From the Entrepreneur
Peter Sims

“Breaking free from perfectionism isn’t easy, largely because of how we’re raised and taught. We’re rewarded and loved by parents, teachers, and mentors for getting good grades, accomplishing athletic achievements, or getting into a great school or job. The problem with that approach to praise and reward is that it builds up our resistance to doing anything that’s less than perfect. And since being imperfect, and being willing to make mistakes in order to discover new paths, opportunities and approaches is essential to any creative process. Unless we’re a genius or prodigy like Mozart, we must unlearn a lot of old habits.

In my experience, many, many people, especially creative people have very judgmental parents. My dad was my harshest critic, though it was all coming from a place of incredible character and unconditional love. His dad did the same, and it just cascaded down. On the flip-side, mothers (and fathers, too) can unleash creativity with their unconditional love and unendingly optimistic encouragement and support, as my mother did (we were very close). Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, had a similar experience with his parents. Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar had the same, as well as his business partner John Lasseter, cofounder and chief creative officer of Pixar, whose mother emphatically encouraged him to follow his childhood interest in cartoons.

“…the key thing that needs to happen is for the person to let go of the feeling that they have to be an idea, rather than just being you…”

Since I work with and lead a lot of artists, the power relationships are very interesting. If a father and/or mother was overly critical, the key thing that needs to happen is for the person to let go of the feeling that they have to be an idea, rather than just being you as I encourage people to be. It’s one of the hardest things to actually do — but what drives it all comes down to support structures and personal will.

For a rich exploration around the negative effects of praising achievements versus effort and why certain people fear failure so much more than others, Stanford Professor of Psychology, Carol Dweck has produced the definitive body of research and book called Mindsets. You can read a great summary article on Dweck’s research in this Stanford Magazine article entitled “The Effort Effect.”

When I jumped off a cliff in my career to try to write a book that eventually became Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, I was haunted for months by a voice that had no face. It said, ‘You are not worthy…Don’t fail…No one will want to read this crap…You are a fraud!’ Sound familiar?

Dweck’s findings lead to the key insight that anyone, at any age, can become more creative if they’re willing to start trying things. I call these ‘little bets,’ a loss that you determine you can afford to take before making a small bet. The secret to being creative is that everyone who creates anything needs to overcome fears.

“The antidote to these fears is simple. Make a small bet. Do things to learn what to do.”

Maybe a little bet for you is writing a blog piece. Maybe it’s writing a paragraph on a piece of paper. Maybe it’s going to a Pilates class. Maybe it’s calling an old friend. The point is, and as Dweck’s research shows, we can move from a mindset based on fear of failure and perfectionism (what Dweck calls a “fixed mindset”) to a “growth mindset” if we just start taking small steps toward our dreams and goals.

Writer Anne Lamott, (who wrote the gamechanging, Bird by Bird recommends writing what she calls ‘shitty first drafts’ when starting something new. Just get as many thoughts and ideas down on paper as possible, without letting your inner critic take over. Similarly, as Frank Gehry has shared with me, the way he overcomes his fears of failure, is to ‘just start’ making prototypes of his ideas, starting with cardboard and duct tape, crude as they may be at first.

At Pixar, director Brad Bird calls people there who are willing to challenge the status quo and think differently about problems ‘black sheep.’

“Are you a black sheep?”

It starts today. And, it starts small, with a little bet. It’s really that simple and that hard. The world needs your creativity and passion now more than ever. With all the challenges facing our country and world, we need a creative revolution, one driven by the unleashing of millions of previously undiscovered creative talents, talents that will also allow us to be infinitely more human and original.

This revolution will be improvised.”



Originally appeared on Forbes.

This article is by Peter Sims, author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, coauthor with Bill George of True North, and founder of the BLKSHP.

English: Barack Obama delivers a speech at the...He must radically change the way he leads. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first time that I believed Barack Obama wanted to be president of the United States was in September 2006, when I saw an interview from Men’s Vogue in which the junior senator from Illinois was asked about his future ambitions, including speculation that he might run for president in 2008.

“My attitude about something like the presidency,” he  said, “is that you don’t just want to be president. You want to change the country. You want to make a unique contribution. You want to be a great president.” As the 2008 campaign took shape, he and his team developed an innovative organization and outreach approach that allowed him to become the David who beat Goliath and led many to believe he would be that kind of transformational leader.

But in his first term, he failed to follow though on that promise.

With the punishing and close campaign for his second term now behind him, the president has weathered a brutal first term and many personal and leadership crucibles, and seems to be emerging on the other side of those dark valleys having rediscovered his authentic voice. This transformation is yet to be fully manifested, of course, but in thanking his campaign staff on the night of his re-election, he revealed once again his humanism and the depth of his commitment to the call to public service, dating back to his years as a community organizer working with the disempowered people in Chicago. The Obama who spoke to his staff that night sounded like the Obama who said to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Cathleen Falsani in a 2004 interview :

One of the interesting things about being in public life is there are constantly these pressures being placed on you from different sides. . . . The biggest challenge, I think, is always maintaining your moral compass. Those are the conversations I’m having internally. I’m measuring my actions against that inner voice that for me at least is audible, is active, it tells me where I think I’m on track and where I think I’m off track. . . .

The most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I’m talking to a group and I’m saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I’m just being glib or clever.

Obama will become a transformational leader by continuing to connect in that way with the values and vision for the future that are important to him personally—the reasons he chose to help disadvantaged and disempowered people as a community organizer rather than taking a lucrative corporate job. That call to service is the life blood of his authenticity and what drew to him such broad and deeply impassioned support in the 2008 campaign. As John W. Gardner, the founder of Common Cause and the White House Fellows program and secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Johnson administration once said, “The world loves talent but pays off in character,” and character remains the fundamental basis for Barack Obama’s potential to be a leader of Lincolnesque proportions.

