“Investing in a loonshot group or working on a crazy new idea should not be because you expect a 100 percent of them to work out, but because you want to be the one to discover first that one thing that is going to happen in two or three years that is life threatening to your business.” —Safi Bahcall, Author, LOONSHOTS; Ex-CEO (Biotech)
What is the difference between companies that adapt for longevity and companies that fail? The author of Loonshots, Safi Bahcall, reveals that letting creativity flourish is the real brilliance that changes the course of human progress — or alternatively leads to the demise of those companies that don’t know how to cultivate it.
This discussion reviewed the best practices for structuring imaginative thinking within a company, and at what point in an organization’s growth it makes sense to embrace this idea. Lessons included not getting too comfortable with success, and getting back to what led to that success in the first place.
“Most companies become excellent at developing their core franchise. But the truly outstanding companies do something else — they evolve to another level: an independent variable. They get as good at managing their pipeline of ideas as they are at managing their pipeline of customers.” — Safi Bahcall, Author, LOONSHOTS; Ex-CEO (Biotech)
Bahcall on the importance of building an idea pipeline within an organization
Bahcall explains that first it is important to understand this mindset: great leaders think of themselves as gardeners. They get as good at managing their pipeline of ideas as they are at managing their pipeline of customers.
“That’s when you get to what I call the third level of evolution as a company”, said Bahcall. Amazon did this when they created Kindle and Fire TV — all were Loonshots at the time. Then they became the dominant player in cloud services. Cloud services were not in any way related to their core retail business. But they are successful because they built a system for managing their idea pipeline.
Bahcall on knowing when it’s time to embrace the Loonshots mindset
Bahcall points out that the answer has changed a lot in the last few years. The competitive landscape has gotten a lot tighter because of the availability of capital and the fact that social media has lowered marketing costs. As a result, you need to do it a lot earlier now than you used to.
Once you are scaling, it used to be that you had enough time to grow your franchise, grow your customer base, keep going, and it would take competitors a long time to catch up. But not anymore, competitors can catch up quickly — what used to take a couple of years now takes less than six months in some cases.
“With all of that said, the one characteristic that distinguishes successful companies is their ability to try new things and experiment,” said Bahcall. The most important thing you can do is align with the board and executive team to dedicate a percentage of budget to a Loonshots initiative. From there, the magic starts to happen and people get much more comfortable with experimenting with new ideas.
Sahin and Bahcall on the importance of fostering creativity in a remote world
“There are so many talented people all over the world. Being able to give anyone, anywhere access to opportunity, not just based on which location they are in, but based on who they are and how smart they are is something that has always inspired me. For me, it’s the grand vision of access to opportunity.” — Nicole Sahin, CEO and Founder, Globalization Partners
Both Sahin and Bahcall agreed that most executives today are talking about either a totally remote era of work, or at least a hybrid model. But Sahin wanted to understand how that affects creativity and how it can be fostered in a remote world.
Bahcall said, “It’s a really big topic — there are pros and cons, and the trick is to manage the cons.” He went on to explain, “The pros are that you can get access to people all around the world, people that you might never otherwise be connected to. It enables a whole new kind of creativity because you are connecting with people that are coming from different backgrounds, and that brings innovation to the mix”.
At the same time, the speakers discussed that one must be thoughtful about how you use tools like Zoom. The key is variety. Creating a theme or backgrounds for a meeting can help — depending on what is being discussed.
Bahcall asked Sahin her thoughts on this and she said, “What I do personally, is spend less than half my day in meetings. It allows for creative time. I’ll invite a team member to maybe go for a hike and we walk and talk on the phone. This enables us to get things done and problem solve creatively and spend time together in a way that’s comfortable and not behind a screen all day.”
What is your creativity plan? Click here for information about Loonshots and watch for Bahcall’s next project coming soon. Also, look out for Sahin’s new book: Global Talent Unleashed: an Executive’s Guide to Conquering the World: coming November 2021.
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