Loonshots by Safi Bahcall

I’m reading too many books on innovation in large organisations that could be drastically shortened and still convey useful lessons. This book covers what appears to be a simple lesson, oft repeated.

The lesson is that large businesses often let large (current) business lines dominate the allocation of resources. This is often to the detriment of small, more radical approaches to serve customers in new ways and with potential much larger future growth potential. And if that weren’t enough, those large and powerful business lines act as political anti-bodies to any potential threat to their internal franchise.

So you have to leadership able to keep them separate, generously funded and away from any internal political interference. Let the emergent group put a pirate flag on a mast atop a separate building, and not let on what they are doing – even to the rest of the organisation.

To many, that small emergent growth potential team is a typical startup. Probably the best book that explains behaviours and how Venture Capital places bets towards breeding disruptive growth is “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel. I feel I learnt more about driving disruptive businesses in that book over almost all others i’ve read.

Another approach is as described in ‘Zone to Win” by Geoffrey Moore. That centres on formalising the division of funding streams to products or operating divisions to support their expected size or operating mechanics in future time horizons – if indeed these are predictable.

Loonshots is largely about leaving “wild duck” ideas alone and cites examples where doing this (and overcoming several large setbacks on the way) has led to companies disrupting previous industry leaders. So, largely familiar stories with the usual examples.

However, for a large organisation, one example of simple genius really sticks out in my mind: Honda. The core Agile based R&D is in one operating company, and the six-sigma Manufacturing line in another. That is probably the ultimate and most effective piece of operational and management simplicity out there.