Little Bets

Emily Holbrook


June 1, 2011

When people see the success of Steve Jobs, Chris Rock and Frank Gehry, they don't usually come to the conclusion that these industry pioneers got to where they are by taking painstaking, methodical steps toward their goals. But in fact, that is exactly how these three (and many others) have succeeded in their respective careers. "They have all attained extraordinary success by making a series of little bets," writes Peter Sims in his new book Little Bets.

Within, Sims explains how seasoned entrepreneurs use the affordable loss principle, or in other words, determine in advance what they are willing to lose, rather than calculating expected gains. This "little bets" approach is what has given many entrepreneurs and creative types success in their fields. Sims breaks down his theory with chapters that look at how the growth mind-set compares to the fixed mind-set, how improvisational techniques are better than rigid procedures, and how problems are the new solutions and questions are the new answers. The book also explains how sometimes we can learn more through failure than we can through success.

It is rare to review a business book that captures the reader's attention in the way that Little Bets does. That bold ambition does not always equal success is the main mantra of Sims' book. Taking little, low-risk bets (and a lot of them) while working towards a larger goal is a compelling theory and, according to the many success stories, scientific studies and first-hand accounts, it works.

As Sims states, "we can't plot a series of small wins in advance; we must use experiments in order for them to emerge." Indeed, he points out, once you get into the habit of making little bets, they can constantly open up new possibilities that just might lead to something big. This is a fresh perspective compared to the traditional management style that has consistently stifled creativity in exchange for increased productivity. Little Bets is a breath of fresh air in the sometimes-suffocating world of business books.
Emily Holbrook is the founder of Red Label Writing, LLC, a writing, editing and content strategy firm catering to insurance and risk management businesses and publications, and a former editor of Risk Management.