6 min read

"Invention emanates from being comfortable being wrong before being right" – Little Bets

I’ve finished reading Little bets and I’ve loved it. There are a lot of great thoughts about why some people innovate more than others. As the subtitle says, we don’t always need to make huge innovations, we can go after small wins.
"Invention emanates from being comfortable being wrong before being right" – Little Bets

This article was originally posted in Medium. Photo by Jo Szczepanska.

I’ve finished reading Little bets and I’ve loved it. There are a lot of great thoughts about why some people innovate more than others. As the subtitle says, we don’t always need to make huge innovations, we can go after small wins. What’s a small win?

Small win as “a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance.” They are small successes that emerge out of our ongoing development process, and it’s important to be watching closely for them.

Let me share with you several great quotes and some thoughts about them.

To innovate you must be willing to lose

Creators use experimental, iterative, trial-and-error approaches to gradually build up to breakthroughs. Experimental innovators must be persistent and willing to accept failure and setbacks as they work toward their goals.
“Illusion of rationality.” We are all vulnerable to this illusion. It happens when ideas or assumptions seem logical in a plan, spreadsheet model, PowerPoint, or memo, yet they haven’t been validated on the ground or in the real world
Seasoned entrepreneurs, she emphasizes, will tend to determine in advance what they are willing to lose, rather than calculating expected gains.

That’s how investors behave for example.

“My strategy has always been: be wrong as fast as we can. Which basically means, we’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that. But let’s do it as fast as we can so we can get to the answer”.
One must be willing to make lots of mistakes in order to develop talents. When you do that you create myelin neural connections which are the ones responsible for the learnings.

So there is science after all!

Fixed vs growth mind-set

Dweck’s findings suggest that people exhibiting fixed mind-sets tend to gravitate to activities that confirm their abilities, whereas those with growth mindsets tend to seek activities that expand their abilities. Dweck explains, “When confronted with a task, people with a fixed mind-set ask, ‘Am I going to be good at it immediately?’ With a growth mind-set, people ask, ‘Well, can I learn to do it?’” Students with fixed mind-sets want to appear capable, even if that means not learning in the process. Because setbacks and criticism threaten their self-image, they give up more easily and exhibit greater risk aversion.

Don’t be afraid of knowing nothing and being a rookie, it’s the first step to become an expert on that new area.

Praising ability alone reduces persistence, while praising effort or the processes a person goes through to learn leads to growth mind-set behaviors.

This is a key learning for teachers and bosses. Praise effort not abilities. You want them to keep pushing, not to rely always on their intelligence. As my roommate said to me when we were talking about this “If you reach the most of your capabilities, you expand them. If you use only half of your capabilities, you will end up reducing them”.

Get feedback early and constantly

Thoen beautifully describes the value of prototyping: Potential users of ideas are more comfortable sharing their honest reactions when the prototype is rough, just as people at P&G are less emotionally invested in their ideas. “The barrier of getting feedback from the consumer side is lower,” Thoen says, “and the barrier for accepting feedback from the company’s point of view is lower as well.”

I’ve been applying this for a long time. The hardest part of getting feedback is getting honesty, not politeness. The second hardest part is listening to that feedback with an open mind. When your prototype or your idea is rough, both are easier o achieve. Use the prototype phase to get as much feedback as possible.

Throughout the Pixar creative process, they rely heavily on what they call plussing; it is likely the most-used concept around the company. The point of plussing is to build upon and improve ideas without using judgmental language.
Marketers increasingly recognize the value of seeking out active users and showing them works in progress to develop opportunities and ideas and to see how they react. Then, as ideas get closer to completion, from laundry detergent to a Pixar film to a Chris Rock stand-up act, tests are done with broader audiences.

Constraints are positive

As John Lasseter expresses his perfectionism, “We don’t actually finish our films, we release them.”
As Google’s Marissa Mayer has put it, “Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome.”

