Peter Sims Profile

Bowdoin College graduate Peter Sims is much in demand for his expertise in entrepreneurship and innovation. His book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries is a member of the Wall Street Journal‘s top six advice books for entrepreneurs as well as being chosen by The Washington Post, Inc. Magazine, and AmEx OPEN as one of the best business books of the year. The book he co-authored with Bill George, True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership made the Wall Street Journal and Business Week bestseller lists.

Receiving an MBA from Stanford Business School, Sims was involved in a long-term collaboration with faculty at the same college’s Institute of Design. He has also been part of the team that established Summit Partners’ (venture capital) European office in London, a member of General Electric’s Innovation Advisory Panel and an Innosight fellow. He is co-founder of Fuse Corps, an innovative initiative that embeds entrepreneurs in mayoral and gubernatorial offices to address social problems.

In addition to working as a speaker or adviser for many corporations, associations and universities, Sims’ writing has appeared in The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and TechCrunch.

  • View Extended/Alternate Bio

    Peter Sims is an award-winning author and entrepreneur. His latest book is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, selected as a one of the six best advice books for entrepreneurs by The Wall Street Journal and as one of the best business books of the year by The Washington Post, Inc. Magazine, and AmEx OPEN and he was the coauthor with Bill George of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, which was a Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek best-seller.

    Sims has had a long collaboration with faculty at Stanford’s Institute of Design (the, and received an M.B.A. from Stanford Business School where he established a popular class. Previously, he worked in venture capital with Summit Partners, including as part of the team that established Summit’s European Office in London. He was a member of General Electric’s Innovation Advisory Panel, an Innosight Fellow, and cofounder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that places entrepreneurial leaders on year-long grassroots projects with mayors and governors to tackle some of America’s most pressing problems.

    His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and TechCrunch. He frequently speaks or advises at corporations, associations, and universities.

    A graduate of Bowdoin College, he lives in San Francisco, and his great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Gundlach, founded Gundlach Bundschu (GunBun) in Sonoma, California’s oldest family-owned winery, which is run today by his cousins who, unlike Peter, actually know a lot about wine.

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Peter Sims's Speech Descriptions

Peter Sims uses his extensive research, including more than two hundred interviews with some of the best creative and innovative minds in America, to explain how big successes come from “little bets”; rather than beginning with a grand plan to establish a theory of everything, he shows that the best creativity comes from taking small steps and not being afraid to fail.

Having interviewed 125 of the world’s most respected entrepreneurs and leaders for his book True North, Sims distills that experience to show the motivations, techniques and philosophies that make truly great leaders.

Little Bets
What do Thomas Edison, Chris Rock, and Jeff Bezos all have in common?

Answer: An understanding that the biggest ideas spring forth from a series of small discoveries, reworked to achieve a great result.

Based on extensive research, including over 200 interviews with successful creators and innovators, Sims demonstrates that the kind of linear problem-solving and fear of failure we were conditioned to embrace actively thwarts creativity. Whether it’s Steve Jobs or architect Frank Gehry or the ‘braintrust’ at Pixar, there is no complete plan or vision at the outset. Rather, through a process of trying and failing in incremental ways, they gain critical information as they go from one small, experimental step to the next — which eventually lead to extraordinary breakthroughs. These so-called “little bets” helped spark the ideas that led to companies like Twitter and blockbuster movies like the Toy Story franchise. We can learn to think and work like those we think of as geniuses — failing fast to learn quickly, trying imperfect ideas, focusing on finding problems rather than solving them, and practicing highly immersed observation—to turn our own little bets into big successes.

Authentic Leadership
Based on the lessons learned from 125 of the world’s most-respected entrepreneurs and leaders profiled for TRUE NORTH: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, including Charles Schwab, Starbuck’s founder Howard Schultz, CEO of Palm Inc. Donna Dubinsky, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric, Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, Andrea Jung CEO of Avon Products, and Narayana Murthy of Infosys. Themes include: overcoming life crucibles and setbacks, clarifying personal values and motivations, developing effective support structures, using your life story to motivate and inspire others, approaches for staying grounded, and personal leadership development plans. Click here for a Harvard Business Review article summary.

Peter Sims on Speaking

I am really focused on trying to share mind sets for thinking differently through storytelling and through empirical research.

SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn and take away from your presentations?

SIMS: I am really focused on trying to share mind sets for thinking differently, through storytelling and through empirical research, so that when people leave a presentation, they have the potential to develop a new way of thinking.

Regarding my “little bets” keynote, a little bet is a kind of Trojan horse that leads to thinking in a much more creative way, but it’s backed up by an enormous amount of primary and secondary research, along with storytelling that I hope people will remember for years to come.

SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?

SIMS: About 75% of the audiences I speak with are on the corporate side. I’ve spoken with many senior executives, managers and sales teams. These corporate audiences are filled with people who really want to be thinking differently.

The other 25% of my audiences come from non-profits and the education sector. There’s been a great deal of interest in the education field, for example, concerning creativity and how we can educate our kids differently for the future so that they’re not limited by this lack of willingness to try things, experiment, fail, invent their own lives and careers as they go.

If you can’t connect deeply with the audience, you might as well not even go.

SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event, and how do you prepare for your speaking engagements?

SIMS: I always enjoy speaking as much as possible with the organizers and people who are going to be in the audience. First of all, I try to customize every presentation so that it connects deeply with the audience. If you can’t connect deeply with the audience, you might as well not even go.

I also attend the events before my talk. I try to spend maybe a half-day observing or participating in the event before I speak, and when that happens, my presentation becomes much more of a tailored set of remarks for the audience. It makes me feel like I’m part of the community that’s attending the gathering, which makes the presentation more fun, too.

SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote speaking topics and/or themes are your favorites, and why? What do you like to talk about on stage?

SIMS: I really like to talk about innovation, creativity and design thinking. That’s been my life. I’m an entrepreneur; I run a company and I also have a foundation that I lead. In addition to running two organizations, I became an author by accident. I took my experiences from entrepreneurship, connected them with my previous work in venture capital and studies at the Stanford Design School, and tried to share insight and wisdom with people that they can carry with them long after my presentation. Those are the areas that I’m most passionate about.

I always talk about leadership as well, because that’s where my current career all started. Bill George and I co-authored a book called True North which is about authentic leadership, so I always talk about leadership during my presentations as well.

Everyday I try to reinvent and work towards that larger set of innovations, which hopefully will “make a little dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs once said.

SPEAKING.COM: What other projects are you working on currently? Are you working on a book, or what are you spending your time doing basically?

SIMS: Right now we’re collaborating with a company called Parliament to reinvent business publishing and business thought leadership models. In general we’re really just looking to work with the best authors and thinkers in a community, and then also some of the leaders who are interested in topics like “the company of the future,” which is an innovation topic. Another example is the future of work.

These are really cutting edge topics. We have a company that serves as a platform to bring together authors, thought leaders, and audiences in new ways. That’s where I spend the bulk of my time.

I also dedicate a significant amount of time to social innovation causes. I have a foundation that’s called the Black Sheep Foundation, where we do a number of initiatives to support creativity especially in students. In government we even have a non-profit called FUSE Corps that I co-founded as part of all that. I’m definitely very busy then, but everyday I try to reinvent and work towards that larger set of innovations, which hopefully will “make a little dent in the universe,” as Steve Jobs once said. Exclusive Interview with Peter Sims
How Small Discoveries Spark Breakthrough Ideas
In this interview, Peter Sims discusses:

  • The biggest mistakes companies make when it comes to innovation.
  • What it really means to be a creative genius.
  • How to get ahead in life and business by taking "little bets."
    Read the Full Interview
  • "I think the biggest misconception people have about innovation is that you need to have a big polished idea in your mind before you begin to implement that idea...Genius lies in the process of getting to an idea."
    - Peter Sims

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    Books by Peter Sims:

    Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries
    What do Apple CEO Steve Jobs, comedian Chris Rock, prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, the story developers at Pixar films, and the Army Chief of Strategic Plans all have in common? Bestselling author Peter Sims found that all of them have achieved breakthrough results by methodically taking small, experimental steps in order to discover and develop new ideas. Rather than believing they have to start with a big idea or plan a whole project out in advance, trying to foresee the final outcome, they make a series of little bets about what might be a good direction, learning from lots of little failures and from small but highly significant wins that allow them to happen upon unexpected avenues and arrive at extraordinary outcomes.

    Based on deep and extensive research, including more than 200 interviews with leading innovators, Sims discovered that productive, creative thinkers and doers—from Ludwig van Beethoven to Thomas Edison and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos—practice a key set of simple but ingenious experimental methods—such as failing quickly to learn fast, tapping into the genius of play, and engaging in highly immersed observation—that free their minds, opening them up to making unexpected connections and perceiving invaluable insights. These methods also unshackle them from the constraints of overly analytical thinking and linear problem solving that our education places so much emphasis on, as well as from the fear of failure, all of which thwart so many of us in trying to be more innovative.

    Reporting on a fascinating range of research, from the psychology of creative blocks to the influential Silicon Valley–based field of design thinking, Sims offers engaging and wonderfully illuminating accounts of breakthrough innovators at work, including how Hewlett-Packard stumbled onto the breakaway success of the first hand-held calculator; the remarkable storyboarding process at Pixar films that has been the key to their unbroken streak of box office successes; the playful discovery process by which Frank Gehry arrived at his critically acclaimed design for Disney Hall; the aha revelation that led Amazon to pursue its wildly successful affiliates program; and the U.S. Army’s ingenious approach to counterinsurgency operations that led to the dramatic turnaround in Iraq.

    Fast paced and as entertaining as it is illuminating, Little Bets offers a whole new way of thinking about how to break away from the narrow strictures of the methods of analyzing and problem solving we were all taught in school and unleash our untapped creative powers.

    True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership
    True North shows how anyone who follows their internal compass can become an authentic leader. This leadership tour de force is based on research and first-person interviews with 125 of today’s top leaders—with some surprising results. In this important book, acclaimed former Medtronic CEO Bill George and coauthor Peter Sims share the wisdom of these outstanding leaders and describe how you can develop as an authentic leader.

    True North presents a concrete and comprehensive program for leadership success and shows how to create your own Personal Leadership Development Plan centered on five key areas:

      • Knowing your authentic self
      • Defining your values and leadership principles
      • Understanding your motivations
      • Building your support team
      • Staying grounded by integrating all aspects of your life

    True North offers an opportunity for anyone to transform their leadership path and become the authentic leader they were born to be.

    Personal, original, and illuminating stories from Warren Bennis, Sir Adrian Cadbury, George Shultz (former U.S. secretary of state), Charles Schwab, John Whitehead (Cochairman, Goldman Sachs), Anne Mulcahy (CEO, Xerox), Howard Schultz (CEO, Starbucks), Dan Vasella (CEO, Novartis), John Brennan (Chairman, Vanguard), Carol Tome (CFO, Home Depot), Donna Dubinsky (CEO/cofounder, Palm), Alan Horn (President, Warner Brothers), Ann Moore (CEO, Time, Inc.) and many others illustrate the transitions that shape the type of leaders who will thrive in the 21st century.

    Peter Sims (San Francisco, CA) established “Leadership Perspectives,” a course on leadership development at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and cofounded the London office of Summit Partners, a leading investment firm.

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