Saturday, April 23, 2011

Little Bets = Greatest Hits Of The 2000s

I've just completed reading Peter Sims' new book, Little Bets. I'll admit that I'm horrendously biased because 1) Peter is an old friend, and 2) he quotes me on page 75 of the hardcover edition, but I think that Little Bets is a great book.

(Apparently the world agrees; Amazon has 17 customer reviews for the book and each of them is a 5-star review)

The best way I can describe it is to say that Peter has done an outstanding job capturing nearly all the best ideas from the past decade and tying them together in a single, easy-to-read volume.

At first, I wasn't sure how much I'd learn from the book. After all, I've been steeped in these ideas for decades. I *was* a Stanford product design student before the term "design thinking" became popular. I was privileged enough to hear a lecture from Jim Collins *before* he wrote Built To Last, and I actually interviewed both Clay Christiansen and Hank Chesbrough when I was writing for the student paper at HBS, where I was also in the same section as Fran Johansson.

In other words, if all Peter had done was collect together ideas from other thinkers, I'd be the perfect reader to call BS. (Confession: If I hadn't liked the book, I would simply have avoided giving it a review or blogging about it. Call me an intellectual coward, but I'd rather remain silent on a book than hurt a friend's feelings.)

But Little Bets is so well-written that it transcends summary and becomes a true synthesis of ideas. Here's an example--take a look at the table of contents for the book:
Introduction
1. Big Bets 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
10. Conclusion
Each chapter covers a single key concept, and each concept flows easily into the next. And while many aspects of the book seem Gladwellian (a focus on anecdotes, wide ranging examples from standup comedy to counterinsurgency), Peter's authorial voice is restrained and elegantly spare, which make personal touches even more effective--like the example of how a conversation he had with the late, great Tim Russert (a family friend) led to Russert being the first TV journalist to get Barack Obama to acknowledge his interest in running for the presidency in 2008.

The cherry on the sundae is the great care Peter takes with the conclusion and the "Further Reading and Resources" section. As you may know, I often write outlines of the books I read; I find it's hard to remember the salient points without a concise summary.

I'm not going to bother for Peter's book. His table of contents and conclusion do the job for me. Here, for example, is a brilliant paragraph from the conclusion that summarizes the book:
Invention and discovery emanate from being able to try seemingly wild possibilities and work in the unknown; to be comfortable being wrong before being right; to live in the world as a keen observer, with an openness to experiences and ideas; to play with ideas without censoring oneself or others; to persist through dark valleys with a growth mindset; to improvise ideas in collaboration and conversation with others; and, to have a willingness to be misunderstood, sometimes for long periods of time, despite conventional wisdom.
On top of that, his "Further Readings and Resources" is better than any I've read. He lists 42 different books, complete with a one-paragraph explanation of each, as well as as 13 Twitter feeds to follow. Half of the books he lists are books I've read, almost all of which I consider classics. The other half will be jumping to the top of my list of books to read.

I don't buy a lot of books. In fact, one of my strangest and most distinctive habits is that I almost always buy a book after I've read it (my reasoning is that I should only buy books I *know* will be worth it). While I received a free review copy of Little Bets, I wouldn't hesitate to buy a copy for any friend who wanted a masterful introduction to the world of innovation and ideas.

No comments: