The Search Manifesto

by Justin Souter on May 16, 2016

Wingsuit intro

Moving on from anything one has committed to is always something of a leap into the unknown. If only it was as polished as Brandon Mikesell flying down the mountainside towards Chamonix…!

This post is intended to guide readers about what I plan to do next.

The name which sprang to mind is ‘The Search Manifesto’ because I intend to double-down on search rather than execution. Read on for context and more detail!

Insight from Steve Blank

To set the context, I’m quoting one of the founding fathers of the Lean Startup movement – Steve Blank:

Search Versus Execution
One of the things startups have lacked is a definition of who they were. For years we’ve treated startups like they are just smaller versions of a large company. However, we now know that a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business modelWithin this definition, a startup can be a new venture or it can be a new division or business unit in an existing company.

If your business model is unknown – that is just a set of untested hypotheses – you are a startup searching for a repeatable business model. Once your business model (market, customers, features, channels, pricing, Get/Keep/Grow strategy, etc.) is known, you will be executing it. Search versus execution is what differentiates a new venture from an existing business unit.


The primary objective of a startup is to validate its business model hypotheses (and iterate and pivot until it does.) Then it moves into execution mode. It’s at this point the business needs an operating plan, financial forecasts and other well-understood management tools.


The processes used to organize and implement the search for the business model are Customer Development and Agile Development. A search for a business model can be in any new business – in a brand new startup new or in a new division of an existing company.

In search, you want a process designed to be dynamic, so you work with a rough business model description knowing it will change. The model changes because startups use customer development to run experiments to test the hypotheses that make up the model. And most of the time these experiments fail. Search embraces failure as a natural part of the startup process. Unlike existing companies that fire executives when they fail to match a plan, we keep the founders and change the model. [Check out the video in the Appendix for a snappy summary.]

Once a company has found a business model (it knows its market, customers, product/service, channel, pricing, etc.), the organization moves from search to execution.

I do Search, others Execute [imho]

I believe where I add most value is in the Search phase, helping raise the success rates of early stage entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs (inside existing organisations).

Since 2013 I’ve been teaching this approach, with sound results. I’ve come to believe that to gain maximum benefit, organisations need to evolve their approach. I’ll be writing up a series around ‘Lean Innovation’ in the coming months.

I think I also have a natural affinity for being attracted to – and understanding – the ‘new’, e.g. (high level) tech trends, and how they can add value – i.e. how to cut-through the Gartner Hype Cycle. Present examples could be blockchain and the digital factory.

Evolving plans

I think I need to do more of what brings me to life, including:

  1. Lean Innovation workshops for established organisations to help them grasp the innovation model and organisational tweaks (probably a closed model)
  2. Lean Startup workshops delivered publicly: enjoyable and worthwhile in themselves, and hopefully offering follow-on possibilities
  3. Mentoring and coaching – perhaps further down the track with additional training
  4. Resilience and Authentic Leadership for Entrepreneurs
    1. I’m also interested in sharing the lessons I’ve drawn from my own experiences – through a workshop I’m mulling over i.e. respecting the human side of risk taking…
    2. Constantina Muston and I led a Leancamp (after Leanconf) session recently on ‘How to survive a startup’ / the ‘emotional struggle of entrepreneurship’ (h/t Reboot)
    3. I’ve been in dialogue with James Routledge about this domain, given his laudable work relating to ‘Mental Health In Startups’ and now Sanctus, to keep joined-up.
  5. Young people
    1. Perhaps do a bit of customer development to establish whether secondary schools would be interested to teach their young people entrepreneurship along these lines.
  6. Turning leading edge technology into value
    1. I called an Uber today, and where I left my car the person said “everything’s going technology” (after I demonstrated the Uber app): I replied “it already is”.
    2. William Gibson is largely correct that the future is already here, however my hypothesis is that we have increasingly less time to understand it and harness it for leadership (and good).
    3. I think I can help discern the patterns and help folk run experiments to intercept what is coming and hedge their bets (or better still run a portfolio of innovations).

Join me – together we can change the World!

I’m seeking collaborators, co-conspirators, rebels, misfits – “because we’re the only ones who do”.

Connect with me via Twitter, or LinkedIn. I look forward to hearing from you!

Appendix: Customer Development Process – video summary

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