Sunday, May 08, 2011

Little Bets

I finished the new book "Little Bets - How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries," by Peter Sims. I enjoyed it. I also think I can use some of its material in several parts of my life.

Little bets is about achieving complex or difficult goals by intentionally taking a path of small steps, trying, reviewing, changing, trying again, and iterating. One phrase that I liked was "experimental innovators."

Fundamental elements of little bets include: experiment, play, immerse, define, reorient, and iterate. It is not simply trying lots of things and seeing what works. Successful practitioners are rigorous, analytical, strategic, and pragmatic. Sims illustrates this by examining the experiences and methods of Chris Rock, Jeff Bezos, Frank Gehry, Pixar filmmakers, Steve Jobs, Bill Hewlett & Dave Packard, and US Army officers, among others. The US Army counterinsurgency approach is called "developing the situation through action." The Pixar guys summarize their creative process as "going from suck to nonsuck."

This is counter to the commonplace mindset Sims calls the "HiPPO phenomenon", wherein the highest paid person's opinion (HiPPO) dominates how people make decisions.

Sims summarizes: "...the fundamental advantages of the little bets approach; it allow 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."

The core ideas of Little Bets are not new. They've been employed by many people for many years, and this is illustrated by the examples the author describes. Heck, the Stanford d.school classes are famous for employing these methods, stirring the energies of all who take them.

The second chapter is an overview of the amazing research by Carol Dweck and the growth mind-set. I call attention to it here in order to encourage everyone to read about Dweck's research, since we can leverage what she learned and positively influence our lives and our childrens' lives.

The chapter titles help to illustrate the author's framework:

1. Big Bests Versus Little Bets
2. The Growth Mind-set
3. Failing Quickly to Learn Fast
4. The Genius of Play
5. Problems Are the New Solutions
6. Questions Are the New Answers
7. Learning a Little From a Lot
8. Learning a Lot From a Little
9. Small Wins

There's a section at the end of the book titled "Further Readings and Resources" that is a nice outline of related books that many will find useful. You might browse through that section if you come across this book at a bookstore.

Here is the author's web site for the book. Here's the Amazon page.

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