Inspired by preaching the lean approach to a small a group of undergrads

The other day, I received an e-mail (addressed to Kimolia Art Cafe), from a group of undergraduate students from a department (I will keep the department secret) in the Athens University of Economics & Business. They were researching for an assignment in a course they attended, related to a new business idea, addressed to cafe/bar owners. They sent two questionnaires along, trying to identify problems for the cafe owners, also describing in parallel their solution.

My limited experience with the lean approach, (see related posts here)  immediately brought back memories and pinpointed the mistakes they had made so far, mixing the questionnaires, not including real-life interviews, etc. For that reason, and cause I do like to meddle and experiment and help whenever I can, I decided to reply to their e-mail and offer my assistance.

After all, I am a coffee-shop owner (family business), I have experience with business plans and the lean approach (and similar methodologies) and I happen to really really like metadata which also seems an integral part of the solution they were developing. So, after some arrangements, a shy 22-year-old came to Kimolia along with a couple of her friends, to discuss about their project. I have to admit that this was a first for me, so I was really careful cause I was not their teacher or anything. I was merely consulting and I didn’t want to come on too strong or impose my opinion to them.

It was amazing how in the beginning they were just listening to me, offering little or no feedback, seeming to evaluate me. Like they were assessing me and deciding at the same time if they would trust me or not. After some 10-15 minutes of talk, when they recognized my interest and willingness to help, they really started to contribute to the discussion, offering their input, offering ideas and even second-guessing what I was saying to them, which was truly amazing!

After 1 hour of offering solutions and discussing on the lean approach and how they could deploy it, I left them to discuss among them. I returned to the group almost 45 minutes afterwards to find that they went a long way without me, looking at supporting material they found online, generating ideas and really interesting questions for me which were not that easy to answer as well.

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True, I was preaching to people that had studied economics, management and marketing for three years, but still it was amazing to see how they picked up on all of Ash Maurya’s theory and practical examples. The most interesting fact though, came from the students (no offense meant to their professor that assigned the task). They said that up until that moment, they had not understood the assignment as well as the problem they were faced with. It was mind-blowing for them how they were able to make sense of the intricacies of the problem in a matter of an hour or so, using the paradigm of the lean approach.

They also said to me that when they presented their idea for the first time, they did not feel that some industry people that attended the lecture (invited by the professor) really sympathized and understood their idea. They said that they were offered with some half-thought ideas, about things that were merely relevant to their idea, drawing them further away from their goal, rather than close.

I am not a professor and I will probably not become one, but these hours spent with those students were among the most satisfying and inspiring of my professional life so far. Offering my limited experience to these kids and getting back these sparkling looks of recognition and inspiration was something I will remember for a long time.

I was also really inspired by the fact that Kimolia, as a cafe, as a non-academic space, offered the place and context of this discussion, giving the context for the idea of the students but also offering an inspiring environment. Really often since then, I think of how appropriate this entire happening was. Both from my side, my expertise and experience on the topic but also from the side of the place and the students. In this sense, Kimolia became a place where learning was enhanced in ways that may not be easy to replicate in any classroom anywhere.

This is why observation and getting out of the building is such a crucial part of every business idea that is being developed and is actually a fundamental of design thinking. One thing I know for sure, is that if another e-mail like this comes my way, I will be even more enthusiastic to help out, if needed.

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