The Lean Startup

In various lectures I’ve given over the years, I often slip in recommendations for a few of my favourite business books for architects. What sets these books apart is that none of them are actually about or by architects. That’s not to say there aren’t some great books that merge business and architecture, but I believe strongly in the need for us to learn about business from beyond our educational horizon.

As you’ll see, I’m particularly interested in the worlds of technology and startup entrepreneurship, disciplines that relentlessly question their methods of production. I also prefer books with strong narratives, that match the weight of their instruction with equally engaging storytelling.

So here we go, the seventh of eight of the most influential books on my thoughts about architecture, creativity, business and entrepreneurship:

The Lean Startup; Eric Ries; Business; Book

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, 2011

The essential guide to running a lean business.

Why I like it:
is one of those ubiquitous business words that’s almost as widely misused as it is used (I have to confess, including in the past by me). But discovering what it actually means was revelatory.

There are a number of moving parts to Ries’ philosophy of lean business, but perhaps the most important is his build-measure-learn loop, in which a business builds something, measures how it performs and learns whether or not it works. As fast and as often as possible. This idea alone has hugely influenced how we work at Mihaly Slocombe, organise tasks within a project and interact with our clients.

Fun fact:
Chapter 9 of The Lean Startup is all about batching tasks (or dividing up a large task into smaller ones). It recounts the now famous envelope experiment, that you can watch here and we actually tried ourselves some years ago. Before you click on the link though, answer this: if you have to fold twenty birthday invitations, stuff each of them into envelopes, seal them, stamp them and address them, would you:

  • Fold then stuff then seal then stamp then address one envelope at a time.
  • Do all the folding in one batch, then all the stuffing, then all the sealing, then all the stamping, then all the addressing.

The correct answer is probably not the one you think it is, and I won’t spoil the lesson for you by telling you which! Watch the video, or better yet try the experiment yourself.

Why architects should read it:
Ries wrote The Lean Startup explicitly for startup entrepreneurs, or people who work in organisations “designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”[1] Architects don’t really fit into this definition, as we operate within an industry that has been doing pretty much the same thing for hundreds of years. We face uncertainty of course, but not of the sort faced by someone creating a new product or service that no one has ever bought before.

Nevertheless, the lessons contained in this book are mind-altering in their scope. They create an entirely new way for architects to think about business, production and the way we learn from our successes and failures.

Stay tuned for the next article, where I share the last of my favourite business books for architects. An archive of the series can be accessed here.


  1. Eric Ries; The Lean Startup; Crown Publishing Group; United States of America; 2011; page 8.


  1. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, 2011

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