Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims
Good book, I thought at first it would be like most business books, a good idea that would take fifteen minutes to explain spread over two hundred pages, but I have enjoyed it. It is made of several ideas, flow, etc, but blends them together well.
Chris Rock deeply understands that ingenious ideas almost never spring into people’s minds fully formed; they emerge through a rigorous experimental discovery process.
..............most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas—they discover them.
Jeff 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.
The type of creativity that is more interesting ...... is experimental innovation. These creators use experimental, iterative, trial-and-error approaches to gradually build up to breakthroughs. Experimental innovators must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goals. When much is known, procedural planning approaches work perfectly well. When much is unknown, they do not. These methods are decidedly not ways of just trying a lot of things to see what sticks, like throwing spaghetti against a wall. The most productive creative people and teams are rigorous, highly analytical, strategic, and pragmatic.
Fundamental to the little bets approach is that we:
• Experiment: Learn by doing. Fail quickly to learn fast.
• Play: A playful, improvisational, and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched, and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged.
• Immerse: Take time to get out into the world to gather fresh ideas and insights, in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires, and absorb how things work from the ground up.
• Define: Use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them, just as the Google founders did when they realized that their library search algorithm could address a much larger problem.
• Reorient: Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion.
• Iterate: Repeat, refine, and test frequently armed with better insights, information, and assumptions as time goes on, as Chris Rock does to perfect his act.
“A lot of our most successful ideas over the years came from the bottom up, by really understanding user needs.”
“illusion of rationality.” We are all vulnerable to this illusion. It happens when ideas or assumptions seem logical in a plan, spreadsheet model, PowerPoint, or memo, yet they haven’t been validated on the ground or in the real world.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
To effectively confront the insurgent enemies of today and the future, soldiers must be able to identify and solve unfamiliar problems, rapidly adapting to the circumstances unfolding on the ground. They work from the ground up and must learn from the environment—the people and the situation in each village and town—then craft new tactics that will address the problems they discover. They must be willing and able to adapt those tactics and keep developing new ones as they go.
The counterinsurgency approach is one of discovery and experimentation, a creative approach to warfare. Preconceived templates or plans are obsolete. The cornerstone of counterinsurgency operations is what Army strategists call developing the situation through action. Central to the process is acknowledging that mistakes will be made, like violating cultural norms or initially picking the wrong partners, because soldiers are operating in an arena of uncertainty. They must be willing to seize (and retain) the initiative by taking action in order to discover what to do, such as by launching frequent reconnaissance probes. In order to help soldiers become comfortable with this approach, Haskins says, “You have to catch people making mistakes and make it so that it’s cool. You have to make it undesirable to play it safe.”
“Design is a methodology for applying critical and creative thinking to understand, visualize, and describe complex, ill-structured problems and develop approaches to solve them.”
Two fundamental advantages of the little bets approach are highlighted in the research of Professor Saras Sarasvathy: that it enables us to focus on what we can afford to lose rather than make assumptions about how much we can expect to gain, and that it facilitates the development of means as we progress with an idea.
The affordable loss principle: Seasoned entrepreneurs will tend to determine in advance what they are willing to lose, rather than calculating expected gains.
Her work also shows that entrepreneurs tend to be highly aware of the importance of their means, which she defines as: Who they are: their values and tastes; What they know: their expertise, knowledge, experiences, and skills; and Who they know: their networks, friends, and allies. Of course, we should also add their monetary resources. She highlights that successful entrepreneurs are comfortable being adaptable in pursuit of their larger goals in large part because they are progressively building their means, such as by recruiting people or partners with complementary skills and experiences.
the value of building means as well as an affordable losses mentality.
Of course the subject of affordable losses highlights a key issue with the little bets approach—it inevitably involves failure. In almost any attempt to create, failure, and often a good deal of it, is to be expected.
Ambitious (dare I employ the overused word audacious) goals are essential.
A big vision provides the direction and inspiration through which to channel aspirations and ideas. But one of the most important lessons of the study of experimental innovators is that they are not rigid in pursuit of that vision, and that they persevere through failures, often many of them. When they run into problems, they accept that they must go down some unexpected paths in order to get to the ultimate goal, or maybe even redefine what that ultimate goal should be. This requires being willing to walk away from ideas that seemed great, overcoming significant challenges, as well as coping with the emotional impact of failure.
