Street Level Learning

Street Level Learning

I had the pleasure of leading the London Startup Leadership Program class on Lean Startup methodology. Rather than dwell for too long on the theory of the methodology itself (it’s not something you can master in 3 hours), we tried to take a leaf out of Steve Blank’s book, and encourage all the fellows to “just get the f*** out the building”.


The purpose of the class was not to digest pre-made content (we had sent out reading/watching materials ahead of time, if people were interested). Instead, we wanted to create an environment that both introduced a technique in a practical way (getting out in the street and requesting feedback), and also leaving enough time to let the group contribute their learnings and discuss them together. After all, the value of SLP is in the diverse group of Fellows, and their experience and opinions matter just as much as, or more than, the business theory that has already been published.

It became an experience-driven workshop, taking us out of our comfort zones and made me recall Tim Ferris’ set of 7 challenges, which range from lying down on the floor of a coffee shop with no explanation, and always asking for a 10% discount, on everything. He believes there’s value in generating mixed emotions around you, while having the capacity to remain secure and unflinching.

The Lean Startup methodology of asking for feedback is not quite so extreme (!), but for those who feel even remotely self-conscious, this kind of activity can be a real challenge.
Setup of the class:

Two fellows volunteered their businesses to go through the feedback cycle (a bike light company and an online financial services company), and then the fellows were asked to identify a learning goal, build a hypothesis (what key assumption in the business model needed to be tested), and then were let free on the streets of London to speak to potential customers.
This session was a great example of how the SLP Fellows can contribute very different perspectives when solving the same problem.
We saw many different methods of flagging people down:
  • The “cut to the chase” approach, flagging people down and asking them the research question with no intro
  • The “pleasantries” approach, explaining the purpose of the research before launching into questions
  • The social approach, speaking to people in the pub over a pint
Retrospective – what did we learn?
We had a great discussion about the essence of the Lean Startup message, and agreed that there were three main ideas:
  • You want a way to challenge your assumptions, and your point of view
  • You want a way to talk to real people
  • You need to make time for this and be systematic about it
There were also many suggestions for how to choose your research audience, and the different insights you could get from asking different people. For example, one group was testing the hypothesis that a bike indicator light would improve safety of the cyclist. They asked cyclists, but also pedestrians and taxi drivers, in a bid to better understand how other road users would perceive its impact on safety.

The class was an intense exercise for a Monday evening, light on theory and heavy on action. However, it generated a lot of great discussion, and we all agreed in the value of getting feedback systematically and regularly, be it in the street or via another way.

As the class leader, I was pleased with how the class went, as I think we achieved our aim to focus on experiential and hands-on learning, combined with adequate group discussion time. The whole process was really rewarding for me – as someone who was planning a career in teaching/education previously, I was really looking forward to planning a peer-to-peer class. I left the education sector for my belief that education should be more than content delivery, and should be more participatory. In that regard, the SLP class was fascinating to observe and really valuable for me as a lesson in both leadership and learning.

My advice to the class leader 2018 would be to not understimate the volume of content you need to fit into a short time! Instructions need to be clear, as it may be the first time that some of your cohort are using the Lean Startup methodology in practice. Also, the time spent discussing learnings and findings is absolutely key – don’t be tempted to shorten this if you can.