Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
March 18, 2019
In Loonshots, Bahcall reveals a surprising new way of thinking about the mysteries of group behavior and the challenges of nurturing radical breakthroughs.
We’ve all seen companies heralded for their innovative cultures only to crash and burn a few years later. As if overnight, these companies seem to turn from wellsprings of radical breakthroughs to factories recycling the same tired products. The people are the same; the culture is the same. So why do good people start killing great ideas?
In Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries (St. Martin’s Press; March 19, 2018), entrepreneur and physicist Safi Bahcall uncovers a surprising revelation: changes in group behavior have much more to do with company structure than they do with culture. To illustrate this, he borrows from physics to reveal a paradigm-shifting new model of group dynamics.
Much as changing the temperature can cause the same molecules to change from flowing water to rigid ice, certain forces can cause the same people to suddenly change from embracing wild new ideas to rigidly rejecting them. In Loonshots, Bahcall shows how teams, companies, or any group with a mission can control these forces.
As Bahcall recounts fascinating stories from the near-fail of the most prescribed drug franchise in history to the invention of radar, he extracts essential rules for creating a structure for a team or organization that can nurture the crazy ideas that just might change the world:
- Separate the phases. Shelter fragile, early stage projects from risk-averse individuals responsible for the already-successful, steady-growth part of an organization.
- Create dynamic equilibrium with a process for projects to get transferred from the nursery where radical breakthroughs are developed to the field.
- Spread a system mindset rather than an outcome mindset. Keep asking why and how an organization made the choices it did—after wins and after stumbles.
- Raise the magic number. To keep groups innovative, reward project successes rather than career promotions.
What do James Bond and Lipitor have in common? Why do traffic jams appear out of nowhere on highways? What can we learn about innovation from a glass of water? In Loonshots, Bahcall reveals a surprising new way of thinking about the mysteries of group behavior and the challenges of nurturing radical breakthroughs.
Over the past decade, researchers have been applying the tools and techniques of phase transitions to understand how birds flock, fish swim, brains work, people vote, criminals behave, ideas spread, diseases erupt, and ecosystems collapse. If twentieth-century science was shaped by the search for fundamental laws, like quantum mechanics and gravity, the twenty-first will be shaped by this new kind of science. Loonshots is the first to apply this science to help all of us unlock our potential to create and nurture the crazy ideas that change the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Safi Bahcall received his BA summa cum laude in physics from Harvard and his PhD from Stanford. After working for three years as a consultant for McKinsey, he co-founded a biotechnology company developing new drugs for cancer and served as its CEO for 13 years. In 2008, he was named E&Y New England Biotechnology Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2011, he worked with the president's council of science advisors (PCAST) on the future of national research.
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