Yet character alone will not be enough. In this intensely partisan era, in which we are facing so many intensely complex challenges—ranging from global warming to pension and tax reform to the necessity of deleveraging debt burdens at the government, organization, and personal level—the country desperately needs renewal and reinvention, not only of our physical infrastructure, but also of our social infrastructure and our systems of governing. Tax reform is an obvious example, one that every serious observer and participant in American business and politics agrees must be addressed. As during the transformational presidencies of the past, those of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Reagan, the American people today crave the right message of healing, empowerment, and progress, and the leadership to follow through on that message.

That type of leadership cannot and will not come from the top down in Washington or the Northeast corridor. It must come from the bottom up, and any type of bottom-up innovation must begin with the leadership having an understanding of underlying and quite often unarticulated citizen needs and desires. Every major progressive social change movement in U.S. history, from abolitionism to women’s voting rights to civil rights to gay rights, began with small groups of American citizens, thinkers, writers, and grassroots leaders determined to realize social change. Great presidents merely do their best to influence those directions, or, more realistically, to align their own authentic goals with the larger cultural trends.

Ronald Reagan may have said and done all the right things to help shift Southern blue to red on the electoral map, but that transformation began decades earlier when Lyndon Johnson extended the hand of presidential affirmation toward Martin Luther King, Jr., in support of the Civil Rights Act. As longtime presidential adviser David Gergen has often argued, one of Reagan’s great advantages in preparation for becoming president was to have crisscrossed the country for years as a TV spokesman for General Electric during the 1950s and 1960s, meeting more than 250,000 American citizens. In Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligence” terminology, Gergen describes Reagan’s signature gift as interpersonal skill. He knew the American people extremely well and was able to align himself and his story with the public sentiment to craft the right message for the times.

If President Obama can capture and connect with the public’s urgent desire today for creative problem solving, crafting the right vision, message, and, most important, approach to governing, he will have his shot at greatness. But in order to do so, and to lead in a truly transformational way, he and his team must create a much different culture in the White House during the second administration—one that is more outward facing than inward facing, one that treats the White House as a platform for amplifying and collaborating with the public, with companies, causes, and groups across sectors—in order to govern from both the top down and also the bottom up. All the major drivers of influence, from the media to publishing and thought leadership channels to academia and to popular culture, are no longer managed and driven by a small handful of gatekeepers and opinion leaders. Social media technologies have democratized and distributed influence and power, so that we’re all now part of various tribes—our extended families, our workplace and school networks, and our “friend” circles.  The democratization and distribution of power means both that no president is likely to be able to harness the kind of widespread public support needed to tackle today’s “wicked problems” if he doesn’t listen to those tribes and work with them in developing solutions. In order to be a transformational leader, President Obama must tap into the wisdom of the crowd. He must make the White House a platform for convening and building ecosystems for solving problems in new ways. This new style of governing  is urgent because of both the nature of the problems we face and the deeply divided nature of the country.

The  presidential campaign felt like a modern day Civil War. It  displayed the worst of the country’s ideological extremism—racial bigotry, religious intolerance, and competing libertarian versus communitarian economic worldviews. It also highlighted the insidious role of money in the political system. Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum argue persuasively in their 2011 book That Used to Be Us that money has corrupted America’s political parties and institutions to the point of near moral bankruptcy.

It is a very sad statement about the political system that someone must pay anywhere from $2,000 to $38,500 to meet the president, or any elected leader, for that matter. Given the short-term incentives to cater to donors’ desires, our politicians  are increasingly required to spend disproportionate amounts of their time raising money rather than working on problem solving. This has made the government much too reactive. Poll-tested and cynical incrementalism has replaced visionary leadership. Virtually no one—from my Uncle Joe, who’s a truck driver, to John Huntsman, Sr., the highly respected executive and wealthy philanthropist who helped bankroll his son’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2011 but told The New York Times in October 2011 that  the political system is broken—no one feels represented or heard anymore.

You don’t need to read Tom Friedman to understand the core problem. My Uncle Joe reads the local newspaper at best and says it better than Friedman could: “We’ve forgotten who is the boss in this country. The citizens are the boss!”

Meanwhile, the problems we’re facing are ever more difficult. We’re a nation beleaguered by war yet still rightfully fearful of very real threats and instabilities abroad. The Army has faced a comeuppance in the Middle East, where the arrogant and ignorant strategies of politicized generals, most notably Tommy Franks, gave way to the realities on the ground.  Ret. Col. Casey Haskins, the former director of military instruction at West Point, after serving as the chief of strategic plans for Multi-National Force—Iraq, puts it, “Not only can we not teach doctrinally approved solutions any more [which take roughly two years to be approved], the truth is, we don’t even know all the problems!”

Reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, confronting global warming honestly, and reforming the tax system are urgent priorities that got virtually no attention in the presidential campaign, save small tidbits in the presidential debates.

On top of that we face extreme levels of inequality not seen since the Gilded Age, and many workers just don’t have the skills needed to compete in today’s hypercompetitive globalized economy.

These are the types of problems that no president, even with the best senior team and staff in the world, can solve alone. That’s why it’s so important that President Obama now correct for the errors in his first term and come through with the innovative, open, engaged, and progressive style of governing he initially promised.

In 2008 the electorate flocked to Obama largely because of his message that he would govern in a new way, and because his campaign team did in fact create a new kind of campaign built on a larger base of supporters and smaller contributions, and so on. But then, for a variety of good reasons and some unknown ones, the president abandoned that approach as soon as he took office. He and his closest advisers failed to stay connected with supporters, even the most ardent ones, their potential champions, education partners, and eyes and ears on the ground all around the country. Around this time in 2008, someone in the transition team decided not to shift the campaign’s new media team, even though it could have kept it in place as a not-for-profit in order to maintain the network of grassroots support and two-way communication, which it had managed to do so effectively during the campaign. Instead most of that group was turned over to the Democratic National Committee, with a few members led by Macon Phillips taking jobs in the White House. That was a mistake.

