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In Little bets, Peter Sims makes the case that success and innovation flow from series of small discoveries and adjustments, rather than the construction of a grand plan or roadmap. By examining the behaviors of folks like comedian Chris Rock, architect Frank Gehry, Pixar Studios, and Nobel-laureate Muhammad Yunus, Sims shows that in complex endeavors, we can’t hope to know all the possible variables and create a rigid strategy to succeed. Instead, we must constantly experiment in a way that failure is not catastrophic, but that allows us to better define the problem and find the beginnings of solutions.

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. Perhaps the crucial insight will come from a prototype, or maybe it’s an observation through immersion or a small win that illuminates a subtle clue. It’s not a linear process from step A to step B to step C. 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.

While the case studies may lead you to fret that this is all anecdotal, they also provide some clear strategies that you can employ to place your own small bets. Some of the strategies raised include, failing fast and early to learn from mistakes, being open to unexpected outcomes and possibilities, changing your perspective when looking at problems (“worms eye view”), recognizing small wins, and constantly adapting to new realities.

This book dovetails nicely with Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (Tim Harford) which I recently read. It goes beyond Adapt and offers many practical techniques.

I believe the days of long-range, centralized planning are over, and this book provides great insight into how organizations and individuals can approach complex problems. I definitely recommend you read the book and start placing your own “little bets.”

Reviewed by Stephen


Grade: (A)


See also:

Peter Sims Links:
Peter Sims - Think Differently

Book-related and General Links:
Where the Action Is - Book Review: Little Bets -