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Book Review: Little Bets

Author Peter Sims addresses the idea of creative innovation.

Anthony Verde


The book: Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge From Small Discoveries, by Peter Sims; Free Press.

The big idea: Most innovation is the product of discovery, not inspiration. Entrepreneurs, artists, and other creative types get out and about, seek insights from all around, test and tweak, then test and tweak again.

The backstory: As a former VC and longtime collaborator with the Stanford Institute of Design, Sims knows his way around disruptive ideas.

The incredibles: Sims does a Nemo-esque deep dive into Pixar, at which he seems to have camped out. He describes how the company inched into animation through shorts created to promote its hardware. Pixar teams spend time with their subjects, scuba diving in preparation for Finding Nemo and hitting Route 66 before Cars.

If you read nothing else: In the chapter "Learning a Little From a Lot," Sims celebrates restless curiosity with a charming profile of Tim Russert, a friend of the author's parents who listened to everybody and was as interested in the observations of children as of distinguished adults. The chapter also reports on a fascinating study about what makes people lucky. (The lucky are open to interacting with all kinds of people and build lasting attachments to many of them.)

Rigor rating: 8 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). Sims draws on a rich mix of secondary and primary sources, including interviews with Frank Gehry, standup comedians, and top military brass.

From the May 2011 issue of Inc. magazine

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.

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