I read ‘Little Bets’ the book that Vegas speaker Peter Sims wrote about how breakthrough ideas come from small experiments in about six hours. I nodded along and folded down corners of pages ready to show people back at the agency. It just all made so much sense.

If I’m honest there is not necessarily anything ‘new’ here. Nothing revolutionary, but a well thought out piece of ammunition we can hopefully use to get clients to try some new things.

Peter started off his talk to us with a piece about how Chris Rock religiously tests out his jokes in small comedy bars in Jersey. Often his jokes fall flat but he studies the audience looking for signs for where he can improve.

He does this over and over again – no doubt he gets a few jeers and boos here and there – until his act is honed and he is ready to go on an HBO special and kill it. The genius, Peter said, was not in the creative itself, but the process.

He then went on to talk about Pixar, something close to many Social’s hearts as we had a great tour of their studios in California a few years back. He said that their process is essentially to go from ‘Suck to Non-Suck’. This is a great way of looking at the creative process.

We all too often strive for perfection and in doing that we tend to screw it up. I would imagine that many people would say that Pixar’s bar of ‘Non-Suck’ is much higher than most people’s perfection but it’s just interesting to use that terminology; to be a bit more humble.

In the book Peter talks about Pixar a lot more. One of the best quotes is from Ed Catmull who says that it’s ‘better to fix problems than prevent errors’. Can you imagine trying to sell that to a client? I guarantee you most of the time you spend with clients is used up trying to prevent things happening – the wrong message, wrong art direction, wrong strategy etc etc etc, rather than fixing problems. It’s a subtle shift but actually a huge one.

One other interesting story about Pixar was that originally the big bet was hardware not entertainment, that was why Steve Jobs got involved. The first film they made was this now famous spot featuring the lamp:

But actually it was created to show off the hardware capabilities at a trade show. It was only when it started getting rave reviews and John Lasseter really pushed the backers to allow him to make a full animated feature that the Pixar we know and love started taking shape. A classic example of the little bet winning over the big bet.

I asked Peter if he knew of any clients who were using his methodology of little bets. He talked about how P&G are testing new products in a different way. There is a neat passage in the book where P&G talk about making products out of cardboard and duct tape and then getting consumer feedback.

The thought is that if you present consumers with an unfinished product they give more valuable and impactful feedback. They feel like you need some help. Whereas if you present them with a shiny finished piece they feel like they don’t want to criticize it too much as it looks like you spent money on it.

That’s fine for product innovation but what about marketing? I have not seen a concrete example of a client who is famous for making little bets with their marketing.

Some time ago I wrote about how I find it annoying that many organizations will spend hundreds of thousands on testing scripts or ideas rather than just making a simple version of said idea and putting it on the web. The means of production have never been cheaper and there has never been an easier way to put stuff out and gauge reaction.

Maybe some clients will read this book and make a few little bets themselves?