book covers loonshots

A 5 Minute Overview Of


How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

About the Author

Safi Bahcall is a physicist and biotech entrepreneur. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Stanford University. He worked for three years as a McKinsey consultant and then co-founded Synta Pharmaceutical Corp., a biotechnology company developing new drugs for cancer treatment. After taking Synta public, Safi Bahcall served for thirteen years as its CEO until 2014. He now works as a consultant and author. He has won several awards in the biotechnology field and at one time worked with the council of science advisors formed by the Obama administration.

The Main Idea

How do you consistently come up with "loonshots" – the crazy big ideas that change the world but which most scientific and/or business leaders think won't work at first? The most important breakthroughs in any field are almost always the ideas which challenge conventional wisdom and therefore are most likely to be shot down at first. That's because they often start on the lunatic fringe before they reach mainstream credibility. They challenge conventional wisdom and have effects that are impossible to predict or forecast. Loonshots are disruptive, but that usually only becomes obvious in hindsight.

So how do you spark more loonshots? Set up a nursery and let lots of loonshots take seed and grow. Then let the best ideas take on a life of their own rather than deliberately trying to pick the winners yourself. Act more like a gardener and less like judge and jury. Also never lose sight of the fact that loonshots can change the world for the better so get onboard for the ride.

A loonshot challenges conventional wisdom. Whether a change is “disruptive” or not, on the other hand, refers to the effects of an invention on a market. Loonshots flourish in loonshot nurseries, not in empires devoted to franchises. Being good at loonshots and good at franchises are phases of an organization. That’s what the science of emergence tells us.
Safi Bahcall

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