Safi Bahcall on Loonshots: Creating & Nurturing Crazy Ideas

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Have you created a Loonshot? Have people dismissed or laughed at your Loonshot? Safi Bahcall takes us through how to manage Loonshots—a big goal, an audacious idea which has a lot of enthusiasm and support, but may be viewed as crazy. What if you nurtured these crazy ideas that are dismissed and written off. Loonshots have always been created and declared, but not always nurtured, which is critical for real success. This week on Killer Innovations, Safi Bahcall joins us to discuss how to handle Loonshots.

loonshots

Phase Transitions

There are behaviors and patterns for Loonshots. Previous building blocks can support the creation of a Loonshot or destination.  However, the most important focus has to be on how you get to that destination, which is the continual nurturing of those crazy ideas. As the goal is established, the nurturing process spurns off other creations, insights and breakthroughs making the ultimate destination not only achievable, but also richer in value. A big challenge is that many times good teams kill great ideas. Why though? From experience and research there are certain properties of groups and characteristics that lead to failure or phenomenal success.

Leaders Role with Loonshots

What can you do that ensures phase transitions are balanced as a leader of innovators and those driving execution. Leaders need to understand their role, the rules and any exceptions to rules. Safi breaks this down into nurturing three elements in the toolbox, the Ice Cube, Garden Hoe and Heart.

  • Ice Cube – has two types of groups, the Artists and Soldiers. Those creating the Loonshots and those that are getting them to market. The leader has to understand these two distinctive groups have multiple dynamics and functions requiring appropriate channels and systems to operate in.
  • Garden Hoe – to manage the transfer as a leader you have to lean on as Gardner with nurturing care and not a bulldozer plowing through. It is vital that a leader carefully manages the transfer between touch and balance with each group from interactions, communications, timelines and deliverables.
  • Heart – and the most important is to ensure you demonstrate equal value to both your Artists and Soldiers. Love and care for both sides with the same vigor.

What are the Rules for Individual Innovator’s

There are three rules that are critical for innovators to always keep in their toolkit as they create Loonshots and nurture them.

  • Listen to the Suck with Curiosity (LSC) – when others critique your idea and dismiss it or call it bad, react with curiosity not animosity. Investigate and explore. Ask the questions—what was wrong and why with a mind to learn. Look for that gold nugget that can save and/ or accelerate your crazy idea.
  • Minding the False Fail – when everyone is abandoning understand if the failure is really a flaw in the idea or the experiment. The Facebook story makes it clear, don’t give in to a false fail. Examine is this really a fail or false fail – investors were leaving Friendster, but one investor, Peter Thiel, investigated deeper and realized it was not a broken social media model, but the problem scaring away investors was a software glitch. The rest is money making history.
  • Ignore Fail Fast and Pivot – when an idea and project keeps failing and all are giving up, be persistent don’t just pivot. Continue looking at the failure with different dimensions, variables and aspects. Persistence with failure doesn’t mean don’t stop and move on. How do you know though when to persist or move on. The litmus test is to determine if this is stubbornness or if you’ve been applying LSC, being curious, exploring and nurturing.

Balancing the Activities to Create Value

Managing Loonshots there are two dimensions that leaders need to balance, the size and type.

  • Balancing the Size – Loonshots are like a big ship that launches both a speedboat and helicopter. Your speedboat is your core product or service that you’re developing variations and incremental innovations while moving fast forward. The helicopter is on an exploratory search in a whole new space and completely different lane.
  • Balancing the Types – there are P-Type (Product Type) and S-Type (Strategy Type) Loonshots that you need to balance between and sometimes you may lean more towards one, but always have to ensure both are nurtured. A new technology/product may propel your organization, but if you don’t balance the strategy focus, success won’t last. Walmart began as that S-Type with a business model strategy and not innovative technology or product, but an innovative model. One of the strongest brands in history was Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) with a P-Type focus of bigger and faster engines. American Airlines focused on the S-Type and a shift in strategy while balancing technology advances. Guess who is still around today. Understanding the distinction is important and focusing on one can be fine, but achieving balance between the two can be the difference between a good innovator and a fantastic innovator.

About Our Guest

Safi Bahcall is the author of How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries. He is an author, second generation physicist, and CEO.  In 2001, he co-founded a biotechnology company developing new drugs for cancer. Safi led its IPO and served as its CEO for 13 years before being acquired.

Safi has numerous awards and accolades to include National Science Foundation Fellow, Ernst & Young New England Biotechnology/Pharmaceutical Entrepreneur of the Year. He also worked with President Obama's council of science advisors (PCAST) on the future of US science and technology research. Pick up Safi’s book today!

Let’s connect; I am on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter.  If we do connect, drop me a note and let me know.  The email address is feedback@philmckinney.com or you can go to Philmckinney.com and drop me a note there.  If you are looking to develop a Loonshot, check out our Disruptive Ideation Workshops.  Don’t forget to join our Innovators Community to enjoy more conversations around innovation.

To learn more about creating and managing loonshots, listen to this week's show: Safi Bahcall on Loonshots: Creating & Nurturing Crazy Ideas.

 

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