Peter Sims: "Entrepreneurs think of failure like others think of learning"

Peter Sims kicks off the session by looking around at the orange “stay curious” logos in the theatre, and passes this along: Starbuck’s Howard Schultz’s one piece of advice for his son is “stay curious.”

Great minds, great minds.

Sims uses two quick examples to illustrate the nature of innovation, Starbucks and Pixar.

Nobody could have predicted that Pixar would be what it became. Starbucks grew out of a love with the Italian coffee bar. “Why don’t we have this romance with coffee?”

Starbuck’s original vision has changed quite a bit from the bow ties, opera music and no chairs first envisioned. Pixar grew out of relentless boundary-pushing inside Disney, a company that was always asking itself “what would Walt do?”

Sims: Breakthrough ideas cannot be predicted in advance.

So why, Sims rhetorically asks, spend so much time trying? He recounts the series of little bets made at Pixar - over time the animations become longer, more complex. Jobs, who had taken over the company by then, let that process unfold and eventually Pixar’s business became animation, not hardware.

He shows a graph illustrating “growth and “knowing” emerging from chaos. I’m struck by the similarities to the idea of matter emerging from quantum probabilities.  

Another quote: “Having the answer for everything is disempowering.”

An “illusion of rationality” prevents optimal outcomes because instead of making the errors needed to get there, people will seek the data to support their points.

One of the key traits of entrepreneurs is that they’re always absorbing new information, he says. “Entrepreneurs think of failure the way most people think of learning.”

And, in a clip from a video of Jerry Seinfeld working out a routine: “Comedy comes closest to justice.”

So, Sims asks, “What are you doing everyday to put yourself in a bit of an uncomfortable position?”

On those great Onion ledes, only three percent make it to print.

Sims recommends watching the documentary “Sketches with Frank Gehry” to learn about how little bets can lead to great innovations.

In an interesting and extended aside to finish his talk, Sims talks about leadership and the kind of leaders that will helm innovative companies. The “leadership style of the future will be to reduces status” to encourage questions and co-innovate.

Loved this quote from an employee of the company on the iterative, creative, little bets-making process: “The Pixar process is going from suck to non-suck.”


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee