June 13, 2014

Howard Schultz

CEO Howard Schultz relies on his experience to make successful small moves. Credit: University of Denver / Flickr Creative Commons


We’re often told to “think big,” but what if it’s the small bets that actually pay off?

Peter Sims, the author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, uses Chris Rock as an example. “What Chris Rock does, and what all the top stand-up comedians do is they go to their small clubs to develop and refine their ideas.”

This connects Rock to architect Frank Gehry and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, according to Sims. They all became successful through surprisingly small moves.

And there's good reason to take small steps, even when you have deep pockets.

Pixar famously engages in an arduous process of honing ideas and discarding concepts that don’t work. “What Pixar focuses on is identifying the problems and solving those problems. Rather than throwing everything away, they just realize this is part of the process."

So, does experience help you make better small bets?

It depends, says Sims. There’s the successful entrepreneur "who comes up with an inkling of an idea that turns into something that’s an initiative."

But the reverse is also true – a lack of expertise can spell success. Like the Wright Brothers, who worked in a bike shop before turning to airplanes. “They go out and think about the problem in ways that nobody else could have anticipated."

The most important thing to remember is that where you start - your experiment, your prototype - isn’t necessarily where you’re going to end up.

Sims points to YouTube, which began as a dating site - and to Google, possibly the most lucrative PhD project ever. Sometimes those little bets really pay off.

Peter Sims, Business

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