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Safi Bahcall

The most important breakthroughs come from “loonshots”—and they need to be nurtured.

Award-Winning Biotech Entrepreneur | Author of Loonshots

Contact Safi For Booking
Safi Bahcall | Award-Winning Biotech Entrepreneur | Author of Loonshots
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

In his instant Wall Street Journal bestselling book Loonshots, Safi Bahcall reveals a surprising new way of thinking about innovation and group dynamics, challenging everything we thought we knew about radical breakthroughs. In talks based on his book—which Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman calls “Not to be missed by anyone who wants to understand how ideas change the world”—Bahcall shows how we can stoke innovation, create better leaders, and support “loonshots”: the imperfect but ingenious ideas that have the potential to change the world.

As a consultant at McKinsey & Company, and co-founder and CEO of Synta Pharmaceuticals, Safi Bahcall spent nearly two decades of his life bringing big, innovative ideas to fruition. Frequently, this meant assessing and developing loonshots—the widely dismissed ideas whose champions are often written off as crazy. Along the way, he noticed the obstacles that innovators came up against, which seemed to stem from “the mysteries of group behavior.” As he dynamically explains in his book Loonshots, small changes in the structure of a company, rather than in its culture, can transform the behavior of the distinct groups involved, allowing innovation to flourish. Already a Wall Street Journal bestseller, Loonshots was recently dubbed a must-read “for people and organizations who are trying to increase their ability to catalyze more innovation” by Forbes magazine.

 

“A wonderful book that explores the beauty, quirkiness and complexity of ideas, Loonshots will both educate and entertain you. If you care about ideas—especially new and out-of-the-box ones—you need to read this book.”

— Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies

In his talks, Bahcall shows how the science of phase transitions—think water becoming ice—suggests a useful new way of nurturing radical breakthroughs. He explains the mystery of why good teams—even those with excellent people and the best intentions—can kill great ideas. With humor, history, and a dash of physics, Bahcall offers audiences the tools to become initiators of innovative surprise rather than witnesses to it. 

 

Bahcall is a physicist, entrepreneur, and biotech speaker who once worked with President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. After spending three years as a consultant for McKinsey, Bahcall co-founded the biotechnology company Synta Pharmaceuticals, where he helped develop new drugs for cancer treatment. He led Synta’s IPO and served as its CEO for 13 years, during which he was named the Ernst & Young New England Biotechnology/ Pharmaceutical Entrepreneur of the Year. Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, and The Washington Post all included Loonshots, his first book, in their Top 10 and Must-Read booklists of 2019.

Speech Topics

Innovation
Loonshots How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars and Transform Industries
Why do good teams kill great ideas? Safi Bahcall reveals a surprising new way of thinking about group behavior that challenges everything we thought we knew about nurturing radical breakthroughs. Drawing on the science of phase transitions, and using stories that range from the hunt for U-boats in WWII to the search for new cancer drugs, Safi shows why teams, companies, or any group with a mission will suddenly change from embracing wild new ideas to rigidly rejecting them.
 
Meticulously researched and undoubtedly fascinating, this talk offers fresh insights from a new kind of science—showing the three techniques that creatives, leaders, and visionaries can use to liberate the ideas trapped inside small and large companies everywhere.
  
Strategy
Mastering Reinvention Four Rules for Business Transformation
Why did one mall succeed while all others failed? How did the music industry escape death?  Why did Amazon beat Google in the race for cloud services—the business that now generates over half of Amazon’s profits? In this insight talk, Safi Bahcall explains the four principles that connect these examples: the rules of reinvention.
 
Bahcall explains why we need to balance two types of “crazy” ideas, the hidden gaps that must be closed, the common traps that needlessly sink new ventures, and how the best innovators overcome these challenges. Bold, thorough, and ambitious, this talk shows how Microsoft has been applying these same principles to rapidly catch up in the trillion-dollar race to dominate the cloud—transforming itself, along the way, from an “also-ran” into the most valuable company in the world. 
Execution & Performance
Bridging the Divide Tactics for Organizational Structure
You’ve figured out your strategy, the new businesses you’ll invest in, and the basics of your innovative culture and structure. Now what? So many new ventures fail because of the inevitable internal tensions between those working on the core and the new. One group seeks to minimize risk and maximize quality (deliver on time, on budget, on spec); the other seeks to maximize intelligent risk-taking at minimum viable quality (experiment). They speak different languages and often don’t understand—or even like—each other.

In this talk, biotech entrepreneur Safi Bahcall shows us five techniques that the best innovators use to bridge the divide between teams in their organizations. He dives into the “soft skills,” showing leaders what it means to love your artists (the “tech people”) and your soliders (the people marketing, manufacturing, delivering) equally, balancing both sides with care. Bahcall also reveals the surprising reasons why making a business plan is a terrible idea, why it’s necessary to have bilingual specialists, the importance of a chief incentives officer, and finally, how to create a porous organization.
Corporate Culture
Empowering HR Harnessing the Motivational Power of the Middle

Safi Bahcall forecasts a future where we have a shift in mindset and recognize the enormous strategic potential HR could unlock in stagnating companies. It’s a department that needs to be elevated and expanded—and there are already incredible opportunities to reshape its functionality and refocus the energy of human resource professionals. For instance, the current climate of managers making all the decisions regarding bonuses and raises places company culture firmly in the political—making innovation less likely, as employees are afraid to experiment. But what if there was a nonpartisan professional who’s specific functionality was to assess performance, detached from office politics? Or, since we have CFOs and CEOs, why not have a Chief Incentives Officer?

 

As leaders, it can be difficult to accurately assess the value of an employee’s contributions, especially if their work itself isn’t exactly in your field. That’s why, Bahcall argues, having a more involved, yet neutral party make those kinds of calls would spark real change. They could also help increase employee-project skill fit; and find the right balance of intrinsic, personal motivators and an external reward system to enhance productivity—and positivity. How can we enable HR to be metaphorically bilingual in the workplace: able to communicate with the creatives and the corporate intuitively and impartially—and relay their needs back to each other in terms they will understand? It’s time to move past the outdated compensation and communication models of the 20th century and into methods that reflect our expanded understanding of what makes people tick: and Bahcall is just the expert to get you there.