Yes, of course the transition team had to focus on managing the worst economic crisis in recent history. Time was of the essence. But time is always of the essence for high-performing organizations, and that doesn’t mean that the solution set of policy options could not have been expanded. Greater engagement with the business community would only have enhanced the stature of and external support for the economic team. Instead, the team suffered from a style that resembled “the smartest guy in the room” syndrome, a common failing of insecure CEOs and managers who are often driven by a culture of fear and arrogance rather than a culture of inclusiveness, authenticity, and empowerment. They bought into a false tradeoff between the need to deal with the crisis and the power of engaging people to develop a longer-term strategy for governing differently; those should not have been mutually exclusive options. That insular style of economic management and policy making was the greatest leadership failing of the President’s first term.

Obama had at his disposal an army of extremely talented, respected, and influential people who were eager to be involved in his historic administration, whether formally or informally; they were just waiting to be asked, and to be led. I  saw this first-hand. I was one of 15 members of the Business Leaders for Obama team, a group chaired by Gary Gensler, who went onto become the chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and which included Julius Genachowski, who would head the Federal Communications Commission, Alec Ross, now senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and private equity investors including Steve Rattner, Robert Altman, and Mark Gallogly.

We were tasked during the campaign with leading outreach to the business community, gathering endorsements, and providing policy position feedback. I was asked because of my experience as a management writer as coauthor of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, with Bill George, former chief executive of Medtronic and now a professor of management at Harvard Business School, as well as my previous work in venture capital with Summit Partners.

After the election, because I had come to know so many people who went on to jobs on the transition team in mid to late November 2008, I had a number of conversations with members of the team encouraging them about how the administration might be able to leverage the grassroots elements of the campaign into a different way of governing. The driving question was: How do we stay truly connected with all of these citizens around the country to create feedback and educational and campaign mechanisms, in order to govern differently? Why, for instance, didn’t impassioned retired teachers in Napa, California, who had been such great local champions during the campaign, continue to play a role? One person I spoke with about this on several occasions was Joe Rospars, who had led the Obama ’08 new media team and thought it was a good idea.

But in a short time that army of foot soldiers, from those retired teachers to  the Silicon Valley coalition of green energy leaders for Obama and the several hundred CEOs who had offered the president their personal endorsements, lost their connection to the Obama team, and as a result lost their sense of connection to the larger cause we had believed in, as well as  our feeling of empowerment and shared purpose.

If I were to list the names and titles of people who discussed with me  their common dismay at this turn of events, it would read like a Who’s Who of Silicon Valley and the power networks of the Northeast corridor.

The good news is that now Obama has a second chance. If there’s one thing the president has surely learned in his first term, it is that he cannot do it all on his own. The president and his team have a tailwind of victory behind them now like the one they came into office with, and they have a window of time to get a team in place to engage with these broader champions and networks and to reconnect to larger causes that are so vital to this constituency, ranging from the desire to help reinvent the economy and job creation programs to education reform and bridging the skills gap and addressing urgent environmental concerns. And the good news is that the president’s senior advisers seem interested in making this change. White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park has, for example, been on a roadshow of sorts all fall, going around the country with Steve Case and a band of chief executives, technologists, and opinion leaders sharing sketches for new ways of leading, yet also, more important, listening.

Obama is also well suited for the new more open governing style. Fortunately, the president’s greatest assets in taking advantage of the possibilities of this networked and transparent world are the same things that brought him such impassioned support in 2008: his integrity, character, and authenticity and also his desire to be innovative. If there’s one thing that Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, and the army of supporters he needs to rally can smell out quickly, it is a lack of authenticity. Just ask Mitt Romney. And there’s nothing more powerful in an open and transparent world than authenticity.

The biggest question now is whether the president and his team can truly listen. I’m not talking about analyzing reams of polling data. They’re clearly very good at that. I’m talking about being able to act like an anthropologist, to get what Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus who is both an economics professor and a leading social entrepreneur, calls getting out of the office to get “the worm’s eye view” about social problems that are new and complex before using an experimental and entrepreneurial approach to solving them. The president can learn more about what’s really going on in the country by watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and by monitoring trends on Twitter and Facebook every night before he goes to bed, than he can by listening to a small circle of advisers who couldn’t possibly cover as much ground.

The great news is that the administration can lock arms in collaboration with a sea of social ventures, led by social entrepreneurs who  are united around common values and purpose. The American people from Detroit to Louisville to the rural areas of Northern California have been reinventing and renewing all through the punishment of the financial crisis. The artists, entrepreneurs, and inventors so core to America’s promise and founding ideals are resilient and inspired. What America needs from its president is to be acknowledged and affirmed for reinventing their own lives, companies, and communities. The solution to America’s ills lies not in the swamp of Washington but in the fields, startups, and small businesses, classrooms, and social entrepreneurs of America.

Obama must listen to and engage with people like Judith Jackson, who leads Youthville Detroit. A deeply humble and authentic leader, Jackson would be the last person to toot her own horn, yet she serves more than 500 Detroit youths a day in a variety of after-school and creative education programs. And if you ask Judith about what she needs, the topic of funding inevitably comes up soon. Raising money is a big part of her job. With the decline of earmarks, Jackson must build out her own ecosystem of supporters and funders, including nice gifts from the likes of singer-songwriter Usher’s foundation. The White House could help Jackson enormously merely by shining a light on stories such as hers, and show how Jackson’s story shares much in common with that of the students at Oral Roberts University who are deeply passionate about using social entrepreneurship to achieve social justice ends, including to combat meth addictions in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Because we don’t even know the problems, let alone all the solutions for reinventing and renewing America, everyone must be a social entrepreneur. Programs like Fuse Corps, Code for America, and StartUp America are helping to provide the catalysts and energy to focus on entrepreneurial approaches to big problems from the bottom up, including by helping to build the all important ecosystems that support and maintain innovation. That bottom-up approach to change must begin with a deep awareness and empathy for citizens’ problems and needs, something that all too often gets lost in top down decision-making processes.

