Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Minimum Viable Instructions


Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a popular concept in lean startup methodologies where one creates a mockup of the full finished product one envisions with the minimum viable features for the product’s validation by the market. It is a shift in the approach for product development where the importance of reducing time to receive market feedback outweighs the completeness of the product. It’s a vital part of “fail cheap and fast” philosophy that underlines the lean startup methods.

In teaching, coaching and training, I’m quite fond of what I’ve come to refer as the “minimum viable instructions” (MVI). Sometimes my own enthusiasm for the subject can get the better of me by wanting to give someone else the full picture possible to teach that subject to someone else, but it often overwhelms others. Information is best accepted when they themselves have the thirst or need for that knowledge. When given prematurely, the brain hasn’t formed a schema to keep that piece of information around when everything else is new, unfamiliar, and requires processing time.

I first started thinking about MVI back when first-person shooter games with multi-player options got popular on the Mac OS platform. I loathed these games because I didn’t want to have to go through manuals to figure out what key strokes produced a specific action I wanted, and to memorize enough of them to get decent at the game. My friend, however, was eager for me to get playing. He said, “but you only need to learn three things. Three keys.” So I begrudgingly sat in front of the computer: up arrow to go forward, back arrow to go back, and space to shoot, or some such.

After a few rounds, I started asking. “But, can’t I move sideways?” “Sure, the side arrows, of course” he’d quip. “Huh. They should have more weapon types.” “Sure, option key will toggle through the available weapons.” Several games later, “Isn’t it cumbersome that if I passed the weapon I wanted, I have to keep pressing the button until I got to it again?” I asked. “Yeah, you can use the command key to go back the other way.” Within half an hour, I was “sidestepping”, “jumping”, and optimizing the use of my weapons.

My piano teacher seemed to be able to go one beyond MVI by presenting an image I needed to aspire to, and all the other techniques fell into place. It’s rare to be able to come up with a single underlying idea that can address most of what one has to do, like the Golden Rule to treat others as you would want to be treated yourself eliminates having to articulate that one shouldn’t lie, one should be kind, one should be helpful, etc. etc.  When there isn’t that one panacea that can guide us, I find MVI to be not only a good fall back, but having to come up with MVI forces me to think through what the most fundamental concepts are in any of the subject I am teaching (which also makes me a better learner).

Photo: Statue of rodeo star, Bill Pickett, Texas


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This entry was posted on August 1, 2016 by in Education, Entrepreneurship, Management and tagged , , , , .
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