The Four Steps to the Epiphany: A book review by Bob Morris

Four Steps to EpiphanyThe Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win
Steven Blank
K&S Ranch (2013)

Additional revelations and refinements to guide and inform the evolution of the Lean Startup Revolution

Note: The review that follows is of the Third Edition, published in 2007. Other than minor revisions and refinements, the material in the Fifth Edition is essentially the same. “A few typos were corrected and unfinished sentences completed.” Blank would be the first to suggest that his book is literally a “work in progress” as is the revolution to which he continues to contribute. I especially appreciate having all of the information, insights, and counsel in a hardbound edition and only regret that it has no Index. Let’s all hope that one is provided in the next edition.

* * *

In this volume, Blank introduces and then explains in thorough detail the “Customer Development” model, one that he characterizes as “a paradox because it is followed by successful startups, yet has been articulated by no one [person other than Blank, prior to its initial publication in 2005]. Its basic propositions are the antithesis of common wisdom yet they are followed by those who achieve success. It is the path that is hidden in plain sight.” In fact, Blank insists that what he offers is a “better way to manage startups. Those that survive the first few tough years “do not follow the traditional product-centric launch model espoused by product managers of the venture capital community.” And this is also true of product launches in new divisions inside larger corporations or in the “canonical” garages.

Moreover, “through trial and error, hiring and firing, successful [whatever their nature and origin] all invent a parallel process to Product Development. In particular, the winners invent and live by a process of customer learning and discovery. I call this process `Customer Development,’ a sibling to `Product Development,’ and each and every startup that succeeds recapitulates it, knowingly or not.” Wow! This really is interesting stuff and I haven’t even begun to read the first chapter.

Few start ups succeed, most don’t, and Blank notes that each new company or new product startup involves (borrowing from Joseph Campbell) a “hero’s journey” that begins with an almost “mythological vision – a hope of what could be, with a goal few others can see. It is this bright and burning vision that differentiates the entrepreneur from big company CEOs and startups from existing businesses.” Although Blank suggests that the aforementioned “journey” involves a four-step process, it should be noted that not one but several epiphanies or at least revelations can and — hopefully — will occur during that process, one that is multi-dimensional rather than linear, from Point A to Point Z.

These are among the dozens of reader-friendly passages I found of greatest interest and value:

o Customer Discovery Step-by-Step (Page 30)
o The Customer Discovery Philosophy (33-37)
o Customer Discovery Summary (76)
o The Customer Validation Philosophy (82-83)
o Customer Validation Summary (118)
o Customer Creation Step-by-Step (120)
o Customer Creation Philosophy (123-124)
o The Four Building Blocks of Customer Creation (129-132)
o Customer Creation Summary (157)
o Company Building Step-by-Step (158)
o The Company Building Philosophy (162-163)
o Company Building Summary (205)

These and dozens of key passages will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later of information, insights, and counsel.

No brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material that Steven Gary Blank provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of him and his work. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read it and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how the information, insights, and wisdom could perhaps be of substantial benefit to them and to their own organization.

* * *

As we proceed through the third quarter of 2013, I am more aware now than ever before that breakthrough innovation — disruptive innovation, high-impact innovation — is most likely to occur within a workplace environment that encourages, supports, and rewards individual as well as collaborative initiatives. I am also convinced that such initiatives must planned, guided, and informed by a methodology and a process such as those that Steve Blank recommends. Whereas, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get your there, having neither a methodology nor a process will get you nowhere.

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