One of the striking characteristics of those who have learned to practice experimental innovation is that, like Chris Rock, they understand (and come to accept) that failure, in the form of making mistakes or errors, and being imperfect is essential to their success. It’s not that they intentionally try to fail, but rather that they know that they will make important discoveries by being willing to be imperfect, especially at the initial stages of developing their ideas.
By expecting to get things right at the start, we block ourselves psychologically and choke off a host of opportunities to learn. In placing so much emphasis on minimizing errors or the risk of any kind of failure, we shut off chances to identify the insights that drive creative progress. Becoming more comfortable with failure, and coming to view false starts and mistakes as opportunities opens us up creatively.
Research has demonstrated that people tend to lean toward one of two general ways of thinking about learning and failure, though everyone exhibits both to some extent. Those favoring a fixed mind-set believe that abilities and intelligence are set in stone, that we have an innate set of talents, which creates an urgency to repeatedly prove those abilities. They perceive failures or setbacks as threatening their sense of worth or their identity. Every situation, therefore, gets closely evaluated: “Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected?” Fixed mind-sets cause people to be overconcerned with seeking validation, such as grades, titles, or social recognition. Conversely, those favoring a growth mind-set believe that intelligence and abilities can be grown through effort, and tend to view failures or setbacks as opportunities for growth. They have a desire to constantly challenge and stretch themselves.
“If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you,” Jordan said. “If you put forth the effort, good things will be bestowed upon you.”
Dozens of studies later, Dweck’s findings suggest that people exhibiting fixed mind-sets tend to gravitate to activities that confirm their abilities, whereas those with growth mindsets tend to seek activities that expand their abilities.
Praising ability alone reduces persistence, while praising effort or the processes a person goes through to learn leads to growth mind-set behaviors. Dweck has found this to apply regardless of age.
Of course, just failing is not the key; the key is to be systematically learning from failures. To be closely monitoring what’s working and what is going wrong and making good use of that information.
“The measure is how we respond to the crises as they happen. We have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Not even Frank Gehry can inoculate himself from fears of failure. That is almost surely an integral part of the creative process for everyone to some degree, even those who have achieved the most and the most consistently. The key is that we can teach ourselves to think differently about failures and mistakes, seeing them as opportunities for learning and growth.
Carol Dweck’s research has shown that not only does everyone actually have a mixture of both fixed and growth mindsets, but the growth mind-set orientation can be developed. “Changing a mind-set is not like surgery,” she says. “You can’t simply remove the fixed mind-set and replace it with a growth mind-set.” That begins when someone becomes aware of which mindset they lean toward. Simply knowing more about the growth mind-set allows them to react to situations in new ways.
Next Dweck says that people can think about things in their lives that they thought they wouldn’t be good at, but eventually were. Another method that Dweck has shown can facilitate a mind-set shift is to focus people on evidence demonstrating the brain’s ability to grow its capacities.
When you learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually multiply and get stronger. The more that you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow. Then, things that you once found very hard or even impossible—like speaking a foreign language or doing algebra—seem to become easy. The result is a stronger, smarter brain.
This is another reason why the little bets approach can be so effective: It helps us to cultivate an exploratory, growth mind-set.
Redefining problems and failures as opportunities focuses our attention on insights to be gained rather than worrying about false starts or the risks we’re taking. By focusing on doing, rather than planning, learning about the risks and pitfalls of ideas rather than trying to predict them with precision up-front, an experimental approach develops growth mind-set muscles.
Being rigorous about spotting flaws and continuing to push toward excellence is essential to creative achievement.
Characteristics of what psychologists view as healthy perfectionism include striving for excellence and holding others to similar standards, planning ahead, and strong organizational skills. Healthy perfectionism is internally driven in the sense that it’s motivated by strong personal values for things like quality and excellence. Conversely, unhealthy perfectionism is externally driven. External concerns show up over perceived parental pressures, needing approval, a tendency to ruminate over past performances, or an intense worry about making mistakes. Healthy perfectionists exhibit a low concern for these outside factors.
