Small things can have big impact

Next to the lone genius, one of the more common myths about innovation is the big ‘breakthrough’, the game-changing idea that arrives fully formed out of nowhere. In Little Bets, author and entrepreneur Peter Sims asserts that breakthroughs more often come through small discoveries pursued in a systematic process.  “Little bets are at the centre of an approach to get to the right idea without getting stymied by perfectionism, risk-aversion, or excessive planning,” he says. “Little bets are for learning about problems and opportunities while big bets are for capitalising upon them once they’ve been identified.” Tim Kastelle, an innovation lecturer the University of Queensland Business School, argues that small innovations can have huge impact. “One feature of complex systems is that small changes can results in gigantic change,” he says in a blog post provocatively titled ‘The most important innovation of all time’. Among the many candidates for that honour, Kastelle nominates a simple process innovation that’s had enormous impact on everyone: medical practitioners washing their hands before they touch patients. “As with many great innovations, hand-washing started with a scientific discovery – the germ theory of disease,” Kastelle says. “And as with some innovations, the theory was driven by beer. Louis Pasteur’s work was motivated by brewers who couldn’t figure out why some batches of beer fermented well, while others failed. So in trying to make better beer, Pasteur made us all healthier.”

 

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