Getting to Yes, And

Safi Bahcall: Loonshots


Safi Bahcall

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Kelly sits down with physicist and biotech entrepreneur Safi Bahcall to talk about his new book "Loonshots: How To Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases and Transform Industries."

You write about how when groups get larger it becomes harder and harder to generate original and important ideas because the perks of rank and the personal stake outweigh the ultimate idea.

“Imagine you expand to a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand people. Well, your stakes get very small; but the perks of ranks start getting higher and higher. They get parking spots, nice vacations to Hawaii - maybe if you're a senior executive, you get use of the corporate jet. So all of a sudden, rather than care about the stake and outcome, you start caring about perks of rank. And so when you get that transition between the stakes of outcome getting too small and the perks of rank suddenly dominating, all of a sudden something changes inside a group, people care more about promotion then the ultimate idea.”

Another barrier to innovation is when we believe there is one magic genius who is responsible for all our great ideas.

“And that's why most companies fail, because you need to change the mindset. The myth that's out there is that great companies have these heroic genius technology leaders that sit high on a mountain like Moses and they raised their staff. They anoint the holy loonshot that the chosen idea. And that's a myth. Even the great leaders who you think that was the case, that's not really what happened. And the cases where it did happen, those companies usually don't survive for very long.”

I like how you note that you need to have both artists and soldiers in order to develop, test and launch innovative new ideas.

“It’s the kind of improvisational science that you need, the jazz of science that you need to create new stuff: you have to try and fail a lot if you want radical innovation.  It's exactly the opposite on the other side and the military with the soldiers: you don't want to build 10 planes, launch them into the sky and then just sit back and see which eight fall from the sky and crash. You don't want a lot of improvisation if you're assembling planes, right? You kind of want the tight discipline and quality control. So you need those two things and you need them to coexist.”

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