One of the methods that can be most helpful in achieving this balance, in order to embrace the learning potential of failure, is prototyping. What the creation of low cost, rough prototypes makes possible is failing quickly in order to learn fast.
entrepreneurs push ideas into the market as quickly as possible in order to learn from mistakes and failures that will point the way forward.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
“The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts,” Lamott writes in Bird by Bird. Just get it down on paper, she recommends. Write like a child, whatever comes to your mind. “All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.”
This is a key reason why failing fast with low-risk prototypes the way Chris Rock does is so helpful: If we haven’t invested much in developing an idea, emotionally or in terms of time or resources, then we are more likely to be able to focus on what we can learn from that effort than on what we’ve lost in making it. Prototyping is one of the most effective ways to both jump-start our thinking and to guide, inspire, and discipline an experimental approach.
They tracked everything they did with data, and moved on from what didn’t ultimately seem useful or valuable ..... but finding ways to fail quickly, to invest less emotion and less time in any particular idea or prototype or piece of work, is a consistent feature of the work methods of successful experimental innovators.
Potential users of ideas are more comfortable sharing their honest reactions when it’s rough. There is less ego involved if it is unfinished and rough.
As Limb hypothesized, when the performers were playing improvised jazz, activity in the prefrontal cortex, the parts of the brain associated with self-censoring or conscious self-monitoring, were deactivated. In other words, when the performers switched from structured music to improvised jazz, the part of their brain responsible for evaluating and censoring their behavior effectively switched off. Improvising unlocks a far more creative state of mind. Kids don’t have the self-censoring capacity of their brain welldeveloped, which helps explain why they will say outlandish things, and also why kids are often extremely creative.
Scientists are still in the early days of understanding the functions of the brain, as well as their use of fMRI imaging. They do believe, however, that activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain right behind the eyes, is linked with self-expression.
Ansari and Berkowitz found that during improvisation, the right-temporoparietal junctions of the pianists’ brains were deactivated. Neuroscientists associate this area of the brain with the ability to make judgments, particularly about differences between self and others. The experienced pianists seemed to be able to turn off a judging part of their mind, freeing them up to create novel melodies. According to Berkowitz, brain scans of nonartists do not exhibit a similar pattern, which suggests that experiencing creative processes could help to build certain creative muscles. Ansari and Berkowitz also found that portions of the brain associated with selecting between two conflicting possibilities lit up during improvisation.
They were locked in, what psychology researchers might describe as a state of flow. Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did the pioneering work about the mental state of flow. Csikszentmihalyi had defined flow as: “Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Attaining a state of flow can be quite rare because there are many barriers to freeing our minds. Csikszentmihalyi identifies negative forms of perfectionism, fear, self-doubt, and self-censoring as primary obstacles to flow. Read the book Flow.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries Part 2
Book is pretty good, very short, and it is like The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, in that it has a great insight but it could have been more simply said.
Definitely a read, if no other reason than to think about it and find new books to read next.
"Playing the game of saying yes to everything " is a simplified and somewhat silly example, but the point of accepting every offer is that nothing is too silly. Accepting every offer by using “yes … and” language, a cornerstone of improvisation, facilitates building up ideas.
Throughout the Pixar creative process, they rely heavily on what they call plussing; it is likely the most-used concept around the company. The point of plussing is to build upon and improve ideas without using judgmental language.
A host of studies indicates that humor creates positive group effects. Many focus on how humor can increase cohesiveness and act as a lubricant to facilitate more efficient communications. In order to produce positive mental effects, however, researchers Eric Romero and Anthony Pescosolido found that humor first must be considered funny to the people involved, not seen as demeaning, derogatory, or put-downs. That finding is consistent with the underlying improvisation rationale for accepting every offer and making your partner look good. Successful group humor,
I am fascinated by the power of constraints -
On a typical project, the constraints, what Gehry also calls “guard rails,” that define the scope of Gehry’s figurative box will include a budget, timeframe, materials, political or regulatory rules, and the nature of the building site itself. Those constraints not only help Gehry Partners to bound, focus, and measure their progress, they help begin and evolve the design. As Google’s Marissa Mayer has put it, “Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome.”
productively creative people use constraints to limit their focus and isolate a set of problems that need to be solved.
