Brain Pickings

Little Bets: A New Theory of Creativity and Innovation

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What Chris Rock has to do with Steve Jobs, Stanford and the secret of cross-disciplinary creativity.

Innovation theory is great, but the dangerous disconnect there is that no matter how compelling the ideas, theses and arguments, we often fail to make the leap between how this theory both applies to our everyday real-life experience and is a reflection of the everyday experience of real-life innovators. This disconnect is exactly what Peter Sims’ addresses in his excellent new book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries — a fascinating, eloquent and rigorously rooted in reality exploration of the creative process in innovaton. At its heart lies the concept of the “little bet” — a small, low-risk action taken to discover, develop and test an idea, a potent antidote to some of innovation and creativity’s greatest obstacles: perfectionism, risk-aversion, endless rumination.

The seed of this book was planted while I was attending Stanford Business School. One of the most common things I would hear people say was that they would do something new — take an unconventional career path or start a company — but that they needed a great idea first. I had worked before then as a venture capital investor, and in that work, I had learned that most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas — they discover them.” ~ Peter Sims

From how Chris Rock crafts new comedy routines with small audiences to hone his delivery to how Amazon’s Jeff Bezos extracts insights about opportunities from smaller markets, Sims enlists an incredible range of creative, strategic and business innovators to illustrate how “little bets” work — architect Frank Gehry, Twitter founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey, musician John Legend, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, companies like Pixar, Google, General Motors and many, many more — swiftly swaying from psychology to business strategy to neuroscience to theory of mind and just about everything in between.

Lucky people increase their odds of chance encounters or experiences by interacting with a large number of people.

And since we’ve already established how much I love book trailers, it’s worth noting Little Bets gets bonus points for this one:

More than anything, Little Bets is a living testament — the opposite of a fluff-lined “manifesto” — to the power of life experience in innovation, of insights and principles and creative codes developed through years of being intellectually and creatively active, curious, and awake in the world, rather than staring at the PowerPoint slide on the screen of an MBA lecture hall. And what makes the “little bets” approach most noteworthy is that it applies to anything from artistic endeavors to policy to social entrepreneurship to real-time media and beyond.

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.'” ~ Peter Sims

Part Spark, part Making Ideas Happen, part something else entirely, Little Bets is one of the most compelling journeys into the roots of creativity to come by in a long time. Amazon has a fantastic, revealing Q&A with Sims that will give you a taste of this gourmet meal from the kitchen of true innovation.

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