Little Bets by Peter Sims


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Instead of starting with a big idea or planning your entire project in advance, you should build momentum early on through a series of small but significant wins.


22 lessons

Little Bets

– by Peter Sims –


1) We weren’t taught to be creative

Great emphasis gets placed in our education system on teaching facts, such as historical information or scientific tables, then testing us in order to measure how much we’ve retained about that body of knowledge. There is much less emphasis on developing our creative thinking abilities, our abilities to let our minds run imaginatively and to discover things on our own.

2) Many jobs prevent innovation

For years, organizational management has been developing methods for increasing productivity and minimizing risk and errors that tend to stifle creative experimentation. This emphasis on linear systems, top-down control, relentless efficiency and eradicating failure left little room for creative discovery through trial and error.

3) Balance creative and linear thinking

Experimental innovation should not entirely replace linear thinking in our regular work processes. Engaging in discovery and making little bets is a way to complement more linear, procedural thinking. No one can take their eye off their core business or responsibilities, but anyone can spend a portion of their time and energies using little bets to discover, test, and improve new ideas.

4) Creative adaptability has never been more important

The Internet has reduced communications barriers and allows new players from different corners of the world to rapidly emerge and compete globally. In this era of ever-accelerating change, being able to create, navigate amid uncertainty, and adapt using an experimental approach will increasingly be a vital advantage.

5) Be a healthy perfectionist

Healthy perfectionists possess internal motivation, and are driven by strong personal values for things like quality and excellence. Conversely, unhealthy perfectionists are externally driven. External concerns show up over perceived social pressures, needing approval, a tendency to ruminate over past performances, or an intense worry about making mistakes.

6) Ideas come through discovery

The most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas – they discover them. Ingenious ideas almost never spring into people’s minds fully formed; they emerge through a rigorous experimental discovery process.

7) Take little bets

Little bets involve using certain creative methods to identify possibilities and build up to great outcomes. At the core of this experimental approach, little bets are concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable.

8) You still need a big vision

Ambitious 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 from experimental innovators is that they are not rigid in pursuit of that vision, and that they persevere though failures, often many of them.

9) Be pragmatically flexible

Little bets are not ways of just trying a lot of things to see what sticks. The most productive creative people are rigorous, highly analytical, and strategic. They don’t cling to a formulaic model or step-by-step process that can be followed.

10) Learn by doing

Fail quickly to learn fast. Develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems, and build up creative ideas. Experimental innovators use iterative, trial-and-error approaches to gradually build up to breakthroughs. They must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goals.

11) Play

A playful, lighthearted, and humorous environment is especially helpful when ideas are incubating and newly hatched, the phase when they are most vulnerable to being snuffed out or even expressed because of being judged or self-censored. A fun atmosphere quiets our inhibitions and prevents creative ideas from being discarded prematurely.

12) Immerse

Take time to get out into the world to gather fresh ideas and insights. This will help you understand deeper human motivations and desires, and let you absorb how things work from the ground up.

13) Define

Use insights gathered throughout the creative process to define specific problems and needs before solving them. You can’t make progress unless you know which solutions you’re pursuing.

14) Use small wins to boost momentum

Small wins help build momentum and can be the crucial boost to beat back the inevitable frustration of any creative endeavor. Given the dynamic quality of any discovery process, small wins provide a technique to validate and adapt ideas, to provide clarity amid uncertainty, and to signal when it might be necessary to proceed in a certain way.

15) Anyone can do this

Because popular perception suggests that only certain people can be brilliant creators, the tremendous value of reaching innovations and creative outcomes through an experimental approach has long been neglected. The important thing to remember is that while prodigies are exceptionally rare, anyone can use little bets to unlock creative ideas.

16) You need conviction

If you don’t have that fundamental belief in your idea, and you’re not willing to run through a fire for it, then you don’t have the inspiration you need. However, you also have to be flexible and willing to pivot when necessary. One of the biggest problems is that many people get very passionate or convinced about an idea that’s not actually solving a problem for the world. That’s when you need objective and unbiased feedback to question your vision.

17) Become more comfortable with imperfection and failure

We’re taught from a young age that we should always have all of the right answers, but we must learn to live with some ambiguity. 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.

18) Questions are the new answers

One of the best ways to identify creative insights and develop ideas is to throw out theories and use your imagination. Don’t be afraid to question the status quo of how things are normally done. Innovators ask questions, such as ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’

19) Chance favors the open mind

Lucky people tend to be much less rigid in the way they take in information and interact with other people. People who are so focused on what’s in front of them tend to miss what’s going on in their surroundings. The less aware you are, the less luck you will experience. You can create your own luck.

20) Develop a growth mindset

Those favoring a fixed mindset 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. Conversely, those favoring a growth mindset believe that intelligence and abilities can be grown through effort, and tend to view failures or setbacks as opportunities for growth.

21) Use constraints to your advantage

Productive 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.

22) Fail quickly and learn fast – start with a prototype

At the beginning of any new idea, the possibilities can seem infinite, and that wide-open landscape of opportunity can become a prison of anxiety and self-doubt. This is a key reason why failing fast with low-risk prototypes 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.