The key is to take a larger project or goal and break it down into smaller problems to be solved, constraining the scope of work to solving a key problem, and then another key problem. For example software development projects should be broken into small pieces, prioritized, completed, and released based on user needs. They emphasized using small collaborative teams to respond to change over determined processes or plans, and believed that working software was the best measure of progress.
Smallifying processes facilitates more efficient development of code, and it promotes faster learning.
Note that one of the great benefits of the agile approach is that it is also a good method for failing fast. As Vanier explains, if he can launch ten features in the same time it takes a competitor to launch one, he’ll have ten times the amount of experience to draw from in figuring out what has failed the test of customer acceptance and what has succeeded.
One of his favorite examples of the importance of immersion is Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, the lender responsible for launching the microfinance industry, and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. In 1974, Yunus was an economics professor at Chittagong University in Bangladesh. That year, a severe famine ravaged India sending starving, skeletonlike people from the countryside into cities in search of food. They started showing up in railway stations and bus stations, Yunus recalled in his autobiography, Banker to the Poor. Find this book
Yunus felt shocked. He especially could not believe that Sufiya earned just two cents per day. “In my university courses, I theorized about sums in the millions of dollars, but here before my eyes the problems of life and death were posed in terms of pennies,” he recounted. “Something was wrong. Why did my university courses not reflect the reality of Sufiya’s life? I was angry, angry at myself, angry at my economics department and the thousands of intelligent professors who had not tried to address this problem and solve it.” Nothing foreseeable would break the cycle of poverty for Sufiya, or for her children. “I had never heard anyone suffering for the lack of twenty-two cents,” Yunus lamented.
Yunus went back to his house where he and Professor Latifee took a walk through the garden in the late afternoon heat. “I was trying to see Sufiya’s problem from her point of view,” Yunus recalled. “She suffered because the cost of bamboo was five taka.” Sufiya could not afford to buy raw materials for the bamboo stools and she could not get a conventional loan since she did not have collateral. The middlemen allowed her just enough profit to survive from day to day. Sufiya lived as a bonded laborer, essentially enslaved. But, over the coming years, Grameen would loan over $6.5 billion, while maintaining repayment rates consistently above 98 percent. The practice became known as “microlending” or “microfinance,” and would become a global phenomenon. “All I really wanted to do was solve an immediate problem,” he said. As Yunus described in a speech years later, “At the beginning, you had no idea that something like this [microlending] would emerge, but it is so clear, so transparent, you don’t need to be a smart researcher to go find it.” The insights and ideas that were obvious to Yunus the anthropologist had been hidden from Yunus the economist. The difference: by absorbing poverty from the worm’s-eye view, asking lots of questions, and being open to changing his assumptions, he could understand what he could not from a bird’s-eye view.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
As Steve Blank, a cofounder of the software company E.piphany, who teaches entrepreneurship at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and who routinely challenges entrepreneurs to get out into the world to challenge their own assumptions, says, “No facts exist inside the building, only opinions.”
“You gotta come in with your ears open,” H. R. McMaster told George Packer inside Tal Afar during 2006, “You can’t come in and start talking. You have to really listen to people.”
Research evidence suggests a strong link between inquisitiveness and creative productivity.
Iinnovators closely observed details, particularly about other people’s behaviors. “In observing others, they act like anthropologists and social scientists,”
“Creativity is just connecting things,” Jobs told Wired magazine. “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people … Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”
Truth be told, most investors get their insight from traders or other investors. It’s what Chanos calls the smart-guy syndrome: When hedge-fund analysts go to a dinner in New York or London and hear someone they think is smart talk about a company. “The next day, they all go take a two percent stake in the company,” Chanos says. This is not original thinking. It’s amazing how common the smart-guy syndrome is among investors and how rare it is to find original thinking investors. In my experience, the best investors, by contrast, are contrarian thinkers. They get out into the world to find unique insights.
