• Johannes Mutzke

The Beauty of the Lemonade Stand

Recently our consulting team was working with a large organization innovating on a significant initiative they wanted to move forward. Everyone was positive and engaged, but we became concerned about maintaining momentum, especially as we considered the backgrounds and possible tendencies of their leadership. Many came from large organizations, operating with a significant amount of bureaucracy– i.e. long budget cycles, layers of approvals, many stakeholders, committees, etc. There was a clear risk of thinking too big too soon, getting bogged down, analysis paralysis, and failing to take the next small step forward.

Throughout the process we had been applying our “customer-focused innovation approach” (aka design thinking), in which we really pushed the idea of fast and lo-fidelity “prototyping”, doing small incomplete experiments for the sake of iteration and learning fast. However, we were still concerned that the word “prototyping”, mindsets and approach were still too theoretical. To bring it down to earth we used the well-known, childhood “lemonade stand” as an illustration.


We loved the vividness and simplicity of the lemonade stand, as well as the tension it creates. First consider “what it does” (attributes)–it’s fast (an afternoon or less), temporary (not built to last), incomplete (cash only, no credit), intensive focus on customer interaction (kids waving and customer transactions), requires some, albeit minimal "skin in the game" (mom provides the lemonade powder & cups, kids make a pitcher & a sign). In short, all the elements are focused on the shortest and most minimal path to “selling” (aka customer desirability!) and assume away the broader system of what it would really take to do it.


Second, consider “what it does not do” (we jokingly call it the “MBA perspective”)–what about funding/budgets? P&L? CEO/management team? Marketing plans? Strategic road map? Regulations? (aka viability and feasibility testing)


Does it mean these many concerns are not important? The answer is: “it’s a question of time.” When you’re getting starting, all you need to care about is the quickest and easiest way to learn. Specifically, at this time, you only need to learn about your customers’ needs and whether or not your solution meets their needs. Later on, the focus evolves and “the MBA questions” indeed become critical, but can often still be approached similarly, in quick, easy learning cycles.


So as you consider the project you have in front of you right now, what does your "lemonade stand" look like? Aim for fast, focused, temporary, scrappy, minimal, incomplete, intensive customer interaction, with minimal skin in the game. Remember that the point is speed and targeted learning that informs the next critical step and the rest can come later.


Photo: Getty Images

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