a16z Podcast: Incenting Innovation Inside

A “moonshot” is a destination (like going to the moon, quite literally) — but nurturing “loonshots” (which often involves a number of stumbles along the way) is how we get there. This goes beyond the trite mantra of failing fast! It is about not having “false fails” or not killing the seemingly small ideas that could lead to outsized yet unexpected outcomes, observes Safi Bahcall (physicist, ex-startup founder, and CEO of a public biotech company), author of the new book, Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries.

So in this episode of the a16z Podcast — in conversation with a16z bio general partner Vijay Pande and Sonal Chokshi — Bahcall shares why concepts like “disruptive innovation” cause him gas; why doing market projections can sometimes be crap; and why most management books that focus on culture are b.s.

Because CEOs and culture, argues Bahcall, do not control organizational behavior… but hidden incentives, “phase transitions”, and specific control parameters do. So how can organizations — of any size, big or small — be in two states at the same time: both fluid and stable, soft and solid, with high entropy yet bound energy, and both artists and soldiers? The answer may be in a more scientific, less “squishy” framework for management at the intersection of physics and economics. Big empires always miss the small but important new ideas… can this be why? 

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