Dell, founder and CEO, asking why a computer should cost five times as much as its parts. “I would take computers apart … and would observe that $600 worth of parts were sold for $3,000,” Dell shared. In laboring over the question, Dell’s personal-computing business model ideas emerged.
“When something seems like an opportunity—it seems like you have the skills, and maybe some kind of advantage, and you think it’s a big area—you will always get asked the question, ‘Why? Why do that?’ Bezos told Harvard Business Review, then elaborated, “But ‘Why not?’ is an equally valid question. And there may be good reasons why not—maybe you don’t have the capital resources, or parts of your current business require so much focus at this key juncture that it would be irresponsible. In that case, if somebody asked, ‘Why not?’ you would say, ‘Here’s why not …’ But that question doesn’t get asked.”
Chet suggested that I spend only a week or so doing market research, so that I could come up to speed on the industry and competitive landscape. His main advice was that we should just get out, talk with potential customers, and look for problems and needs before coming up with any strategies. Not surprisingly, he learned this approach through experience.
“If you look at four-year-olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work,” Gregersen observed generally. “But by the time they are six and a half years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions.” It’s a haunting finding that raises serious concern about our education system. Specifically, what is the purpose of education?
The remaining pattern of action that Dyer and Gregersen found distinguished the innovators from the noninnovators that we haven’t yet covered: innovators routinely networked with people who came from different backgrounds. It’s a way to challenge one’s assumptions and gain broader
A preponderance of evidence that indicates that diversity, be it of perspectives, experiences, or backgrounds, fuels creativity. We see this pattern at the individual, organizational, and societal level.
Learning a little bit from a lot of people was one of the main ways Tim identified so many unique ideas and insights. He left no stone unturned and was extremely open to what could emerge from each interaction. Tim was constantly open to new information and ideas from an extremely diverse network of people. This is a critical capacity that anyone can develop.
Dr. Richard Wiseman, - The Luck Factor. (he recommends the book)
As the newspaper photo counting experiment illustrates, one obvious implication from Wiseman’s research is that lucky people pay more attention to what’s going on around them than unlucky people. It’s more nuanced than that. Here’s where being open to meeting, interacting with, and learning from different types of people comes in. Wiseman found that lucky people tend to be open to opportunities (or insights) that come along spontaneously, whereas unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine, fixated on certain specific outcomes.
In analyzing behavior patterns at social parties, for example, unlucky people tended to talk with the same types of people, people who are like themselves. It’s a common phenomenon. On the other hand, lucky people tended to be curious and open to what can come along from chance interactions.
Wiseman believed another type of behavior played an even greater role in success. Wiseman found that lucky people build and maintain what he called a strong network of luck. He wrote: Lucky people are effective at building secure, and longlasting, attachments with the people they meet. They are easy to know and most people like them. They tend to be trusting and form close relationships with others. As a result, they often keep in touch with a much larger number of friends and colleagues than unlucky people. And time and again, this network of friends helps promote opportunity in their lives.
This was Wiseman’s core finding: You can create your own luck. “I discovered that being in the right place at the right time is actually all about being in the right state of mind,” he argued. Lucky people increase their odds of chance encounters or experiences by interacting with a large number of people. Wiseman took his research on luck one step further. After identifying a group of people who identified themselves as unlucky, he shared the main principles of lucky behavior, including specific techniques. As Wiseman described it, “For instance, they were taught how to be more open to opportunities around them, how to break routines, and how to deal with bad luck by imagining things being worse.” Wiseman included exercises to increase chance opportunities, such as building and maintaining a network of luck, being open to new experiences, and developing a more relaxed attitude toward life, as well as ways to listen to hunches and to visualize lucky interactions. After carrying out specific exercises for a month, participants reported back to Wiseman. “The results were dramatic: eighty percent were happier and more satisfied with their lives—and luckier,” Wiseman summed.
Moynihan didn’t flinch, as Tim recalled in an interview, “And he said, ‘You have to understand: What you know, they’ll never know, and what they know, you can learn.’ And he slapped me on the back, dusted me off, and sent me on my way.”
