Bolster traditional planning with small bets

So you’ve done your strategic plan and everyone’s on the same page. What about the unanticipated opportunities or challenges that always arise?

You need a more nimble means for responding to and acting on the changing environment around you, according to Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. Sims endorses an approach that requires making good use of small experiments by repeating, refining and perfecting for large wins.

Look at experimental innovation as helpful in building up a solution rather than starting with what you suspect is the answer and planning around it. Sims reminds us that creative teams that use the little bets approach aren’t trying a lot of ideas to see what sticks; rather, they are rigorous, analytical, strategic and pragmatic about their innovation. The principles Sims introduces in Little Bets are not meant to facilitate a step-by-step process. Instead, they are meant to guide productive creativity.

The Little Bets approach has some fundamentals. Sims says we should:

Experiment: Learn by doing. Fail quickly and learn fast. Develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems and build up to creative ideas.
Play: A playful, improvisational and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged.
Immerse: Take time to get out into the world and gather fresh ideas and insights in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires. Absorb how things work from the ground up.
Define: Use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them.
Reorient: Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion.
Iterate: Repeat, refine and test frequently, armed with the better insights, information and assumptions as time goes on.

For most of us, adopting this experimental approach requires a significant change in mindset. Many factors throughout our lives have accumulated to form tendencies away from little bets or entrepreneurial experimentation. For example, our education system is centered on teaching us facts and rewarding us for memorization. There is much less emphasis on teaching us to creatively think and discover for ourselves.

Those of us who are willing to embrace uncertainty and failure will reap remarkable results. Little Bets’ case study heroes rejoice in errors and surprises. The mere fact that Sims’ book is based on the notion of small discoveries leading to breakthrough ideas feels as if it was written for the nonprofit organization. Nonprofits, in truth, are built for small bets and big victories. Our budgets demand it. So if you can stomach the experimental failures and keep the board at bay while you do so, get ready for breakthrough ideas.

For more information about Peter Sims’ book, visit or Or you can learn more by dowloading the Little Bets Page to Practice feature at CausePlanet.

See also:

Fail Better: Design Smart Mistakes and Succeed Sooner

Leave a reply

Welcome! Please provide your log-in information below.
Forget your password?
Enter your email or user name and your log-in information will be sent to the email on file.