pressing health issues, start-ups being essentially out there to discover and solve the needs of the world, not just “the customer.”

Our ultimate tribute to Steve Blank is we mention him in our company meetings, we share his ideas, and we quote him often, maybe too often, and perhaps he is the only management/business “expert” we have been consistently quoting. So we end this post with a quote from his book, his collection of blog entries, “Holding A Cat By The Tail,” which we read out loud just last Monday to our team in our company-wide meeting, and after reading the passage, re-read it in Filipino, just for emphasis. Here it goes (Chris our youngest colleague said the quote answered many of his questions about start-ups):”If you can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if you can’t bias yourself for action and if you wait around for someone else to tell you what to do, then your investors and competitors will make your decisions for you and you will run out of money and your company will die. Therefore the best way to keep alive is to instill in every employee a decisive mindset that can quickly separate the crucial from the irrelevant, synthesize the output, and use this intelligence to create islands of order in the all-out chaos of a startup.”

Our favorite quote though comes from another page of the book: “Both founders and entrepreneurial employees prefer to build something from the ground up rather than join an existing company. Like jazz musicians or improv actors, they prefer to operate in a chaotic environment with multiple unknowns. They sense the general direction they’re headed in, okay with uncertainty and surprises, using the tools at hand, along with the instinct to achieve their vision. These types of people are rare, unique, and crazy. They’re artists.”

The management mantra in our company for its leadership is: “get out of the building,” to learn about the world and its needs and problems: “get out of the building” comes from Steve Blank. We practice what Steve has experienced by “getting out of the building,” and he has shared the lessons by being out there. If you want to solve the problems of the world as an entrepreneur, employee, scientist, revolutionary, artist, writer, teacher, or student, read him.