That new ideas travel along a curve of adoption from early to late adopters is now widely accepted.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
Beginning in the 1970s, von Hippel examined where innovations come from (the original source of a later commercialized idea) across a range of industries, from scientific instruments to semiconductors to thermoplastics. In an extensive study on the sources of innovation for major scientific instruments, for instance, von Hippel found that one group, which he called active users or lead users, were responsible for developing over 75 percent of the innovations. A similar pattern ran across an array of other industries. These people not only serve as cutting-edge taste makers, they actively tinker to push and create new ideas on their own.
Designers call these people extreme users, whose unique needs can foreshadow the needs of other people. The reason why designers find extreme users so valuable is because the average person isn’t actively thinking about solving problems like these. Their needs and desires are less pronounced.
Chris Thoen, who leads P&G’s Global Open Innovation, describes their approach simply: “Choose a few consumers that you really feel are the early adopters, test it with them, see what they like about it and what they don’t like about it … And, if it appeals to them, use them to optimize it [the idea] further and then the laggards will follow.”
Now, to adopt the von Hippel Strategy, one of the things that 3M had to figure out, and that Chris Rock must do when he sets out to develop his material, was how to find active users.
Take the mountain bike. It wasn’t invented by a person or company. In the mid-1970s, dozens of avid pro-am riders in northern California started making modifications to their bikes for off-road riding on local mountains. They replaced thin tires with thicker ones, reformulated the braking systems, and modified the bike frames (I would recommend the documentary The Klunkerz, if you’re curious about the whole story.).
I then identified potential agents the same way 3M identified active users: by looking at who represented authors of similar books, asking around, then sending the agents cold email introductions. I will never forget the first conversation I had with one of these agents. Though painful, it illustrates the value of the von Hippel Strategy. After sending a rough threepager, the agent and I spoke for thirty minutes. It was a long thirty minutes.
As we begin to make use of these methods to develop new ideas, strategies, and projects, they combine to facilitate what organizational psychologist Karl Weick refers to as small wins. Weick defines a small win as “a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance.” They are small successes that emerge out of our ongoing development process, and it’s important to be watching closely for them.
upon. Small wins are like footholds or building blocks amid the inevitable uncertainty of moving forward, or as the case may be, laterally. They serve as what Saras Sarasvathy calls landmarks, and they can either confirm that we’re heading in the right direction or they can act as pivot points, telling us how to change course.
Elaborating on the benefits of small wins, Weick writes, “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”
In fact, Schultz described Starbucks’s mentality as: “the value of dogmatism and flexibility.”
According to Weick, “a series of wins at small but significant tasks … reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance.” Another benefit of small wins is less immediately obvious: They enable the development of the means to attain goals.
Entrepreneurs use their available means, such as their expertise, networks, or financial resources, to develop their ideas and access additional resources and means.
As Weick explains about this benefit of small wins, “New allies bring new solutions with them and old opponents change their habits. Additional resources also flow toward winners, which means that slightly larger wins can be attempted.” One element of small wins that is particularly tricky to absorb is that very often they will not emerge in a linear fashion, so they cannot reliably be predicted or planned for and may not build on one another, one step after another. In some instances, one small win may clearly lead directly to another.
One last, yet important, point about small wins is that often, rather than validating a direction we’ve been pursuing, they will provide a signal to proceed in a different way.
This brings us back to the fundamental advantages of the little bets approach; it allows us to discover new ideas, strategies, or plans through an emergent process, rather than trying to fully formulate them before we begin, and it facilitates adapting our approach as we go rather than continuing on a course that may lead to failure.
As Richard Wiseman’s research demonstrates, chance favors the open mind, receptivity to what cannot be predicted or imagined based on existing knowledge. With the barriers lowered, the creative mind thrives on continuous experimentation and discovery.
General McMaster lists such core counterinsurgency methods as: understand, act, assess and adapt, consolidate gains, and transition missions to civilian control.
General David Petraeus says about counterinsurgency operations, “The side that learns and adapts the fastest often prevails.”
General McMaster frames and reframes the key problems from the bottom up before taking bold action.
“Very few schools teach students how to create knowledge,” says Professor Keith Sawyer of Washington University, a leading education and innovation researcher. “Instead, students are taught that knowledge is static and complete, and they become experts at consuming knowledge rather than producing knowledge.”