Those 35 and under in America are extremely entrepreneurial. They have to be—they must invent and reinvent their careers multiple times in just their first few years out of college, and all while managing to repay educational debts. They are well schooled in the prerequisites for invention—tinkering, play, rapid iteration, and resilience through failure.

What America needs now is a Renaissance of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. President Obama may just be able to ignite that flourishing if he makes a sincere effort to tap into the spirit of American community and collaboration that I’ve seen all around the country. He can lead Americans of all races, religions, and persuasions, from students at Oral Roberts University to urban artists and musicians from the other side of the tracks in Detroit, in locking arms and marching together in a shared desire to solve our pressing problems in new and creative ways.

This revolution will be improvised.


Originally appeared on Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/dorieclark/2012/12/09/how-to-make-innovation-less-risky/

Corporations are clamoring for breakthrough innovation – but in this economic climate, who can afford multimillion-dollar wagers that might not pan out? Enter Peter Sims, co-author of the bestseller True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, with Bill George. “Companies have the wrong mindset,” he says. “They don’t experiment well, they bet big, and that’s often a sign they’re going to fail. We’re living in an age where every person needs to be much more creative and entrepreneurial. You have to be able to really get out there and be scrappy, create value, and the way to do it is through entrepreneurship.”

Instead of launching expensive new initiatives, Sims says, companies (and individuals) should make “Little Bets,” the title of his newest book. The goal is to test demand – and then iterate, quickly and cheaply. Sims became a believer in the “little bets” approach during his previous career as a venture capitalist: “Whenever I talked or worked with entrepreneurs who had built billion dollar companies, I learned more from them than anybody I studied with in business school,” he says.

Upon connecting with Stanford’s renowned Institute of Design (also known as the d.school), where he ultimately became a lecturer, Sims discovered that “design was really the method of experimentation, iteration – acting like an anthropologist. It was similar to the way entrepreneurs I had worked with functioned. And I thought, why haven’t I learned to think this way all through my education? I wanted to empower other people to open up creatively the way I had. It was learning by doing, rather than trying to analyze and plan, and that’s a distinctly different mindset than anything else I’d been taught before.”

Corporations’ time in the sun has passed, says Sims – unless they evolve into a new form that embraces entrepreneurial tendencies (a view also shared by Nilofer Merchant in my recent interview with her). “The modern industrial corporation is really well suited to executing on known problems, but it’s poorly suited to executing on discovery, experimentation, and entrepreneurship,” he says.

“We’re going to see a huge devolution of the industrial power structures,” says Sims. “The industrial corporation is facing enormous pressure because it’s not creating nearly enough value. The alternatives are much more collaborative, network-based organizations, more partnerships, and a more entrepreneurial mindset.”

In addition to placing little bets, Sims believes another path forward is through a mashup of “entrepreneurship, social change, and art” (which he’s pursuing with two new projects, the social venture Fuse Corps and the for-profit B corporation the BLKSHP (think “black sheep”). The shift to a new way of doing business, says Sims, is a return to our entrepreneurial heritage: “It’s a healthy cleanse for capitalism.”

What little bets has your company made? And how are you tracking and learning from them?

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.


reprinted from Bloomberg, original article here.

The most adaptive, agile companies and organizations are figuring out how to leverage what they do best to take advantage of global, seismic shifts in media, technology and society. Today’s newest and brightest example is a distributed philanthropic movement called GivingTuesday.

I’ve seen the underlying trend firsthand as an advisor to General Electric Co.’s Innovation Accelerator, an initiative led by GE’s Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock in which GE convenes partners in academia, venture capital, business entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, branding and social media. They’re discussing megatrends, such as Big Data, the future of MRI imaging, or how to build out ecoimagination into to new sustainability partnerships across sectors. Obama Administration officials describe a similar transition, manifested in their recent decision to preserve the social media arm from the 2012 campaign, as well as the recent national “listening tour” with potential partners and collaborators led by White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

Increasingly, administration officials view the White House as a platform for convening power, rather than a monolith that hands down executive orders and speeches from upon high, including Jonathan Greenblatt, special assistant to the President and director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Domestic Policy Council, and Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This is just the beginning. The era of the command-and-control organization is over, at least for now. Its replacement is still taking shape. Companies like Cisco Systems Inc., GE and Genentech Inc. and are out in front, trying to restructure their legacy hierarchies into more collaborative networked organizations. It’s a messy and inefficient process. Also, witness the U.S. Army’s attempts to modernize its archaic structure, which, as Thomas Ricks’ has documented in his latest book, The Generals, has not gone well. Change is indeed hard — but critical to capitalize on pervasive change in technology and society.

New kinds of organizations are emerging where effective social entrepreneurship meets the networked effects of technology. My favorite case study of the moment is GivingTuesday, which describes itself as a “national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season.” What started just a few months ago as a small social media campaign has blossomed into a networked philanthropy that claims 2,000 partners across all 50 states. They include well-known social causes like Kiva and DonorsChoose.org; companies, such as JC Penney and Microsoft; small nonprofits and charities, such as the Case Foundation and the Otsego County (New York) United Way; and local governments, including Atlanta. (Disclosure: I’ve been advising and supporting the founding team personally for some time now; my company, the BLKSHP, is a partner organization.)

The idea is simple. Instead of starting the giving season with shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, people are encouraged to start on GivingTuesday with philanthropy. Co-founder Henry Timms, deputy executive director of New York’s 92nd Street YMHA (92Y), contrasts Black Friday shopping and GivingTuesday philanthropy: “We have two days that are good for the economy. Here’s a new day good for the soul.”

American culture seems primed for this message, especially in the wake of superstorm Sandy. The way that GivingTuesday has proliferated has been quite remarkable to me. It came to life at the 92Y, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, and then spread quickly across real and virtual social networks, attracting more organizations and people into its sway. I’ve watched with great admiration and excitement as the idea has developed into a movement.

