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

Learning a Little from a Lot

  • Innovators are likely to develop a network of people with diverse backgrounds. This results in challenging one’s assumptions and gaining a broader insight. Learning a little bit from a lot of different people can be very powerful. Creative people are more open to new ideas and experiences. This can help counter the status quo bias.
  • Peter uses research on people who see themselves as lucky and those who don’t to expand on these ideas. Self-described lucky people pay more attention to what’s going on around them, and tend to be open to opportunities that come along. They smile more, which draws in other people and increases chance encounters. This builds a strong network of luck. By expanding one’s access to people and perspectives, lucky people expose themselves to more good insights and opportunities. They develop a more relaxed attitude towards life, and are more able to listen to hunches and visualize lucky interactions.

Learning a Lot from a Little

  • The Steve Job’s quote: “People don’t know what they want until they see it,” is the lead in here. The big shift in market research is away from one where you ask people what they want, to one where the focus is on a key group of people called active users. They are cutting-edge taste makers who actively tinker to push and create new ideas on their own. The people you want are also called early adopters. They can test new products and ideas and help optimize them further.
  • If you rely on in-house people to come up with new ideas you will mostly get incremental refinements to existing products. A good example is the mountain bike, which came into being when active bikers started to tinker with existing designs. Bike makers took notice and now most bikes sold are mountain bikes. The trick is to identify active users for your particular situation. When Peter was developing ideas for this book, he reached out to literary agents and fellow authors he knew. They gave him the criticism he needed to make this book as cool as it is.

Small Wins

  • For this purpose, a small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. They emerge out of one’s ongoing development process. Small wins usually set forces in motion that favor more small wins. Peter uses the short films that Pixar made for no profit but they set the stage for Toy Story, the first of many big hits. Starbucks used small wins from customer feedback to modify it’s business towards the success it enjoys today. Additional resources and allies flow towards winners.
  • Small wins seldom emerge in a linear manner, so they cannot be predicted or planned for. The next solvable problem seldom coincides with the next logical step. Small wins allow you to validate and adapt your ideas and provide some clarity amid uncertainty. Since you can’t plot a series of small wins, you need to experiment in order for them to emerge.


  • Following liner step-by-step procedures is not likely to produce an innovation, and past assumptions cannot predict the future. Ingenious ideas rarely spring from people’s minds fully formed. They emerge through a rigorous experimental discovery approach. In modern warfare, it’s the side that learns and adapts the fastest that is most likely to prevail.
  • Children exhibit a natural desire to tinker, explore, and discover shortly after birth. Schools, however, generally treat knowledge as static and complete. They also discourage risks and punish failure. They don’t seem to realize that invention and discovery emanate from being able to try things, and that it is important to be comfortable with being wrong. If only we could help students to make keen observers, be open to experiences and ideas, to play with ideas without self-censoring, and to persist with a growth mindset. They should be able to improvise ideas in collaboration and conversation with others. Please do what you can to push this agenda at your school and be sure to click below to buy copies for yourself and others.
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