Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Review–Little Bets

Back in September last year I attended a Design Thinking class which was really interesting. One of the recommended books was Little Bets by Peter Simms. This book gives a great overview of how taking small risks can pay off with big dividends. It gives many practical examples of how Design Thinking can improve a business. I think this book is a better introduction to Design Thinking than Change By Design which I read back in September. Both cover the material well but I found that Little Bets is a more direct and succinct. 

Little Bets is divided into essentially nine different topics which are broken into chapters. The topics all relate back to taking small, manageable risks i.e. little bets to move their objectives forward. The topics (chapters) are

  1. Big Bets vs Little Bets
  2. The Growth Mind-set
  3. Failing Quickly to Learn Fast
  4. The Genius of Play
  5. Problems are the New Solutions
  6. Questions are the new Answers
  7. Learning a Little from a Lot
  8. Learning a Lot from a Little
  9. Small Wins

Each of these topics (chapters) use many examples from various businesses from Apple, HP, Pixar and even comedian Chris Rock. The stories used throughout the book are quite interesting as well as a good examples of the topics being discussed.

The chapter on failing quickly really resonated with me since I seem to learn well from trial and error. For example developing quick, inexpensive prototypes is a good way to discover what works and doesn’t work. I go through many iterations when I am developing a new form or webpage. Modern tools make it very simple to move controls around to get just the right flow. This ability to rapidly prototype visual interfaces has been invaluable to me.

The concepts of “problems are the new solutions” and “questions are the new answers” are also very interesting concepts. Problems don’t have to be obstacles they can serve as guidelines or limitations. Problems can be broken down into more manageable pieces so that one big problem can be broken into many smaller ones. This is a principal applied in the Agile development process.

We all have seen how the right questions lead to gaining new insight into a problem. By finding the right questions we often find the answers we seek. This is brilliantly illustrated by Douglas Adams when Deep Thought determined the answer to the "ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” to be 42. For the answer to make sense you have to ask the right question.

The bottom line: Each of the chapters have good tidbits of information about new ways to approach and solve problems. Using these ideas and principals can help you to find unique solutions or products to meet a need that you may have never though of before. Little Bets is a very good introduction to Design Thinking and an easy read. There is an extensive reference guide as well as a great list of recommended reading in the appendices.


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"Little Bets" by Peter Simms is a highly recommended book on Design Thinking, emphasizing the power of taking small risks for big rewards. It covers nine key topics, including the importance of small bets, adopting a growth mindset, and learning from failures quickly. The book provides practical examples from diverse businesses like Apple and Pixar, making it a more direct and succinct introduction to Design Thinking than "Change By Design." The concepts of turning problems into solutions and asking the right questions for innovative solutions are highlighted. The book is easy to read, with insightful chapters that offer valuable insights into approaching and solving problems creatively.

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