How did it happen? Distributed leadership. We’re living in a tribal society. The Web’s nimble, networked structure allows organizations to tap vast, hive-like relationship clusters. Once a novel idea emerges, like GivingTuesday, and large institutions identify them and sign on to it, as JPMorgan Chase & Co. or the Salvation Army has, then a constellation of smaller non-profits or charities will follow suit. Before you know it, a movement is born. This is not unlike the way traditional consumer behavior often unfolds, as early adopters scale up toward mainstream adoption.

The combination of technology savvy, such as Mashable’s and Facebook’s, and public-service organizations, like the 92Y and the U.N. Foundation, can open new pathways for civic activity, allowing like-minded business leaders, social entrepreneurs, activists, technologists, opinion-makers and bloggers to follow suit. GivingTuesday portends big things for the future of citizen-focused, empathic, bottom-up social change in the government sector and society at large.

The movement is reinventing how a simple, good idea can reshape networks online and off. The revolution will be improvised.

Peter Sims is founder & a ‘sir’ of the BLKSHP, cofounder of the social venture Fuse Corps, and his latest book is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

Visit www.bloomberg.com/sustainability for the latest from Bloomberg News about energy, natural resources and global business.


Little Bets got some nice coverage in Forbes today, as the pharma industry wrestles with a culture of BIG bets.  The nature of the long cycle times and illusions of rationality in the pharma industry helps to explain why we (the San Francisco BLKSHP) are having such great collaborations with senior execs @ Genentech about helping them to rethink their development and  processes.  Genentech is making a HUGE difference in the world, yet need help getting away from the overly rational mindsets that block discovery and waste resources — the “illusion of rationality” as per Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

Here’s the Forbes article: www.forbes.com/sites/davidshaywitz/2012/11/05/is-big-pharma-dangerously-betting-on-huge-fragile-product-shots/

Is Big Pharma Dangerously Betting on Huge, Fragile Product Shots?

David Shaywitz, Contributor

Historically, the most significant challenge small biotechs faced was whether to advance a relatively broad portfolio of programs or whether to bet the whole enchilada on a so-called “product shot.”

As I’ve discussed in context of Peter Sims’ wonderful book “Little Bets” (reviewed here), there is a classic tension between investors, who typically favor product shots (since they own a portfolio of small biotechs), and company management, who appropriately worry about risking everything on one program.

It’s fascinating to watch how the same challenge appears to be creeping up the food chain, and many big pharmas seem to be investing outlandish amounts of money pursuing similar product shots – Sanofi’s recently announced PCSK9 clinical trial is just the latest example.

While no one is suggesting big pharmas are shunting absolutely all of their R&D resources to mega development programs, these companies could clearly fund a number of smaller development programs with the money they are spending on these huge, individual programs. For all the talk about the age of the blockbuster being over, it’s crystal clear that many big pharmas not only remain fixated on blockbusters but feel confident they can identify them.

Mathematically, they clearly believe the commercial potential in these cases justifies the huge development costs and sizable risks, and feel that the potential exceeds that of the multiple other programs they could theoretically be resourcing instead (unless you have an even more cynical view, and believe they are pushing these huge programs because they have so little else worthwhile to fund).

I am struck by the difficulty of prediction, as I’ve discussed both recently, and also several years ago (with Nassim Taleb) here. Advancing a small number of large, intricate programs also seems like a vivid example of the sort of dangerously excessive investment in the highly fragile that Taleb inveighs against.

It will be interesting to see how these giant bets turn out.


Fuse Corps received a flattering writeup in Inc. Magazine todayPlease send your nominations for the prestigious 2013 fellowship to me so that I can pass those onto the team.


Are you a brilliant, entrepreneurial troublemaker? A fellowship program that pairs business people with local government to actually get stuff done wants to hear from you.

shutterstock images

America may have election fever at the moment, but through all the coverage of the candidates’ proposals and counter-proposals, there runs a thread of cynicism that whoever wins in November, government just isn’t very good at finding and implementing innovative solutions to the challenges that we face. Not nearly as good as the business community in general and start-ups in particular, anyway.

So what if you, as an experienced entrepreneur, could bring some of your know-how and pragmatic, can-do attitude to government (at least at a more local rather than the presidential level) and actually make a difference in American communities?

Fuse Corps says you can. It’s a fellowship program now in its second year that places experienced business people with at least eight years of work under their belts with local leaders who are looking to pair with private sector expertise to find solutions to pressing public issues–solutions that can be replicated elsewhere across the country.

“Fuse Corps takes the top minds in business and in entrepreneurship and places them for 12 months with some amazing and innovative mayors and governors around the country in order to create a space for innovation. The people who can do that, who have been tested in the crucible of getting stuff done, are entrepreneurs,” explains Jennifer Anastasoff, co-founder and CEO of Fuse Corps (other co-founders include entrepreneur Peter Sims, McKinsey senior partner Lenny Mendonca and Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp).

Fuse Corps is careful to match fellows with projects that fit their skills and interests (and geographic constraints). Current projects range from building a private-public partnership to involve Silicon Valley talent in government in Sacramento to improving public education for the governor of Delaware.

“We work very closely with the cities and states to scope out a project that has very clear deliverables for the year. It’s the job of the entrepreneur who comes in to identify, what are the resources we need? How do we get them? What barriers need to be crossed? What do we need to be learning? The way that we support someone is something we call the Civic Leadership Institute,” explains Anastasoff.

With its less than catchy name, the Institute may sound about as exciting as watching paint dry, but the intensive two-week boot camp held in Silicon Valley is actually a main draw of the program.

“We use design theory and a design approach to leadership and management,” Anastasoff explains. “We get type-A folks who have willed their businesses into existence by hook or by crook and we really push them.”

Also included is a series of lectures from Fuse Corp’s high-profile contacts with all the obvious networking benefits that implies–”One of our placements said, ‘I thought that I was applying for a fellow, but what I realized is I was actually getting a full network,’” says Anastasoff–as well as a deep understanding of how government works that entrepreneurs can carry back to the private sector after the program finishes.

