Micro-Identity Shift: How to Iteratively Transform Towards Your Ideal Self
Dmitriy Zaporozhets was a software engineer when he dreamt about a great tool for collaboration among software developers. From his home in Ukraine, he created GitLab ‒ a version control software that allows anyone to make and track changes in code.
10 years after the first line of code, GitLab toppled its predecessor GitHub, winning the majority in market share with over 31 million developers on the platform in 2020 and soon after becoming a publicly-traded company.
Under Dmitriy’s leadership, GitLab exemplifies an unconventional path to success; from opening its 2,000-page company handbook for the whole internet to read, to running the world’s largest all-remote team of over 1,500 employees. But the topic of my post today is about its remarkably simple product development principle: the GitLab team ships only Minimum Viable Change (MVCs) to advance their product.
Minimal Viable Change is the smallest set of features the team can develop to deliver value to their customers. This ensures that the team will spend a minimum amount of effort to level up their product while exploring the possibility of building additional capabilities over time. MVC prevents over-engineering and overthinking. It forces the team to find the simplest solution, which is often available but overlooked.
Big changes take a long time to ship and carry the risks of conflict with other changes. Smaller changes allow customers to gain benefits and provide feedback quicker.
GitLab deploys the MVC concept in every part of the business, not just engineering. “Everything starts with a merge request” is the motto they adopt, inviting all employees to contribute changes to company policy and internal processes — which are transparently laid out in their public handbook. A merge request is a proposed update that anybody can submit, to be evaluated and accepted by the owner of a shared repository. It’s usually minimal, transparent, and intensely focused on clear problem definition and constructive solutions.
Wishing you can grow hard and fast, but feeling stuck?
I am an avid student of James Clear, author of the New York Times bestseller book called “Atomic Habits.” Clear emphasizes the difference between outcome-based goals and identity-based goals.
Most people make outcome-based goals, such as “I want to lose 20 pounds”, but Clear suggests that changes are multi-layer in nature. Remarkable outcomes can only result from consistent, repeatable actions (like healthy eating and exercising habits). And the best way to establish habits is to adopt an alternate identity — gradually proving to yourself that you are the type of person who chooses healthy food and moves regularly — by committing tiny actions every day and securing small wins.
In my first attempt at adopting the Atomic Habits approach in my path to becoming an online business owner, I religiously woke up at 4 am every single day, for a whole year, working on my business before going to work. As recommended by the book, I put in continuous effort. My first small goal was to create a digital product and release it to the market.
But the gap between who I am and who I want to be is seemingly huge. I don’t know what kind of product I would enjoy creating. Should I write an eBook? Or develop software? Or offer productized consulting? I have some skills, but there are many necessary skills I don’t have like marketing, sales, and content creation. I spent months just starting random things, creating the brand, writing a business plan, building websites and networks, and failing miserably to make a business idea stick.
That’s when it clicked to me that the shift I was attempting to make is too big. The identity shift requires a multitude of skills, experiences, mindsets, tactics, and relationships, which are all brand new to me. Without identifying the “Minimum Viable Change” to focus on first, continuous efforts would be spread out in too many directions and might result in no accomplishments at all.
Then I started thinking: “What minimum viable change can I make to transform my identity?” Is there a small transition from point A to point B that will make point C a little more attainable? A transition that should take less than a few weeks to materialize if I really focus?
I realized that the discomfort I experience when writing for an audience online is a giant barrier to the final goal. And a micro-identity shift, in this case, is simply to become someone more comfortable with online writing. So I set out to write articles on Medium as my ‘small wins’. When I can reliably ship content, it will open up other possibilities: like creating a newsletter, growing social media channels, and starting a blog.
Much like GitLab’s MVC, this micro-identity shift goal allows me to intensely focus on small high-value skill acquisition. Then I can use this newly installed capability to explore the next level-up opportunity. I can celebrate my achievements every time a Medium post is published, all the while avoiding over-planning the grand business plan and feeling disappointed when I fail to execute it.
Change begets change as much as repetition reinforces repetition.
‒ Bill Drayton
Humble Aim, Small Move, Iterate
Is there any big dream you wish to achieve, but couldn’t see yourself getting? Look for a Micro-Identity Shift ‒ an achievable and tangible step in the right direction. The path to remarkable results is never short, nor linear. But as long as you keep committing to continuous cycles of micro-identity shifts, any dream is possible.