Change happens in small, achievable ways.
Books he recommends/ look for ( most I have read)
Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code. New York: Bantam, 2009.
Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006.
Kahney, Leander. Inside Steve’s Brain. New York: Portfolio, 2009.
Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1995. -
Lamott describes her writing tactics, especially how to overcome the common fears and barriers writers face. Her key insights, applicable to any creative process, include the importance of writing “shitty first drafts” in the interest of getting ideas out first and worrying about perfection later, and writing only as much as she can see in a one inch by one inch picture frame. That is, chunking writing into extremely manageable pieces.
Pink, Daniel. A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead, 2006.
Price, David. The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. New York: Knopf, 2008.
Chesborough, Henry. Open Innovation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2003.
Christensen, Clayton. The Innovator’s Dilemma. New York: Collins Business, 2003, and The Innovator’s Solution, with Michael Raynor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2003.
Collins, Jim. How the Mighty Fall. Jim Collins, 2009.
Collins, Jim and Jerry Porras. Built to Last. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
Drucker, Peter. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. New York: HarperCollins, 1985.
Liker, Jeffrey. The Toyota Way. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004. University of Michigan
Rogers, Everett. Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press, 1995. This is the definitive research book about how ideas spread.
Sawyer, Keith. Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. New York: Basic Books, 2007.
Sternberg, Robert J. Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
von Hippel, Eric. The Sources of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Von Hippel’s website provides a host of resources related to his research: http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/.
Bayles, David and Ted Orland. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. Eugene, OR: Capra Press, 1993.
Csikzentmihalyi, Mihaly. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997. Professor Csikzentmihalyi
de Bono, Edward. Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
Galenson, David. Old Masters and Young Geniuses. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. -
His central argument is that people are either conceptual innovators (like Mozart) or experimental innovators (like Beethoven) and that conceptual innovators tend to do their best work while they are young, whereas experimental innovators tend to do their best work in their later years. Critics have poked holes in Galenson’s arguments by finding exceptions to his age rules, but his general distinction is compelling. What’s less clear is what the spectrum between conceptual and experimental innovation looks like at the individual level, as well as whether people can move from conceptual to experimental or vice versa.
Maeda, John. The Laws of Simplicity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. Maeda,
Stokes, Patricia. Creativity from Constraint. New York: Springer, 2006.
Young, James Webb. A Technique for Producing Ideas. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC/Contemporary, 1988.
Brown, Tim. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: Harper Business, 2009.
Kelley, Tom. The Art of Innovation. New York: Crown, 2007, and The Ten Faces of Innovation. New York: Crown, 2006.
Martin, Roger. The Design of Business. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2009.
Moggridge, Bill. Designing Interactions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
Richardson, Adam. Innovation X. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Belsky, Scott. Making Ideas Happen. New York: Portfolio, 2010.
Fried, Jason, and David Heinemeier Hansson. Rework. New York: Crown, 2010.
Gianforte, Greg, and Marcus Gibson. Bootstrapping Your Business. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2005. Professor Saras -Sarasvathy pointed me to this book. It provides a host of concrete and specific tactics for entrepreneurs who want to start businesses completely from scratch, with their own resources, including selling, managing cash, inexpensive PR tactics, and customer service.
Yunas, Muhammad, and Alan Jolis. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. New York: Public Affairs, 1999.
Johansson, Frans. The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, 2004.
Lafley, A. G., and Ram Charam. The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation. New York: Crown, 1988.
McGrath, Rita Gunther, and Ian C. MacMillan. Discovery-Driven Growth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, 2009. -
McGrath and MacMillan propose thinking differently about traditional management decision-making models by building income statements up, by determining what revenues need to be achieved to support costs. Their method is similar to what Professor Saras Sarasvathy calls the principle of affordable loss. By reframing analyses from what one expects to gain (traditional expected value calculations) to what one can afford to lose, decision making more closely resembles that of expert entrepreneurs.
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan. New York: Random House, 2007. -
One of the points that Taleb highlights is that, when operating within a high degree of uncertainty, one should experiment including to find what Taleb calls inadvertent discoveries.
Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
“We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.
— Charles T. Munger”
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