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Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries [Kindle Edition]

Peter Sims
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)

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Book Description

What do Apple CEO Steve Jobs, comedian Chris Rock, prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, and the story developers at Pixar films all have in common? Bestselling author Peter Sims found that rather than start with a big idea or plan a whole project in advance, they make a methodical series of little bets, learning critical information from lots of little failures and from small but significant wins.

Reporting on a fascinating range of research, from the psychology of creative blocks to the influential field of design thinking, Sims offers engaging and illuminating accounts of breakthrough innovators at work, and a whole new way of thinking about how to navigate uncertain situations and unleash our untapped creative powers.

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Author Peter Sims

Q: What is a "little bet"?

A: A little bet is a low-risk action taken to discover, develop, and test an idea. So, for instance, Chris Rock develops new comedy routines by making little bets with small audiences, while Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos makes small bets to identify opportunities in new markets. Little bets are at the center of an approach to get to the right idea described in the book that any of us can learn without getting stymied by perfectionism, risk-aversion, or excessive planning.

Q: How is this approach different from and better than the typical way most people do something new?

A: We’re taught from an early age to use certain procedures and rules to analyze and solve problems, such as for math or chemistry. We’re asked, what’s the correct answer, right? There’s an emphasis on minimizing errors. These types of skills serve us extremely well, especially when we have enough information to put into a formula or plan. But what happens when we don’t even know what problems we’re trying to solve? It happens a lot. That’s the situation the U.S. Army has had to face when confronting Middle Eastern insurgents. In situations like these, engaging in discovery and making little bets is a way to complement more linear, procedural thinking.

Q: What research did you do for this book and what did you set out to discover?

A: I wanted to find out what went on behind the scenes of some of the great achievements and innovations we witness. Most of them weren’t the epiphanies of geniuses, but instead the result of masters of a specific type of experimentation. To find out the common elements of their experimental approach, I reviewed empirical and neuroscience research about creativity and innovation, and interviewed or observed dozens of people about their approach, including Army counterinsurgency strategists, architect Frank Gehry, agile software development teams, stand-up comedians, entrepreneurs who had self-financed billion dollar businesses, the rapidly growing field of design thinking, and musicians like John Legend, as well as executives inside a range of organizations such as Amazon, Pixar, Procter & Gamble, Google, 3M, General Motors, and Hewlett Packard.

Q: What about big bets? Why do you focus on little bets?

A: We all want to make big bets. That’s a Silicon Valley mantra. Be bold. Go big. But I think ingenious ideas are over-rated and that people routinely bet big on ideas that aren’t solving the right problems. Just as Pixar storytellers must make thousands of little bets to develop a movie script, Hewlett Packard cofounder Bill Hewlett said HP needed to make 100 small bets on products to identify six that could be breakthroughs. So, little bets are for learning about problems and opportunities while big bets are for capitalizing upon them.

Q:Why is it more important than ever to master a "little bets" approach?

A: We live in especially uncertain and rapidly changing, yet risk-averse times that make it easy to get stuck. Little bets provide an antidote. Take Twitter. It originated out of little bets made inside Odeo, a podcasting company that was going nowhere. After asking employees for suggestions about what the company should do, Odeo founder Evan Williams gave Jack Dorsey two weeks to develop a prototype for his short messaging idea. Twitter was soon born. The same is true for all of us. Unlike previous generations, people now change jobs every few years and, according to researchers, will even switch careers up to six or seven times over a lifetime. That’s a very different world than previous generations. Little bets must become a way to see what’s around the next corner, lest we stagnate.

Q: What surprised you most in what you found?

A: One of the things that constantly surprised me was how many similar approaches and methods spanned across the vastly different fields. Story developers at Pixar, Army General H.R. McMaster, a counterinsurgency expert, and Frank Gehry use the same basic methods and of course make lots of little bets. They even use similar language and vocabulary – like "using constraints" or "reframing problems"– but they all learned their approaches through their experiences, not in school. General McMaster may have said it best when he said that the parallels between these very different experts were "eerie."

Q: What companies are best at little bets?

