Yale professors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres engage readers in an intriguing oxymoron. They believe invention can be automated. Why Not? outlines a populist high-octane approach to creative problem solving. "We aspire for this book to change the way people think about their own ability to change the world." The authors' ideas and examples--from adopting British water conserving toilets to having telemarketers pay you to listen--bristle with energy, conviction, and occasional loopiness. Their approach upends cliched problem solving models by asking, "What would Croseus (the ancient rich king) do?" They take Edward de Bono's lateral thinking out for a spin, suggesting pay for view television might include a fee for eliminating commercials.
Nalebuff and Ayres are at their best in exploring "Idea Arbitrage," a tool for applying one solution to a host of other problems and yielding day care at IKEA, corporate vanity stamps, and library coffee houses. Some promising concepts, such as the technique of leveraging mistakes to create new solutions, are not as clear as others. Overall, the authors make an entertaining case for the idea that innovators are made and not born. --Barbara Mackoff
From Publishers Weekly
The notion that innovation can be "routinized" is a perennial theme of business theorists. This engaging primer is more insightful than the usual free-associational, brainstorming protocols. Economist Nalebuff and law professor Ayres insist that "innovation is a skill that can be taught," and distill it into a few rules of thumb, like "where else would it work?" (putting airline data recorders into cars, for example) and "would flipping it work?", which involves gonzo conceptual inversions like students raising their hands to not be called on or "reverse 900 numbers" where telemarketers pay people to accept calls. Leavened with a little economics, game theory, psychology and contract law, the authors' framework furnishes useful heuristics to analyze a host of problems from auto theft to campaign finance reform. The result is an interesting compendium of market-oriented socioeconomic fixes, some intriguing (having HMOs sell their members life insurance as an incentive to keep them alive), and a few improbable (offering Palestinians stock in Israeli companies in exchange for a peace settlement). Their system does not, alas, always live up to its billing as an assembly line for business innovations. Many of the ideas they showcase are culled from other sources, and many, like having video renters rewind before-not after-they watch the tape, amount to trivial wrinkles on established practice. The dream of reducing creativity to a set of automatic procedures, shorn of expertise, trial-and-error, eureka moments and plain old hardthinking remains elusive, but the authors seem to know it when they see it.
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