Safi Bahcall is a second-generation physicist and biotech entrepreneur. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, and has a PhD in physics from Stanford. Safi also co-founded a biotech company developing new drugs for cancer, and served as CEO for 13 years. He joins the show to talk about how leaders can implement the ideas in his book Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries (a book Bill Gates recently highlighted). He discusses why we must investigate failure, and the differences between structure and culture.
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[3:39] Safi was hungry to learn about something other than culture as a leader and manager. He would see companies with so called great cultures not have sustainable success, and wanted to get to the root of what actually made a big difference. While working with President Obama’s Council of Science and Technology, he found that small changes in structure rather than culture, created an environment for radical breakthrough.
[9:12] Great leaders make time to study the history and historical references that can help them leverage ideas and concepts. For example, Vennevar Bush had one of the greatest impacts on the growth of science and technology from the World War II era, but he is not a large part of commonly talked about history.
[15:24] Great leaders help bridge the gap between people in a group, and balance the delicate line between radical innovation and execution.
[2010} Structure is made up of many small things and attributes that drive behavior, which in turn shapes the culture. Laying the foundation for a strong structure takes a while, and is not something that should be rushed into.
[30:29] You want to nurture the Loonshots, or “crazy ideas” inside the company, because competitors may instead give it a try and find it works successfully for them.
[32:08] Two pieces of advice Safi has for leaders:
1. Be a gardener, not Moses.
2. Focus on the balance within the structure, and help when there are blockages.
[38:11] The term “LSE” means we should listen to the suck with curiosity. Every innovation sucks at first, and the great innovators are the ones who can take off their rejection hats, and investigate failure with curiosity.
[42:42] Safi’s challenge: Think about what it you are doing today that experts are telling you could never work. Realize there are no experts of the future.
How to Contact Safi:
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- “History doesn’t repeat. People repeat.”
- Every innovation will look ugly at first.”
- “There are no experts of the future.”
- “Listen to the suck with curiosity.”