The one-sentence summary

Great progress comes from taking little bets on ideas through experimentation, play, immersion, definition, reorientation, and iteration.


Breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries.

  • Errors can produce perfection, failure can fuel ambition, and confusion can enhance creativity. It happens when people take ‘little bets’ on a direction or idea being a success. One big bet is the domain of large companies, and linked to the tyranny of large numbers.
  • If your plans fall apart, refine them; if you don’t know where to begin, just begin anywhere – every decision is a risk so take it and see what happens.
  • The fundamental little bets approach is:

Experiment: learn by doing, fail quickly and learn fast.

Play: improvisation and humour incubate the best ideas.

Immerse: get out into the world and understand things deeper.

Define: use insights to define problems properly before solving them.

Reorient: be flexible in pursuit of goals – success may lie in a new one.

Iterate: repeat, refine and test frequently, armed with more information.

  • It is important to note that this is not sequential – a pitfall of most linear processes.


  • The illusion of rationality occurs when the assumptions in a plan or spreadsheet seem infallibly logical, but life isn’t like that.
  • The affordable loss principle allows experimental people to move on from things that don’t work before they are too emotionally attached.
  • Carol Dweck’s growth mindset (as opposed to fixed) typifies those who can cope with setbacks, remain positive, and get on with the next thing.
  • Healthy insecurity is about the right blend – neither paranoid nor complacent.
  • Healthy perfectionism is internal – the unhealthy version is about pleasing or impressing others.
  • The HiPPO phenomenon is unhealthy, in which the Highest Paid Person dominates with their view.
  • Successful little betters believe that problems are the new solutions; questions are the new answers; and that you can learn a little from a lot of people.
  • There is uncanny overlap with the examples used in Tim Harford’s Adapt, particularly the US soldier McMaster in Iraq and Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank. Both books came out in 2011 so it’s impossible to say if this is just a fluke.


  • It’s a good book, but a bit repetitive, and the concept could easily have been expressed in an essay.