“City and state, that’s where stuff gets done, so if you really care about getting stuff done, this is where you should be. If you’re a brilliant troublemaker, we want you,” concludes Anastasoff.

Think that might be you? Check out the Fuse Corps site for more information, including details of the financial support fellows receive, as well as how too apply. But don’t dawdle: this year’s deadline is October 14th.

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I’m very proud to be a part of the Fuse Corps team, a social venture that places some of America’s most talented entrepreneurial leaders in the trenches with a mayor, governor, or dynamic social entrepreneur to discover new approaches to sticky problems.  Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, for example, needed Erika Dimmler, a CNN producer who was tired of reporting on the news and wanted to make the news, to help him bring Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard project into the Sacramento Unified School District.

Fuse Corps Fellows act as catalysts to bring together corporate, non-profit, government, and philanthropy groups in new and creative ways – “the politics of entrepreneurship” as Steve Case puts it.  Fellows don’t start by presuming that they have all the answers by looking at problems from a bird’s eye view.  Rather, they begin from the worm’s eye view by developing greater empathy for citizens, their problems and needs, then build up to new solutions.  

Fuse Corps started with an idea from Lenny Mendonca, founder of the Half Moon Bay Brewery, as well as a senior partner @ McKinsey & Company, and many other pursuits.  Since those early days of making little bets with Lenny as a cofounder, it has been nothing short of a joy to be involved, and to put the advice from LITTLE BETS into action to (hopefully) benefit citizens who deserve better leadership these days.  After all, Washington DC is a snake pit that too often sucks the life out of even the most well intentioned people and leaders (the authentic innovator Don Berwick’s resignation letter from his post as Administrator of Medicare & Medicaid will be a historic artifact of this era of institutional corruption).

My Uncle Joe, a life-long truck driver who now earns about 30% less than he did 5 years ago, and yet watches as people like Dick Fuld and Jon Corzine walk away from leading institutions that had fraudulent cultures without any form of accountability, is giving up hope in America, and the American Dream.  This unacceptable.  America was never supposed to be about crony capitalism. It was made great by Emersonian self-reliance and entrepreneurial thinking, grit, craft, and hard work, as well as an appreciation for what Tocqueville saw when he visited soon after the country’s founding — people working together in their communities TOGETHER to build churches, schools, bridges, and anything else they needed to lead productive and (hopefully) happy lives.

And, so Lenny (who is his generation’s John W. Gardner IMHO) recruited me to help get an organization off the ground that could innovate closest to the citizen needs. (As Tip O’Neil famously said, “All politics is local.”) And we were joined joined by Jennifer Anastasoff, a talented person as our founding ceo, and Dave Viotti who took the organization from concept to social venture, and we partnered with Gen. Colin & Alma Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance, and the Points of Light Institute, where we’ve had a terrific collaboration with Ayesha Khana, who leads the Civic Incubator there, as well as Michelle Nunn, their star ceo and her engaged colleagues, and Sonal Shah, who until last year led the White House Office of Social Innovation & Civic Participation.

We were extremely fortunate to receive support from a number of extremely strong advisors, as well as generous angel investors, and from Starbucks Corporation, our founding corporate partner in addition to McKinsey, led by Fuse Corps’ friend Howard Schultz, and a very talented and socially minded team of leaders, who from the outset believed in our vision, and in the need for fresh approaches to tackling vexing social problems.  As Howard said in his call to arms of corporate leaders last year, that eventually became Starbucks INDIVISIBLE job creation campaign, “We’ve lost our humanity.”

Well put, sir.  Rather than remain cynical or helpless, creating Fuse Corps was one of many actions needed to DO SOMETHING about that problem.

And, so while we still have a great deal to learn and figure out, our little bets over the past few years have proven out the significant need and demand for more creative approaches to solving citizen problems.  The four pilot fellows report having life changing experiences, while the mayors and social entrepreneurs lavish rave reviews of working with the fellows.  It’s no surprise, as you’ll see from understanding who these people are when you meet the Fellows here.

They are examples of people we call Black Sheep.

When Pixar director Brad Bird first met with Pixar’s cofounders Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and Ed Catmull, they had already produced three blockbuster films, yet their biggest fear was becoming complacent. They invited Bird to challenge their normal approaches to doing work.

Bird invited his colleagues to reverse doubts from the technical team that their ideas for their next project were too ambition  us and would be too costly.  Bird and his “black sheep” colleagues ultimately made The Incredibles, an internationally acclaimed film, for less money per minute than the previous film.

As Bird recounted to Stanford Professors Robert Sutton & Huggy Rao and McKinsey Quarterly’s Alan Webb, Bird says,Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to.”

We, The Black Sheep, look around us and see that the old way of working—largely from the top down—isn’t working.  There are men and women in positions of power today who have become disconnected and divided from the people they are supposed to be serving in a way that discourages collaboration and creative energy. The world is desperate for creative change from the bottom up, fueled by Black Sheep.

Bleak as the future may seem, hope should not be lost.  History cycles, thanks to empowered individuals and organizations that opt for change.  American Transcendentalism, Abolitionism, women’s voting rights, Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive “Bull Moose” reform movement in response to the Gilded Era, or the rise of evangelical communities such as Saddleback Church and Willow Creek are several that we admire and study.  The Black Sheep deeply believe that entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, designers, authentic and ethical business leaders, and social change-makers can work across vastly different disciplines to learn from one another, generate creative approaches to vexing problems, and forge collaborations to turn ideas into real initiatives and ventures.

What ultimately bonds The Black Sheep is the belief that authentic and lasting collaborations depend on a spirit of genuine curiosity, generosity, and the pursuit of broader purpose.

In 2011, a group of Black Sheep traveled to Detroit to support local community leaders in their efforts to combat pervasive tobacco addiction among poor black youths.  Video game developers locked arms with branding specialists, product designers, comedians, and advertising professionals to develop new products and businesses in response.  Utilizing a creative approach to problem solving, grounded in the entrepreneurial process and creative methods, community leaders felt empowered to launch new initiatives and products to counter the power of tobacco advertising.