A: Amazon, Pixar, Apple, and to a lesser extent Toyota, 3M, and Google have little bets infused into their cultural DNA. Steve Jobs has evangelized about the benefits of the approach described in Little Bets more than any other CEO, while little bets are a way of life at Amazon, whether the company is expanding into new markets or improving internal processes. And, I wrote a lot about Pixar because it’s the closest thing to a constant learning organization using little bets around today. But any company or team can make use of little bets. Procter & Gamble is an example of a more risk-averse organization that is working to build a culture of little bets.

Q:What’s the first step any of us can start taking tomorrow to start benefitting from a little bets approach?

A: Commit to making a little bet. It doesn’t matter on what. Look for interesting problems and work toward larger aspirations. Maybe it’s going to be a presentation about starting a new nonprofit. Or maybe it’s trying a different approach for a work meeting. Once you get into the habit of making little bets, they can constantly open up new possibilities that just might lead to something big.


"Highly engaging ... Little Bets will help you challenge the status quo and discover extraordinary new possibilities in whatever endeavor you're engaged in" -- Howard Schultz, Chairman And Ceo Of Starbucks "An enthusiastic, example-rich argument for innovating in a particular way" Wall Street Journal "Want a big idea? Start little. Whether you're an entrepreneur or an artist, Peter Sims shows you how big breakthroughs start with little bets" -- Chip Heath, Author Of Made To Stick And Switch "Little Bets is easily the most delightful and useful innovation book published in the last decade" -- Robert I. Sutton, Author Of Good Boss, Bad Boss "Put [t]his book on your reading list" TechCrunch

Product Details

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
74 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Anecdotes but Nothing Groundbreaking June 17, 2011
This book has some interesting anecdotal stuff. I especially liked the stories on Pixar, and the creative process as it relates to learning in young children.

That said, most of the time when I flipped the page and saw the referenced person - Muhammad Yunnus, General McMaster, or Malcolm Gladwell - as I reader of Tom Ricks' Fiasco, Banker to the Poor, The Tipping Point, and books on Lean Start-Up and Customer Development, I already knew where the author was headed and was left underwhelmed.

I'm not usually moved to review books on Amazon, however, I honestly believe the book is overrated as it stands with a lot of four and five star reviews. The book has a great title that certainly drew me in, yet I didn't find anything groundbreaking inside.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great lesson for risk takers April 19, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
_Little Bets_ by Peter Sims is an excellent read. As someone who led a product design team at Intel, has a handful of U.S. patents and has dabbled in film making, I can tell you these insights play well across industry. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in tapping into the design revolution to improve their work and help change the world.

I often measure content I consume according to how much I think about it the next day. This book left me with a number of outstanding insights that I apply consistently.

Sims explains that when it comes to getting great work out of people be the student a coworker or yourself, the key seems to be to praise people for *effort* that they put in rather than merely praising them for their outcomes. It seems silly given that context to say that this book achieves great things but it does!

The book is well researched, and draws from a number of different fields. While many business books focus solely on one industry or one school of thought, Sims draws from an incredibly diverse palette to establish some consistent themes. We hear stories from comedians, military leaders, filmmakers, architects, and even a few entrepreneurs.

The key insight from this book is to treat life is an experiment where failure teaches as much a success. If you can scale your bets to the right size (a.k.a. little) is show that failures are less painful and allow course corrections. You can then place larger bets on things that will be successful. Trust me on this little bet -- buy the book.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not much of a book November 10, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The idea is great; little bets are a great way to go. But there just isn't enough here for a book, and the examples given are repetitive and frequently struggling and stretching to be on-point. It reminds me of a high school essay where you hadn't done much research, but still had to produce the 10 page term paper.

It seems like the publisher noticed the book was a bit light, so they've added page after page of notes, references, resources to explore, etc; nearly 30% of the book is puff. Frankly, you could go to the author's Q&A page on Amazon, read the interview, and have all the ideas and value of the book for 5 minutes reading, and $0. Save your time and your money on this one.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Having read and reviewed True North, a book Peter Sims co-authored with Bill George, I was curious to know what he has to say about "how breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries." I was pleased but hardly surprised that Sims has a great deal of value to share, much of it (as he duly acknowledges) gained from conversations with or rigorous study of various thought leaders and they include a few surprises. Chris Rock, for example. His routines are the result of an exhausting process of continuous (mostly failed) experiments, constant modification, and subtle refinement. Other experimental innovators and thought leaders include Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google), Saras Sarasvathy, Pixar's Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, Chet Pipkin, Frank Gehry, Bing Gordon, U.S. Army Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Steve Jobs, Jeffrey Dyer and Hal Gregersen, Richard Wiseman, and Eric von Hippel.

