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Coaching Lean is Playing Judo Versus Sumo

The Innovator's Bias is immune to lecture

Building a new product out of nothing requires strong founder conviction. However, left unchecked, the journey can quickly turn into a faith-based one driven by dogma.

Challenging strong founder convictions as a coach requires a different approach.

Lecturing seldom works because the Innovator’s Bias is immune to lecture. Press them hard enough, and they stop talking to you.

Here’s what I do instead:

1️⃣ Meet the founders where they are.

2️⃣ Focus on what they want versus what I think they need.

3️⃣ Turn their want into a time-boxed and measurable goal.

4️⃣ Then, help them go faster versus slower with small and fast additive experiments.

One of two things inevitably happens.

  1. Either their gut instincts were right, and they achieve the goal. Rinse and repeat the steps above until they don't. All products run into obstacles.
  2. Or, they encounter an unexpected obstacle that makes them stumble and fall. This creates a triggering event to explore the obstacle together and do what’s needed to remove it.

You may have seen the obstacle at the outset (or not), but now you both do. And they’ve been triggered for a change.

Think Judo versus Sumo.

Example Scenarios for practicing Judo vs Sumo

Scenario 1: Founder is adamant they know the problem space and don’t need to run customer interviews. They just want to finish their MVP.

Sumo Approach

  • Lecture them on the merits of uncovering problems before building out their solution.
  • Tell them to stop building and start interviewing customers instead.

Judo Approach

  • Reframe the conversation around building a waiting list of prospects so they’ll have a pipeline of customers waiting once their product is ready.
  • Get them to go faster by packaging what they have into an offer (UVP + demo + Call-to-action) and pitching it.

Scenario 2: Founder wants to raise funding but has no meaningful traction.

Sumo Approach

  • Lecture them on pitching customers before investors.
  • To do that, they need to start with customer discovery, not pitching.
  • Tell them to postpone fundraising until then.

Judo Approach

  • Help them go faster by sharing the Business Model Story pitch template with some examples.
  • It shouldn’t take long for them to realize they can’t pitch their traction roadmap.
  • Reframe the conversation around helping them first achieve some traction.

Scenario 3: Founder wants help with scaling, but you don’t think they have product/market fit.

Sumo Approach

  • Tell them they don’t have product/market fit.
  • Lecture them on repeatability before scalability.
  • Tell them to still focus on value metrics and not growth metrics.

Judo Approach

  • Ask them about their growth plan and 90-day goal.
  • If they don’t know, point them to the Traction Roadmap tool and offer a follow-up review.
  • Once they plot their current metrics on their traction roadmap, they baseline themselves, and the conversation becomes much more productive.

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