Fundamental to the little bets approach is that we: • Experiment: Learn by doing. Fail quickly to learn fast. Develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems, and build up to creative ideas, like Beethoven did in order to discover new musical styles and forms. • Play: A playful, improvisational, and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched, and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged. • Immerse: Take time to get out into the world to gather fresh ideas and insights, in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires, and absorb how things work from the ground up. • Define: Use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them, just as the Google founders did when they realized that their library search algorithm could address a much larger problem. • Reorient: Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion. • Iterate: Repeat, refine, and test frequently armed with better insights, information, and assumptions as time goes on, as Chris Rock does to perfect his act.
The counterinsurgency approach is one of discovery and experimentation, a creative approach to warfare. Preconceived templates or plans are obsolete. The cornerstone of counterinsurgency operations is what Army strategists call developing the situation through action.
Central to the process is acknowledging that mistakes will be made, like violating cultural norms or initially picking the wrong partners, because soldiers are operating in an arena of uncertainty. They must be willing to seize (and retain) the initiative by taking action in order to discover what to do, such as by launching frequent reconnaissance probes. In order to help soldiers become comfortable with this approach, Haskins says, “You have to catch people making mistakes and make it so that it’s cool. You have to make it undesirable to play it safe.”
Two fundamental advantages of the little bets approach are highlighted in the research of Professor Saras Sarasvathy: that it enables us to focus on what we can afford to lose rather than make assumptions about how much we can expect to gain, and that it facilitates the development of means as we progress with an idea. Sarasvathy points to the value of what she calls the affordable loss principle. Seasoned entrepreneurs, she emphasizes, will tend to determine in advance what they are willing to lose, rather than calculating expected gains.