You haven’t seen or heard many stories in the mainstream media, but we were inspired by Detroit’s cultural diversity, artistry, humor, and entrepreneurial bent.  We felt that we were at the center of American rebirth and renewal, and it was thanks to many Black Sheep whose names aren’t familiar (not yet at least).

But the future is arriving now, and this revolution will be improvised.

For more on Fuse Corps here, and consider joining The Black Sheep if you’re interested.  Thank you and let’s DO THIS!

here’s the Fuse Corps press release:

updated 8/28/2012 9:00:00 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Fuse Corps, a non-profit that enlists the nation’s most talented professionals into public service through a mid-career fellowship program, today announced the opening of nominations and direct applications for its next fellowship year. Nominations and applications will be accepted through the Fuse Corps website (www.fusecorps.org) through September 30, 2012.

“We believe our country’s greatest challenges can only be solved by combining the ingenuity and collaboration of the public and private sectors — and that combination is needed most at state and local levels,” said Jennifer Anastasoff, CEO and co-founder, Fuse Corps. “We are looking for candidates with a passion for public service and the motivation to apply their business acumen for the improvement of communities across the nation.”

Starting March 2013, those selected for the Fuse Corps fellowship program will attend an immersive leadership program which draws from the best practices of leading for-profit, public and social sector organizations, including McKinsey & Company, the d.school Institute of Design at Stanford, Points of Light, and Little Bets Labs, before embarking on year-long paid assignments to improve government and communities.

“At a time when the country is desperate for fresh approaches to solve problems and the role of government is openly debated, Fuse Corps addresses the concerns of citizens from the ground up as opposed to following the status quo, top down approach,” said Peter Sims, Fuse Corps co-founder, entrepreneur and best-selling author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

Lenny Mendonca, co-founder of McKinsey & Company’s social sector practice and of Fuse Corps, added, “To spur the growth and renewal of the US Economy takes real innovation and leadership. Highly efficient and effective entrepreneurs and business professionals bring sorely needed help to public sector organizations who, after facing a slowed economy and severe cuts, need it most. From Erika Dimmler bringing a groundbreaking gardens initiative to local schools with Mayor Kevin Johnson to Jeremy Goldberg helping to bridge the important talent gap in San Jose, we are seeing the positive impact Fuse Corps Fellows can have. I look forward to growing this kind of innovation and leadership asset in communities around the country in 2013.”

About Fuse Corps
Fuse Corps is a national, non-partisan, non-profit social enterprise that enlists top business professionals and entrepreneurs into public service through its professional fellowship program — in order to solve the biggest challenges facing communities. Fuse Corps is driven by several of America’s top innovators in the public and private sectors and it has collaborated with McKinsey & Co., d.school Institute of Design at Stanford, Points of Light, America’s Promise Alliance, Teach for America, Starbucks, and Summit, among others. For more information, please visit www.fusecorps.org or follow @FuseCorps on Twitter.


Writing is editing, many days and hours of painstaking revision and sculpting.  So, it has been an honor and gratifying to learn that Little Bets has been recognized by a number of publications I respect for their best books of the year lists, including The Washington Post, Inc. Magazine, and AmEx OPEN Forum.

The Wall Street Journal also selected Little Bets as one of six top entrepreneurial advice books in an article entitled, “The Best Advice Around, From Those Who Took It,” alongside books like Art of the Start by Silicon Valley maven, Guy Kawasaki, the author and former chief evangelist @ Apple.


Quoting Saras Sarasvathy, a professor @ the Darden School at the University of Virginia, who many including the well-known entrepreneur and investor Vinod Khosla consider one of the most insightful researcheres on entrepreneurship, the article reads:

“This book demolishes the usual excuses entrepreneurs have for not starting a business,” says Saras D. Sarasvathy, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, in the article, adding that the book “shows how ‘doing the doable’ without waiting for a big idea, or guarantees about the final outcome, can lead to amazing breakthroughs.”

(see this Big Think interview with Sarasvathy’s for a great overview of her work and findings)

Thank you so much to The Wall Street Journal for this generous recognition, and to the many people who have championed and evangelized the book. Let’s do this.

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*UPDATE: Tech Crunch runs review of Fuse Corps.

For the past several years, I have had the great pleasure of collaborating with a remarkable group of people to create and launch Fuse Corps, an innovative social venture that will pair some of America’s top entrepreneurial leaders with governors, mayors and community leaders across America to drive meaningful social change. We identify concrete projects in local communities that address a national priority (such as education, economic development or health care). We then recruit and deploy highly-skilled and passionate professionals to help develop and implement innovative and lasting solutions. Here’s a short two minute video with the overview, featuring Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a dynamic leader who will have two Fuse Corps fellows reporting to him in 2012, including one who will help him drive energy reforms and one to catalyze creative ways to reform the Sacramento Unified School District:

It will be a very prestigious honor to be selected as a Fuse Corps Fellow, and about half of the 2012 pilot 10 fellows will come from sponsoring companies like McKinsey, Starbucks, G.E., McDonalds, and so on. The other half will come from all walks, as applications are open to all. We are looking for creative, dynamic, doers who have a history of catalyzing and leading, with a willingness to get their fingernails dirty in the trenches of America to help renew and reinvent the country from the bottom up.

My cofounders include a diverse and dedicated group of leaders, including, Lenny Mendonca, a senior partner @ McKinsey & Company (& cofounder with his wife, Christine of the awesome Half Moon Bay Brewery), the talented social entrepreneur Jennifer Anastasoff who has vigorously taken on the challenge of being our fearless leader, David Viotti, the former Chief Learning Officer of Sun (US) and Fuse Corps’ chief learning officer, Ayesha Khana, who leads the Civic Incubator at the Points of Light Institute, which will incubate Fuse in year 1 and provide back-end services, Margeurite Kondracke, long time CEO and now senior advisor to General Colin and Alma Powell’s education nonprofit America’s Promise, and the dynamo who is Sonal Shah, who until recently led the White House Office on Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

It has taken a remarkable team effort to get this venture off the ground, and while it has not been easy, it has been endlessly rewarding and fun, and laughter filled, a testament to the team involved, which includes many other amazing people not included here, such as the teams @ the Stanford Institute of Design (the d.school), where every fellow will begin their experience to learn how to think and work like an entrepreneur, and our friends at KIVA, the Aspen Institute, and in education circles, including our first two cheerleaders and advisors, Alan Khazei, the legendary cofounder of City Year, and Teach for America founder and CEO, Wendy Kopp, who needs no introduction.

