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Why Not?: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small

Why Not?: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small

4.5 2
by Barry Nalebuff, Ian Ayres

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Robert F. Kennedy challenged us to "dream of things that never were and say, Why not?"

Why Not? is a primer for fresh business thinking, for problem solving with a purpose, for bringing the world a few steps closer to the way it should be. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic? No.

Authors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres have spent their careers asking


Robert F. Kennedy challenged us to "dream of things that never were and say, Why not?"

Why Not? is a primer for fresh business thinking, for problem solving with a purpose, for bringing the world a few steps closer to the way it should be. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic? No.

Authors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres have spent their careers asking questions, solving problems, and bringing fresh ideas to market-from insurance that protects against a decline in your home's value to Honest Tea, bottled iced tea that actually tastes like tea. Illustrated with examples from every aspect of life, this book offers simple techniques for generating ingenious solutions to existing problems, and for applying existing solutions to new problems.

In the spirit of Edward de Bono's Lateral Thinking, Why Not?will help you take the things we all see, every day, and think about them in a new way. Why not have telemarketers pay you for your time when they call? Why not sell a mortgage that automatically refinances when interest rates drop? Why not organize a "buycott" rather than a boycott? Why Not? will provoke you into finding new business opportunities using everyday ingenuity. Great ideas are waiting. Why not be the one to discover them?

Editorial Reviews

CIO Insight
The words 'fun' and 'business book' rarely go together. But this book...is the exception.
October 2003
The Boston Globe
"Authors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres have produced an engaging - dare we say innovative? - guide to stoking creativity."
October 19, 2003
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Golden book of bright ideas!
New York Times
Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres toss out so many ideas...that it makes you dizzy. And makes you think too.
August 10, 2003
Harvard Business Review
[T]he authors...offer sensible advice for implementing ideas in a competitive marketplace.
October 2003
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Everyday Ingenuity and Better Problem Solving
Big innovations are not the sole domain of experts and high-tech breakthroughs. On the contrary, the authors of Why Not? write, innovation is a skill that can be taught to just about anyone, and the potential for innovation surrounds us all. Yale Economics Professor Barry Nalebuff and Yale Law Professor Ian Ayres explain that their combination of business and law backgrounds gives them the right tools for both generating and testing new ideas. Together, they explore innovation using the insights of economics, game theory, contracts, and the law of unintended consequences as tools to find innovative solutions to big and small problems.

Why Not? not only looks back at many great innovations that have solved business problems in the past, but also provides the groundwork for developing new ideas for the future. It also makes a few predictions for how present problems might eventually be solved. By exploring many untrodden territories, the authors demonstrate the process of innovation generation in terms that can be understood and acted upon by anyone willing to try something new.

Nattering Negative Nabobs
Instead of offering a book that is overflowing with brain teasers and hypothetical situations, the authors present numerous practical problems from the real worlds of business and government to show how useful innovations have been and can be created. Addressing common concerns, such as e-mail spam, unwanted telemarketing calls, waiting in line, and multitudes of other daily hassles and dilemmas, the authors turn their attention to saving time and money to show others how they can improve their lives by addressing problems with innovative new ideas.

To teach readers simpler ways for finding solutions, the authors present a problems-in-search-of-solutions methodology. With it, they hope to create an attitude and a mind-set in their readers that will help them see potential solutions everywhere they look.

The authors start their book by providing a few examples of great innovators who were able to turn simple ideas into major accomplishments in their fields. They describe how Ben Franklin was able to refine everyday thinking into great inventions that include the library step stool, the odometer (to measure postal routes), bifocal glasses, fire insurance, and the Franklin stove. He even proposed daylight savings time. Wayne Gretzky is also touted as an example of an innovator who took ice hockey to new levels with a new form of offense that capitalized on creating blind spots. By originating a strategy that includes skating behind the opponent's goal, he created a new play that helped him and his teammates score. The authors explain that innovations like these could have been implemented long before they were introduced, but needed an empowered champion to bring them to light.

In an optimistic argument against complacency, the authors present several ways anyone can create a new innovation. One of the first techniques they offer is looking at the unusual solutions others have employed elsewhere, and asking where else they could work. To counter those they call "the nattering nabobs of negativism," they explain how good ideas should not be automatically discounted because they have not been tried before.

Thinking Outside the Box
The authors describe how organizations should and should not capitalize on various types of business innovations. They argue that there is often a simple, recurrent structure to thinking outside the box, and write that most original ideas are the result of two basic methods for generating ideas: problems in search of solutions and solutions in search of problems.

