“S-type loonshots are so difficult to spot and understand, even in hindsight, because they are so often masked by the complex behaviors of buyers, sellers, and markets. In science, complexities often mask deep truths: mountains of noise conceal a pebble of signal.” ― Safi Bahcall, Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries is a nonfiction work by Safi Bachall. It was released in March 2019. Loonshots explores crazy ideas and wild success stories and also why great companies fall.
“Loonshot: a neglected project widely dismissed, its champion written off as unhinged.”
I found this book very fascinating. I have always loved biographies, however, they never give you the context of why those people became so successful. Loonshots analyzes various people through the angle of loonshot-ism. The book consists of three parts: Engineers of Serendipity, The Science of a Sudden Change and Mother of All Loonshots.
The first part starts by describing how a mad idea of radar saved Britain in World War 2 from a nearly certain victory of Nazi Germany. Few British aircraft were a match to planes of Luftwaffe. With radar providing a warning system, the British pilots could meet the incoming enemy formations in a matter of minutes. As the German fighters ran low on fuel and were forced to turn back, the Spitfires and Hurricanes could pick off the German bombers as they moved deeper into England. It also describes how fragile the loonshots are and how easily their ideas are dismissed by others.
We continue in aerial world and move to commercial flights. We are introduced to two different types of loonshots. P-type for product and S-type for strategy and we are told a story of two men: Juan Trippe and Robert Crandall. Trippe was the P person. He liked making planes better and ended up starting an airline which with time grew into the largest airlines. The name of that little airline was Pan Am. One of the most iconic airlines in history. So what happened? Why did Pan American Airline go out of business? The other guy happened. Bob Crandall was into planes too but not in the same way. He was running American Airlines and he was a strategist. Instead of investing in shiny new technology, he made little changes in strategy. First, he invented Frequent Flyers. Then a reservation system that could be accessed by all travel agents in the US. Airline regulation hit in, Pan Am went bankrupt and miraculously American Airlines did not.
We also learn about Moses trap. For example, Disney’s period after Lion King where they could not seem to make any good movies. The movies were steadily decreasing in return and that lead to a good slump and downsizing in late 90s and early 2000. Why? Because Disney disregarded computer animation time and time again when at the same time, it was embraced by Pixar and DreamWorks. Other examples include IBM and 7 dwarfs, Polavision and Friendster.
“As teams and companies grow larger, the stakes in outcome decrease while the perks of rank increase. When the two cross, the system snaps. Incentives begin encouraging behavior no one wants. Those same groups—with the same people—begin rejecting loonshots.” ― Safi Bahcall, Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
The second part of the book continues to give us great examples of loonshots and it also gives some concrete instructions on how to nurture the culture of loonshots. For example, you need to separate your creative people, the artists from the soldiers, the business managers. You must always watch your blind side, not forgetting about the other type of loonshot so you must pay attention to both product and the strategy. This part also covers how to keep your middle management from going bloodily ambitious which would harm everyone in the company.
The third part describes maybe the greatest loonshot idea of them all. The chapter is called: Why the world speaks English?
All in all, this book has some really great insights and entertaining pieces of history. 4/5 stars
How-To Read Loonshots
1. If you are interested in history and why some companies made it, where others failed then I warmly recommend this book. And of course, if you want to avoid making these mistakes yourself then you better read this.
2. The hardcover of the book is around 368 pages. I listened to Audible edition which has a really nice narrator so I would recommend that the audio edition.
3. Why do good teams kill great ideas? When does the wisdom of crowds become the tyranny of crowds? – a great video
Thoughts? What are your favorite loonshots?