Loonshots: Innovation Through the Lens of a Physicist

Safi Bahcall is a second-generation physicist and entrepreneur, whose first book, Loonshots, has been described as a cross between Freakonomics and the da Vinci Code. At the heart of the book is a philosophy which is foundational for everything we do at OutsideLens: that you can learn a great deal by applying the tools and techniques from one world, in this case the world of physics and to a lesser extent psychology, to the world of innovation in business. 

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Following a 3-year stint at McKinsey, Safi co-founded a biotechnology company developing new drugs for cancer, which he led for 13 years, including taking it public. Several years later, in 2011, Safi was invited to work with president Obama’s council of science advisers on the future of national research, triggering his interest into cultures and structures of innovation.   

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Drawing on diverse examples from history, medicine, technology and warfare, Safi offers a new explanation for what causes groups of people either to embrace or reject new ideas. Drawing on the science of phase transitions, he shows why some people will suddenly go from championing new ideas to rejecting them outright, a phenomenon familiar to many of us working on innovation in the corporate world. 

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Safi offers several important insights for anyone leading change or building out a business: for example, how to manage the interface between the artists and the soldiers in your organization; how to use a systems mindset, combined with curiosity, to understand failure; and for those of us working on challenging problems, a reminder that “there are no experts of the future.” And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! 

Enjoy listening to my interview with Safi here. 

Mark Bidwell

Mark Bidwell

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