Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries by Peter Sims

Perfectionism and Prototyping

  • There are two kinds of perfectionism. The healthy kind features striving for excellence, strong organizational skills, holding others to high standards, and planning ahead. Unhealthy perfectionism is driven by external concerns such as the expectations of others, ruminating on past performances, and intense worry about making mistakes. It seems that we all have some of both and therefore need to find a balance.
  • A method that can help achieve this balance comes with the learning potential of prototyping. This involves the creation of low cost, rough prototypes with cardboard and duck tape like materials that make it possible to fail quickly in order to learn fast. Seasoned entrepreneurs describe this approach as failing forward. If you are a writer, this means cranking out shitty first drafts that can mature into polished finished products. The process of ongoing prototyping facilitates experimentation and rigorous and continual scrutiny. The emphasis is on doing to be able to think rather than thinking in order to do. Its seems that doing things imperfectly at first can open us up to creativity. This enables healthy perfectionism.

The Genius of Play

  • Innovative play turns on a different part of the brain than carefully planned activities. The key concept to apply to innovative group activities is called plussing. The point is to build upon and improve ideas of others without using judgmental language. At the same time you want to maintain an environment that features humor and playfulness. Also at the core of this approach is to accept every offer and make others look good. Language like “I like this aspect and” should replace judgmental language and words like “but.” This requires that the people involved let go of the need to control every detail. This allows for pointed critique and positive feedback at the same time, so that persistent criticism is not deflating. This is embracing healthy perfectionism.
  • Humor creates positive group effects such as cohesiveness, efficient communication, and breaking down power structures. That’s assuming that the people involved think it’s funny as opposed to degrading. People who score high on sense of humor also score high on trustworthiness. A playful, lighthearted, and humorous environment is helpful when ideas are newly hatched and incubating.

Problems Are the New Solutions

  • Creative people tend to be better problem finders, and more active problem finders are seen in a better light. A key way to do this is to break a large project or goal into smaller problems to be solved. In this case, each problem will have its own constraints. This approach is called smallifying. These smaller problems can be tackled by autonomous teams that self-organize, and learn what to do as they proceed. This approach is far more agile than trying to plan, design, and map out the details of entire project at once. While externally imposed constraints can be onerous, self-imposed constraints can be helpful starting points.
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