Loonshots Book Summary - Loonshots Book explained in key points
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Loonshots summary

Safi Bahcall

How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

4.5 (218 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

Loonshots by Safi Bahcall shows how certain conditions can foster innovation and make loonshots possible. Bahcall also provides insights on how to manage breakthrough technologies and maintain a balance between innovation and execution.

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    Loonshots
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    Innovation is a key part of organizational success, and it needs to be carefully nurtured.

    Innovation takes time, money and work. The greatest ideas fail a thousand times before they succeed. But here’s the rub: organizations often get cold feet before path-breaking projects ever get off the ground. What could have been the next great thing ends up as little more than a pipe dream. In other words, they fail at nurturing loonshots – ideas that seem positively unhinged right up to the moment they turn the world on its head.

    So what’s the right way to foster innovation? Well, it’s sometimes argued that it comes down to culture – the informal rules governing organizational life. There’s a problem with that explanation though: it’s wrong. Take Nokia. The Finnish multinational enjoyed a three-decade hot streak between the 1970s and the early 2000s. Its innovations included the world’s first cellular network, car phone, all-network analog phone and the GSM phone, making it one of Europe’s most profitable businesses.

    Experts attributed the company’s success to its culture. Magazines like Businessweek ran features on Nokia’s egalitarian ethos while the CEO put it down to the fact that employees were encouraged to have fun and think outside the box. Fast forward to 2004. Internally, nothing had changed. In fact, the engineers behind all those hits had just had another eureka moment: an internet-ready touchscreen phone with a state-of-the-art camera and an online app store to go with it. Nokia’s leadership shot the project down. Three years down the line, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. The rest is history.

    What went wrong? Well, Nokia’s structure had changed. That’s often part and parcel of growth. When organizations start out, employees have a high stake in success: if a small biotech firm produces a wonder drug, for example, everyone involved won’t just be incredibly rich – they’ll be heroes! Failure, on the other hand, means they’ll be out of a job. Perks like fancy titles and promotions don’t mean very much in such a free-flowing, high-stakes environment.

    As organizations grow, that changes. Those bonuses become ever more attractive, and individuals’ stakes in projects decrease. That breeds a conservative mind-set, and companies become franchise operations dedicated to protecting the parts of their businesses which are already successful. The outcome? Innovation falls by the wayside as decision makers come to view loonshots like Nokia’s proto-iPhone as intolerably risky. But that isn’t a law of nature – organizations can put structures in place that encourage innovation. Let’s see how.

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    What is Loonshots about?

    Loonshots (2019) explores a subject that’s as important to the success of the US military as it is to companies duking it out on the metaphorical battlefield: innovation. Drawing on a host of illuminating historical examples, Safi Bahcall shows that path-breaking discoveries and inventions aren’t the product of isolated geniuses plowing their lonely furrows but rather a result of organizational structures which foster out-of-the-box thinking.

    Loonshots Review

    Loonshots (2019) is a captivating exploration of innovation and how to foster it within organizations. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With insightful case studies and analysis, it reveals the surprising factors that can lead to breakthrough inventions and game-changing ideas.
    • By examining both successful and unsuccessful examples of innovation, it offers practical lessons on how to nurture and support creative thinking for long-term growth.
    • Its engaging storytelling and thought-provoking concepts make it a compelling read that challenges conventional wisdom and sparks fresh ideas.

    Best quote from Loonshots

    The essence of a sound military organization is that it should be tight. But a tight organization does not lend itself to innovations. – Vannevar Bush

    —Safi Bahcall
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    Who should read Loonshots?

    • Tinkerers with an idea so crazy it might just work
    • Managers struggling to keep their companies ahead of the curve
    • Anyone who’s ever wondered how the Allies won World War Two

    About the Author

    Safi Bahcall is a physicist and bioentrepreneur. He received his PhD from Stanford in 1995 and continued his academic career at UC Berkeley as a Miller Fellow in physics. After a three-year stint at the consultancy firm McKinsey, he cofounded Synta Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company specializing in the development of new drugs to treat cancer. Loonshots, Bahcall’s first book, has been heralded a a must-read title by the Washington Post, Inc and Business Insider.

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    Loonshots FAQs 

    What is the main message of Loonshots?

    The main message of Loonshots is the importance of nurturing and implementing radical ideas within organizations.

    How long does it take to read Loonshots?

    The reading time for Loonshots varies, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Loonshots a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Loonshots is definitely worth reading due to its insights into fostering innovation and driving organizational success.

    Who is the author of Loonshots?

    Safi Bahcall is the author of Loonshots.

    What to read after Loonshots?

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