About 11,000 business books a year are published. Most of them aren't worth reading, either because you've heard it all before, they are badly written, not especially useful, and -- perhaps the most common flaw -- they are just no fun to read. But, even though they are business books, there are always a few gems that you owe it to yourself to read. Peter Sims Little Bets is one of those rarities. I was blown away when I was asked to write blurb for the book, as I wrote:
“Peter Sims buries the myth that big talkers with brains and big ideas move industry and science forward. This modern masterpiece demonstrates that the most powerful and profitable ideas are produced by persistent people who mess with lots of little ideas and keep muddling forward until they get it right. Little Bets is easily the most delightful and useful innovation book published in the last decade.”
As the book is now out, I took some time to visit with it again this morning -- I remain impressed. Ye3s, Peter is a friend of mine, but most of my friends don't write books this compelling. The first thing that struck me was the power of Peter's writing voice. He exudes curiosity and optimism, which as I read the pages, provoked a feeling of joy that I've hardly ever experienced when reading a business book -- I guess for me, Orbiting the Giant Hairball and The Art of Innovation had this effect, but it does not happen often.
The second thing that struck me was the range of examples and the deftness with which Peter applies them to make points about small bets and in his lovely chapters (I especially like "Problems are the New Solutions" and "Questions are the New Answers.") He uses everything from Chris Rock, to architect Frank Geary, to Pixar's Ed Catmull, to a U.S. Army General in Iraq, and many others. He does this with such skill that I occasionally had to stop and admire how he had written a sentence or paragraph -- I struggle to do this kind of thing day after day,it is a lot harder than it looks.
Third, although Small Bets has many twists and turns, perhaps the core idea is the power of small wins, Karl Weick's powerful concept. This is a message that comes through in other business books (including Good Boss, Bad Boss -- see this post -- and in at least one other forthcoming business book I just read called The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer). The power of small wins is not only supported by strong empirical research, it provides an antidote, and at times a useful companion, to all the management theorists who spew out stories of big hairy goals, bold vision, exciting futures, and all that without providing resources or specifying just what people need to do day after day to achieve such magnificent ends. Little Bets is so useful to read because it shows, on page after page, what you can do and how to think day after day about things like problems, solutions, failure, and fun to make great things happen.
I could go on and on... but you would be better off using your time reading the book than reading more of my words about it!
P.S. You might also want to check out Peter's website.