But at a time when the country (and world) are desperate for fresh approaches to problem solving, as Thomas Friedman and Michael Mendelbaum describe so well in their new book That Used to be US, rather than the status quo top down approach, we hope that Fuse Corps can help provide both positive leadership to help solve citizens’ problems from the ground up, while nuturing a generation of leaders who can think and act differently throughout their lives, and to carry with them an empathy for problems they may not see in their day to day lives inside companies, the military, or any other part of society.

Applications are now open, via the Fuse Corps website.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it, but and that starts with little bets from everyone, so thanks for taking a moment, so please JOIN US and if you could take a look, encourage great people to apply, and help spread the word if you can.


This revolution will be improvised. ;)


Last weekend, I had the chance to connect with singer & songwriter John Legend before his concert with Sade at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.  I met John for the first time 3 or 4 years ago in Los Angeles before he was very well known through our good mutual friend Kweli Washington who has worked with John for years.

Kweli is a great guy, who I know because he was one of the first beneficiaries of Summer Search where I was on the national board until last year, a year-long, intensive youth mentoring and leadership development program for low-income high school students.   In its roughly 15 year history, Summer Search has a great track record of helping students to graduate from highly school (nearly 100%), get into four year colleges ( ~95%), and then graduate (90%+). Kweli was a star story.  He had a great experience with Summer Search that lifted his aspirations and he went from Oakland to Harvard College, and then went onto  become a Rhodes Scholar before he went into the business world and became a consultant at Boston Consulting Group in Boston, and has always been active with Summer Search since.

But, true story if you can believe it, Boston Consulting Group is where Kweli and John met and worked as analysts, after John graduated from University of Pennsylvania.  At the time, John’s name was his given name “John Stephens,” which he would change to “John Legend” once he got into music, but back then Kweli and John worked full-time at BCG during the day, and John would go out and perform at night to develop his music career and demo tapes (naturally, a series of little bets to get closer and closer to his aspiration).  John was very active as a leader in University of Pennsylvania’s a cappella singing groups and it was, in fact, one of John’s roommates from Penn, Devo Springsteen (one of my favorite names of all time, formerly “Devo Harris”), who introduced him to Kanye West, who would be instrumental (no pun intended) in helping John to launch his recording career.

Anyhow, from that first interaction with John through interviewing him for Little Bets, through catching up with him a bit last weekend, I have been impressed by his curiosity, insightfulness, and desire to DO SOMETHING with his life beyond just making great music and being a celebrity.  He is also one of the most present people I interviewed, or when you speak with him — you never feel like his mind is elsewhere, he’s very attentive.  It does seem like he would rather not have to do meet & greets and all the stuff you have to do when you’re a star, but once you’re engaged on a topic, he’s all over it, whether it’s a discussion about education reform, or Ralph Waldo Emerson, or religion, or creativity.  He clearly reads a lot because he cites a lot of references, and backs up his points with either empirical research or first-hand insights and observations, all with the intention of GETTING SHIZNICK DONE to make a positive impact.  He’s a public intellectual of sorts.

Take the badly needed topic of education reform in the U.S.  John is on the board of Teach for America, working with one of the most impressive leaders in America, Wendy Kopp, (not to mention a really nice and cool person), and John participates as an activist in causes where he can use his celebrity to either have a voice or to give voice to a movement of peoples trying to change the status quo.  For example, he sang the theme song to the movie Waiting for Superman, entitled “Shine,” one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, now one of the favorites of teachers all around the country, a reminder of what education is all about — to help people shine.  Check out the video here:

John Legend, \”Shine\”

But while I am a big fan of John’s music, what I admire about him the most is his desire to take his talents, celebrity, and resources to GET INVOLVED in an attempt to do many, many little things to try to make a difference, both in the individual lives of kids around the country as a role model, and to contribute to the public policy discussions and debates.  Just have a peek at this interview with YouTube World View for a flavor:

John Legend – YouTube World View interview

So, there in the bowels of the Oracle arena, my date Laura and I had the chance to meet John before he went on stage to open for Sade, as part of her national tour.  (He lit it up, of course.)  After talking for a few minutes, including about Thomas Friedman’s excellent new book, That Used to Be Us, which I reviewed for Reuters.com last week (and that John was excited to read so I gave him my copy, underlined, dog eared and all, his team was ready to take a picture.  I brought signed copies of Little Bets for John and his team, and later I ended up giving copies to his entire band since they also wanted to read it (funny side story: the John Legend Band tour bus is literally wall to wall with Little Bets books and signed cards thanks to their enthusiasm and desire to help spread the word – God save us!).  But, back to that moment before we took the picture, John showed the same stripes I’ve seen in each interaction for years: the generosity to say enthusiastically, “Hey man, We’ve got to hold the book up!”

And so we did.

John then lit it up on stage, as usual.

With Laura and the band after the show:

The path from Boston Consulting Group analyst to world changing social activist wasn’t an easy one for John (just as Kweli saw John toil to get heard), but John’s courage, willingness to make little bets, and push forward by doing things and following his dreams have paid off.   He’s not only a 9-time Grammy Award winner, he’s changing the world every day has he invents the future, both for himself, and for millions of young people who benefit from his voice, views, and, yes, LEADERSHIP.  It’s what the country is thirsty for and is part of the reason why THIS REVOLUTION WILL BE IMPROVISED