Detailed plans and predictions about the future are useful when the desired outcome is known, and when past experience can serve as a reasonable guide for what’s to come.
But as entrepreneur and author Peter Sims
writes in his book Little Bets
, when we’re creating something new, the conditions are by definition uncertain, and “we rarely know what we don’t know.”
In this unpredictable environment, Sims suggests using little bets: small, low-risk actions to discover and test new ideas.
He cites numerous examples, across a variety of domains, to show how such little bets can “build up to breakthroughs,” including:
- Beethoven used hundreds of small bets in his creative process to explore new styles and differentiate himself from Mozart, which eventually led to a new period of classical music, the Romantic Era.
- When preparing for a full routine, comedian Chris Rock tries hundreds of preliminary ideas with audiences at smaller venues, often subjecting himself to embarrassment, to find the handful of jokes that will make the final cut.
- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has imbued the company with a culture of experimentation because “he knows that he cannot reliably predict which ideas for new markets will work and which won’t.” Amazon Web Services (AWS), which allows third-party vendors to rent storage on Amazon’s servers, is the result of one such experiment and has become one of the company’s most profitable lines of business.
Sims himself previously worked as a venture capital investor, and writes that he “… learned that most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas – they discover them.”