The authors present a framework for finding new ideas using four distinct problem-solving tools that are motivated by these four questions:

  1. What would Croesus do? Croesus was the rich king of Lydia from 560 to 546 B.C. To start the process of innovation, imagine how an unconstrained consumer with no monetary constraints would solve the problem. Automating or standardizing an expensive solution can produce the same benefits for less.
  2. Why don't you feel my pain? It is useful to pay attention to what consumers do wrong. Looking for inefficient behavior in buyers or sellers is a systematic way to identify problems and solve them.
  3. Where else would it work? Take existing solutions and search for new applications where they might work.
  4. Would flipping it work? Flipping things can provide useful new solutions. If the solutions are not better, they might offer better solutions to different problems.

Why We Like This Book
Instead of following the lead of numerous other writers and offering businesses ways they can become more creative, Why Not? offers individuals better ways they can kick-start the innovative process. Focusing on the art of creation in an optimistic, idealistic style, the authors describe dozens of surprising and entertaining examples of the ideas and changes that have made many people's lives better and less frustrating. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Product Details

Harvard Business Review Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.72(h) x 0.99(d)

What People are Saying About This

Reed Hundt
Why Not? is a terrific read. It is a chockablock not with mere heuristics, but authentically interesting innovations. Many are wise; all are worth thinking about. And their ideas grow out of a disciplined effort to force creative thinking.
former chairman, Federal Communications Commission
Hal Varian
Why Not? is full of clever, stimulating ideas. Even better, it provides principles to help you generate your own brainstorms. Read it yourself, and buy it for your employees
University of California at Berkeley, and coauthor, Information Rules
Herb Cohen
This is an extraordinary, thought-provoking, and enlightening book-it is must-reading for any entrepreneur or business person. In the turbulent and unforgiving economic climate we're living in, Why Not? is one of the few books that I'd buy in hardback and pay retail.
author of Negotiate This!
Warren J. Spector
Why Not? takes RFK's challenge to dream of things that never were and applies it to the world of business. Nalebuff and Ayres propose a handful of new and intriguing financial products, including a reinvention of the home mortgage. Financial markets are so competitive that constant innovation is required to stay on top. If their creativity tools can make it here, they can make it anywhere. Why not, indeed.
President and Co-Chief Operating Officer, Bear Stearns
Peter Bell
Why Not? could have been entitled 'The Joy of Innovating.' Nalebuff and Ayres help us to see problems and solutions in new ways. Their enthusiasm is infectious; their guidance, empowering.
President, CARE
Arianna Huffington
Orange juice is not just for breakfast, and ingenuity is not just for entrepreneurs and business innovators. This book explains how the same techniques and principles used to keep American companies in the vanguard of change and innovation can be used to make our gridlocked government more efficient -- and more responsive to the needs of the people it is meant to serve. Ayers and Nalebuff, two of our brightest legal and economic minds, inventively demonstrate how to retool our ailing democracy.
author of Pigs At the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption are Undermining America
Roger Brown
Why Not? is full of intelligent optimism and surprising new ideas for making the world better- everything from how to reduce job discrimination to improved plumbing and phones to creating new beverages. I've been using its wisdom to reframe the problems and frustrations of life in the twenty-first century as opportunities for great new ideas. I guarantee that you will be a better problem solver after reading this spectacular book.
Executive Chairman and Cofounder, Bright Horizons, and Ernst & Young/USA Today "Entrepreneur of the Year"
Joseph Stiglitz
This inspiring book is an essential read for anyone who wants to reinvent business or government.
Nobel laureate (economics) and author of Globalization and Its Discontents
Bill George
In a time when innovation and creativity are in high demand and short supply, Why Not? provides a unique and refreshing approach to stimulating our creative juices through its ingenious ways of looking at everyday problems and devising original solutions. It is a 'must read' for anyone who would like to create a business-or just make things work better.
former Chairman and CEO, Medtronic, Inc.
Gary Hirshberg
In twenty years and countless adventures in growing our business, our only progress and for that matter our only interesting breakthroughs have resulted from someone asking why not? Nalebuff and Ayres have crafted an inspiring, imaginative, informative, and best of all, fun treatise that will arouse the entrepreneur in all of us. You will fly through this book, and you will never look at a problem the same way again
president and CEO, Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, Inc.

Meet the Author

Barry Nalebuff is the Milton Steinbach Professor of Economics at Yale School of Management. Ian Ayres is the William K. Townsend Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

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Why Not?: How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
MkR More than 1 year ago
Have been a big fan of Barry ever since he taught a class for us. This book is very provoking and at the same time it is educational. I learned a lot from it and have come up with some neat ideas using the framework talked about here. It is light, humorous but insightful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an inspiring read with some tips on how to look out for solutions to mundane problems and also interestingly enough to look out for problems that can be solved with a solution to a unrelated problem.