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Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries Paperback – July 16, 2013
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"A fascinating and revealing journey through the real-life dynamics of the creative process. Vividly written and bustling with examples from comedy to architecture, "Little Bets" is a wonderful example of itself: a big idea that takes shape through many small discoveries. I highly recommend it for anyone with a serious interest in cultivating creativity in business, education or in their own lives."
""Little Bets" is a timely and compelling book that will change the way you think, a roadmap to success in the 21st century. And, a very enjoyable read."--Peter Georgescu, former CEO of Young & Rubicam
"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 Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
"Peter Sims buries the myth that big talkers with brains and big ideas move industry and science forward. This modern masterpiece demonstrates that the most powerful and profitable ideas are produced by persistent people who mess with lots of little ideas and keep muddling forward until they get it right. "Little Bets" is easily the most delightful and useful innovation book published in the last decade."--Robert I. Sutton, Professor, Stanford University, New York Times bestselling author of Good Boss, Bad Boss
"With examples that range from traditional businesses to stand-up comedians, Peter Sims shows that the path to big success is lined with small failures. Behind every breakthrough idea is often a host of experiments that flopped -- and Sims shows how to leverage these "little bets" to produce lasting results. This is a powerful and practical book."--Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive
"Peter Sims' exciting new book, "Little Bets", is replete with stunning insights about innovation and the remarkable benefits of backing many creative initiatives that yield the big breakthrough. Corporate leaders everywhere can benefit from his sound advice."--Bill George, Professor, Harvard Business School and Author, True North
"I have always believed that constant innovation is core to success. The methods Peter Sims provides in the 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, Starbucks
"I really can't say enough about this book;" Little Bets" rings so true to my own experience at Teach For America. Peter Sims does a huge service by showing the world how big entrepreneurial and innovative successes come to be -- and in the process reveals ways of thinking that aren't the product of anything elusive or enigmatic but rather of traits we can all learn and foster, such as openness, inquisitiveness, and perseverance."--Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder, Teach for America
"In "Little Bets", Peter Sims convincingly argues that we need a new model of creativity, focused around gradual improvement and constant innovation. If you're not learning while doing, Sims points out, then you're probably doing it wrong."--Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
"'Little Bets' is a big idea. Here's my bet: if you're passionate about innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship, you need to read this book!"--Alan M. Webber, Co-Founding Editor, Fast Company magazine, Author, Rules of Thumb
About the Author
Peter Sims is the coauthor with Bill George of the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestselling book True North. His work has appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and TechCrunch and he is a contributor to the Reuters and Harvard Business Review blogs. He received an M.B.A. from Stanford Business School where he and several classmates established a popular course on leadership. He has spoken or advised at such organizations as Cisco Systems, Eli Lilly, Current Media, Molson Coors, Qualcomm, and Frost & Sullivan. Previously, Peter worked in venture capital with Summit Partners, a leading investment company, and was part of the team that established the firm’s London Office.
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I am a current student at University of Baltimore taking Entrepreneurship course and this was my recommended reading.
Subtitled, "How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries," we quickly learn--through dozens of mini-case studies--that innovation comes through hard work, experimentation and bosses who are cheerleaders for failure. (And I would also guess innovation happens with a healthy dose of weekly staff encouragement, motivation and hoopla-type fun. I mean, what if your best headline ideas were ranked 19th each week?)
Example: Comedian Chris Rock tests, tests and re-tests every joke--and every word--for up to six months (or even a year) at his local comedy club before he takes his hour-long act on the road or on national television.
Example: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has built an "experimental discovery mentality" so that "whether or not employees are doing so is a part of their performance reviews."
The author adds, "Like Chris Rock, Bezos has accepted uncertainty; he knows that he cannot reliably predict which ideas for new markets will work and which won't. He's got to experiment. One such example is a feature the company launched that would compare a customer's entire purchase history with its millions of other customers in order to find the one person with the closest matching history. In one click, Amazon would show you what items that customer purchased.
"`No one used it,' Bezos has said. `Our history is full of things like that, where we came up with an innovation that we thought was really cool, and the customers didn't care.'"
It's all about making a series of little bets--not one humongous bet--just little ones with the hope that just a couple will pay big dividends. "Experimental innovators like Rock, Brin and Page, Bezos, and Beethoven don't analyze new ideas too much too soon, try to hit narrow targets on unknown horizons, or put their hopes into one big bet. Instead of trying to develop elaborate plans to predict the success of their endeavors, they do things to discover what they should do. They have all attained extraordinary success by making a series of little bets."
The book surprised me. I expected cute little success stories like, "Well...I just flipped the spaghetti onto the wall--and it stuck!" Instead, the innovators of little experiments were actually productive creative teams of "rigorous, highly analytical, strategic and pragmatic" people. There are no step-by-step formulas.
Instead, there is a focus on five fundamentals: 1) Experiment (fail quickly to learn fast); 2) Play (a fun environment never snuffs out or prematurely judges the ideas--the case study on Pixar is amazing); 3) Immerse (get out with customers and learn from the ground up); 4) Reorient (make small wins and necessary pivots); and 5) Iterate (repeat, refine and test frequently).
Caution though: this approach is a 180 plunge from what the profs taught us. He quotes Sir Ken Robinson, "We are educating people out of their creativity." Plus, most management approaches are all about reducing errors and risk--not giving license to having a good whack at a half-baked idea. Goodness, this is God's money we're wasting!
So...is this just one more niche business book--a good read, a few memorable stories--and then back to real-life-in-the-trenches? Hopefully, no. Leverage the insights of Little Bets in your planning process--with one mega-caveat. "The fact is that much of what we would like to be able to predict is unpredictable. Global market movements, political and cultural complexities, and demographic shifts constantly reshape the ground beneath us. This certainty of uncertainty is becoming ever more evident with the accelerating pace of technological change. The Internet has reduced communications barriers and allows new players from different corners of the world to rapidly emerge and compete globally. Thus a key flaw with the top-down, central planning approach is how limited it is in allowing us to be limber and able to discover new ways of doing things."
Yikes...I've exceeded my prudent word limit--but I have another 100 paragraphs or whole pages of Little Bets highlighted you'll have to discover for yourself. BTW, I read this on my new Amazon Kindle--and love the highlighting and note-making options. Perfect for airplanes; but not as easy to pass around the room during my workshops and board consultations! I'm still undecided about it.
- plant many small seeds, rapidly cull the failures, water the wins
- the ability to persist and embrace failure as a necessary part of the learning process
- taking the time to immerse yourself in your customers' experience to uncover their problems and needs
- collect anthropological feedback on an ongoing basis (rather than planning in a cubicle)
- developing networks of diverse individuals to gather information by observing, questioning (what if? why? why not?), and listening
- get comfortable with being uncomfortable
- instill a culture of prototyping, playfulness, and improvisation
- encourage everyone to share ideas and solutions constructively (without regard to hierarchy)
- actively seek out problems
- encourage others to pursue their interests & ideas
- cultivate your extreme users (aka early adopters)
Beyond this core, the book offers many inspiring stories. As an author, I especially appreciated the masterful way the author wove stories across chapters.