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Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 19, 2011
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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.
"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." — Sir Ken Robinson, New York Times bestselling author of The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything
"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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
"'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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Solves the problem backwards and fills the blank. Formulaic plus poor writing.Published 1 month ago by M. heidari
Great little book. The idea that you learn what you are doing whilst you are doing it, is refreshing. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Michael Alf
Great book for entrepreneurs and those who are up and coming... Great suggestions and the book flows well.Published 5 months ago by CapnKent
I am a University of Baltimore student enrolled in the survey Entrepreneurship course and this was a recommended reading for class. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Matt Rose
"Little Bets" explores how we can begin to think like master entrepreneurs. He asserts that the "creative process of discovery" can assist in the creation of some... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Donovan Peterson