Humor creates positive group effects

A host of studies indicates that humor creates positive group effects. Many focus on how humor can increase cohesiveness and act as a lubricant to facilitate more efficient communications, like Bob Petersen’s story team. Researchers have developed a general view that effective humor can increase the quantity and quality of group communications. One reason for that is that humor has also been demonstrated to increase trust.

That’s why allowing gifs in Slack is a great idea. Humor is the best tool to achieve cohesiveness on a team.

Become an anthropologist

Exemplar innovators closely observed details, particularly about other people’s behaviors. “In observing others, they act like anthropologists and social scientists,”
P&G responded brilliantly. Under CEO A. G. Lafley who, by all accounts, balanced an appreciation for anthropology and economics, the company launched a program to have its employees actually live with representative users, called “Living It.” P&G ethnographers, and also senior managers, spend time in low-income homes around the world to better understand what matters in their lives, including their desires, aspirations, and needs. (P&Gers also spend time searching for similar insights in stores, like Chet Pipkin did, what they called “Working It.”) These insights then fueled the P&G idea development process, including laundry detergent with more noticeable suds.

We are going to do something similar to this on my new company in fact. It’s key to know they day-to-day activities and problems so you can propose the solution that really solves their problems.

Acting like anthropologists is one of the most powerful ways to help us formulate the questions that will uncover invaluable insights and answers.
Designers call these people extreme users, whose unique needs can foreshadow the needs of other people. The reason why designers find extreme users so valuable is because the average person isn’t actively thinking about solving problems like these. Their needs and desires are less pronounced. As mentioned previously, Steve Jobs will often say, “People don’t know what they want until they’ve seen it.”

Be open to learn from everyone

Learning a little bit from a lot of people was one of the main ways Tim identified so many unique ideas and insights. Along one dimension, Tim exhibited a great openness to ideas and insights from a wide variety of people. This behavior correlates with one of the most consistent findings from the psychology research over the past thirty years about creative thinkers and doers, what researchers call “openness to experience.” Those who have studied the differences between creative and eminent scientists and their less creative and eminent peers have produced similar conclusions.

Try to be more of a listener than a talker next time you meet someone new.

Why some people are luckier than others

As the newspaper photo counting experiment illustrates, one obvious implication from Wiseman’s research is that lucky people pay more attention to what’s going on around them than unlucky people.
Wiseman found that lucky people tend to be open to opportunities (or insights) that come along spontaneously, whereas unlucky people tend to be creatures of routine, fixated on certain specific outcomes.
Unlucky people tended to talk with the same types of people, people who are like themselves. It’s a common phenomenon. On the other hand, lucky people tended to be curious and open to what can come along from chance interactions. For example, Wiseman found that the lucky people had three times greater open body language in social situations than unlucky people. Lucky people also smiled twice as much as unlucky people, thus drawing other people and chance encounters to them. They didn’t cross their arms or legs and pointed their bodies to other people and increased the likelihood of chance encounters by introducing variety. Chance opportunities favored people who were open to them.
“I discovered that being in the right place at the right time is actually all about being in the right state of mind”. Lucky people increase their odds of chance encounters or experiences by interacting with a large number of people. Extraversion, Wiseman found, pays opportunity and insight rewards.
After identifying a group of people who identified themselves as unlucky, he shared the main principles of lucky behavior, including specific techniques. After carrying out specific exercises for a month, participants reported back to Wiseman. “The results were dramatic: eighty percent were happier and more satisfied with their lives — and luckier,”

Why don’t we teach that in schools?

Teach students how to create knowledge, not to learn it

“Very few schools teach students how to create knowledge,” says Professor Keith Sawyer of Washington University, a leading education and innovation researcher. “Instead, students are taught that knowledge is static and complete, and they become experts at consuming knowledge rather than producing knowledge.”

I loved this paragraph. It should be printed on each wall of every school of this world.

Summary of 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 mind-set; 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.

Do yourself a favor and read it again slower. Enjoy each word, internalize each learning and apply them today. It’s in your hands to be luckier this 2016.