How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
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, 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.
“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 and biotech entrepreneur, and in 2011 worked with President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology on shaping the future of national research. After working for 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. In 2008, he was named the Ernst & Young New England Biotechnology/ Pharmaceutical Entrepreneur of the Year. His first book, Loonshots, is out now from St. Martin’s Press. Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, and The Washington Post all included Loonshots in their Top 10 and Must-Read booklists of 2019.
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.