As Sims explains, his book's proposition is based on an experimental approach that involves a lot of little bets and certain creative methods to identify possibilities and build up to great outcomes eventually, after frequent failures. (Actually, experimental innovation has no failures; rather, there are initiatives that have not as yet succeeded, each of which is a precious learning opportunity.) "At the core of this experimental approach, little bets are concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable. They begin as creative possibilities that get iterated and refined over time, and they are particularly valuable when trying to navigate amid uncertainty, create something new, or attend to open-ended problems.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best busines books I've read April 14, 2011
This book is easily one of the top-10 business books I've read. But it's about more than just business. The bets that Peter Sims talks about reach across every aspect of life, from business, to art, to child-rearing.

Making little bets is about doing little tests. Try something. Get feedback. Refine. Get more feedback. The creative process is a hands-on experiment. Lasting, reproducible success comes from small corrections over time. The feedback you get from making little bets leads to the best outcomes... the ones you didn't and couldn't predict.

I was fortunate to get my hands on an advance proof of "Little Bets" and was hooked from the introduction. Having been a courtroom criminal defense lawyer for more than a decade, having built and sold a successful tech company, and now working on my second tech start-up, this book spoke to me. Although I didn't know what to call it at the time, my successes in the courtroom and in business came from taking a little bets approach.

If you are creative (especially if you work in corporate America), this book will probably solidify what you already know in your heart and give you the tools, confidence and case-studies to challenge the status quo. If you manage creative people, you can't afford to overlook this remarkable book. And if you're a parent, or teacher, or coach, or community leader, this book will give you tools that will make a world of difference to those who look up to you.

Do yourself a favor. Order this book now.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good quick read
This was pretty good. Only got four stars cause it left me hungry for more.
Published 1 month ago by Vincent Bataoel
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great! Thanks!
Published 2 months ago by Chanbo
4.0 out of 5 stars Really inspiring and informative book. I feel, however ...
Really inspiring and informative book. I feel, however, that some subjects could have been more developed through the book (it's really short), and that's the only reason I'm not... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Social
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a decent book with some interesting topics
Recently I purchased and read “Little Bets” by Peter Sims. This was definitely one of the more unique books I’ve read. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Connor Randall
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read! Entire 300 "Little Bets"
As a student at the University of Baltimore, I am enrolled in The Entrepreneurial Experience. Throughout the course we are given certain articles and novels to read. Read more
Published 2 months ago by courtney
5.0 out of 5 stars ENTR 300 Student from UB - Little Bets Book Report Review
Little Bets was a phenomenal book and it is definitely a read for other entrepreneur students. The gist of the book is simply “how to make small bets” whether they be liner or... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Shyneka Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars #ENTR300 This book was such a great book because gained so much...
#ENTR300 This book was such a great book because gained so much personal experience. I really enjoyed Little Bets because it made me think about marketing, branding, and creating... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Harvey
5.0 out of 5 stars Very helpful
This book provides a practical framework for making personal progress and getting more organized about goals and project development. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Brent Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars Betting On Success
Little Bets has been an eye opener to a new frame of thinking. The case studies are detailed and wide enough that anyone in any industry can relate to and learn from them.
Published 4 months ago by Barbara Juncosa
4.0 out of 5 stars Lacks of deep details
Gives you some ideas of what you can do but nothing deep as i expected
Published 5 months ago by JakeDiaz
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More About the Author

Peter Sims is an entrepreneur and award-winning author. His latest book is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, which grew out of a five-year collaboration with faculty at Stanford's Institute of Design (the, as well as his previous work in venture capital with Summit Partners, including as part of the team that established Summit's European Office in London. He was also the coauthor with Bill George of the best-seller True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, a member of General Electric's Innovation Advisory Panel, an Innosight Fellow, and cofounder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that places entrepreneurial leaders on year-long grassroots projects with mayors and governors to tackle some of America's most pressing problems.

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Kindle version?
Yes there is.
May 4, 2011 by Pete Petersen |  See all 2 posts
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