The 1500€ Tatami Trap

August 25, 2021

how a sleeping mat reminded me of the value of Minimum Viable Product Thinking

Life's Business Lessons

As we all know, one of the best ways to learn something permanently is (surprise, surprise): Experience. The good side effect of this is that it often comes with a funny story making it easy to explain it to others. So with today's anecdote we'll talk about what MVP (Minimal Viable Product) Thinking is and how it can save you time, money and… sleep.

After reading 'Why We Sleep' from Matthew Walker during my 2020 summer holidays, I set out to optimize my sleep. Sleep is key to so many great health and performance benefits which I learned through Matthew's book, so my plan was to get the most out of it. As a modern guy in 2020, I did what we all would do - I googled it and spent quite a bit of time reading further articles and watching videos as for example the one of a physiotherapist  who argued the benefits of sleeping on the back, without a pillow and on a hard surface. A few more hours of research and I came to the conclusion that the best thing would be to get a tatami mat. Yes, I’m talking about those very hard Japanese mats traditionally used as floor mats for tea rooms or dojos. I was totally convinced that this would be my key to effective and good sleep; the key that would unlock enormous amounts of energy during the day. I collected enough arguments to dive into a 2 weeks research about where to find the best Tatami mat for the best price. 3 nights after the order the 1800€, 1m x 2m "wonder" arrived, and the first night was… a nightmare. Great. It got a bit better during the next nights, but after 7 nights I could feel that my body was super exhausted even after 8 hours of presumably super healthy sleep. Obviously changing my sleeping habits came at a price and I realized I should have done this experiment during my holidays and not during times where I have to function on a high level during day time. 

Another side effect: My wife, who struggles with hay fever every spring, had a slowly building allergic reaction to the mat leading to a point where she started having allergic reactions to nuts and cleaning detergents as well. Not only did this sh*t experiment not deliver the results I had "dreamed" about, it was also slowly killing my beloved wife - thank you for nothing Tatami mat... So I had to "undo" the experiment and spend hours and even more effort to sell the premium mat via ebay for a fraction of the buying price which, as we all know, is fun, fun, fun.

So what does this have to do with MVP thinking?

If you’ve heard about MVP thinking, you will definitely have stumbled upon the brilliant Frank Robinson who originally coined the term MVP in 2001 and shared it with the world. It says: “MVP is a mindset of the management and development-team. It says, 'Think big for the long term, but small for the short term'.” He not just introduced it as a concept, but also as a kind of mindset that should be internalized by the management and the development team. The core idea is to think big in the long term but to make small steps in the short term. Easy, right?! And even better, adaptable for a lot of situations, including personal ones, as you can see.

        MVP is a mindset of the management and development-team. It says, “Think big for the long term, but small for the short term”

Around 8 years later another guy popped up and dived into the same topic. Eric Ries wrote a book “The Lean Startup” (which made MVP poular) stating:

“The big question of our time is not Can it be built? but Should it be built?”

Ries describes it as a version of a new product, which enables a team to learn a maximum amount about the customer with a minimum of effort. I write it on a post-it and stick it to my mirror. Hello wasted time and money and hello Tatami mat. 

Steve Blanks, another well known entrepreneur, also called it the Minimum Feature Set, a method to understand how to reduce wasteful development efforts, while at the same time placing a product in the hands of first users at the earliest possible time. Sounds so simple but oh so smart. He says: “ The reality is that the minimum feature set is 1) a tactic to reduce wasted engineering hours (code left on the floor) and 2) to get the product in the hands of early visionary customers as soon as possible.”

The best methods are the ones you can use and adapt to your business and private life because it makes everything smarter and easier as a result. 

Applying the principles of these smart gentlemen to my Tatami drama, the summary could read as follows: I spent roughly 1.500€ (= mat buy price + working time - mat sell price) and 4 weeks for a sleep optimization experiment I could have easily done, spending 0€ while achieving the same learning within 3 days. All that would have been necessary would have involved MVP Thinking and asking myself "What is it I want to learn?" and "What would be the simplest and fastest way to learn it?" instead of running off to do Internet research and falling in love with an overpriced rice mat... As a result I would have very likely chosen to test-sleep some nights on my yoga mat on the floor. This would have been immediately realizable without any extra costs, but would include the benefit of the painful realization that this habitual change is no fun in the short-term and should be done during the holidays...

Over the years we have seen a lot of projects where teams (the tech savvy ones in particular) built and developed something for the sake of building it #BecauseWeCan. Let my Tatami "Trap" be a lesson to you. The next time you want to build something for your clients please ask yourself: "What is it you actually want to learn here?" and "What would be the simplest and fastest way to learn it?"