Why You Should Make Lots of Little Bets

Innovation is an important part of everyones’ lives. We have to be able to think of new ideas and new ways to do things in order to be able to improve our lives and enjoy what we do. But there are different ways of innovating. A book I’ve recently finished reading, called Little Bets, shows a new and different way of thinking about success and innovation.

Peter Sims, the author, uses examples such as Frank Gehry, the architect of buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the comedian Chris Rock, to demonstrate this new way of achieving goals. Since reading the book, I’ve been thinking differently about a lot of things I do in my life, using the little bets approach. It’s easiest to explain little bets in terms of a business, but in fact little bets can be made in all parts of our lives.

Traditionally, businesses innovated through coming up with a master plan. Their employees will be told to “innovate”, so they’ll sit down, come up with ideas, then write a huge document outlining everything to do with that idea. Then that document will be sent off to the developers or manufacturers who make it to the letter. And then the product is either a huge hit or a massive flop. In many ways, this form of innovation comes down to luck as to whether it is successful or not.

The little bets approach, in contrast, involves looking for a problem and then trying to build something to solve that problem in a very simple form. So for example, if a website is to be created, then that website will be created in the most simple way it possibly can be – without great graphics and lots of features. But then, the business can start to get users of their product or website. And in turn, those early users will tell the business what they like about the product and what they don’t like about it. Then the business gets their manufacturers or developers to use the customer’s feedback to change the product.

The end result, some of you may have picked up, reflects what the users want. And all it’s involved is taking a little bet at the start. The basic website would have cost a fraction of the cost of a website developed using a “master plan”, and the little bet website will also have a much larger chance of eventual success.

Sims uses people like the comedian Chris Rock to show how little bets can be applied to our everyday lives. Rock would go to local restaurants or bars and perform a huge number of jokes to audiences. And he fully expected that most of the jokes would be absolutely terrible. But by taking lots of little bets by performing jokes to audiences, he would eventually be able to work out which jokes people liked and which they didn’t. So instead of just sitting down and thinking up some jokes, then hoping that they were funny on the night of a big performance, Rock would perform in front of small crowds and make little bets on lots of jokes in order to work out the best ones.

If little bets can even be applied to comedy – then how can they be applied to your life in order to help you achieve better?