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


Why Not? is a primer for fresh thinking, for problem-solving with a purpose, for bringing the world a few steps closer to the way it should be. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic? According to Why Not? authors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, no.

Illustrated with examples from every aspect of life, Why Not? offers techniques which will help you take the things we all see, every day, and think about them in a new way. ...

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Why Not? is a primer for fresh thinking, for problem-solving with a purpose, for bringing the world a few steps closer to the way it should be. Idealistic? Yes. Unrealistic? According to Why Not? authors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, no.

Illustrated with examples from every aspect of life, Why Not? offers techniques which will help you take the things we all see, every day, and think about them in a new way. Great ideas are waiting. Why not be the one to discover them?

Staff Favorite of 2003

Why not require telemarketers to pay for your time? Why not sell pay-per-mile auto insurance? Why not offer season tickets to local movie theaters? And, most important, why even bother trying to resist the charming brilliance of this delightful guide to innovative thinking? With its enthusiasm, panache, and creative energy, Why Not? is the closest thing we have to a user's guide for the human brain.

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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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781422104347
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2006
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,423,218
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.72 (d)

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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Table of Contents

Preface: Why Why Not?
1 The Way Things Never Were 1
2 Good Ideas and How to Generate Them 13
3 What Would Croesus Do?: Taking the Perspective of an Unconstrained Consumer 45
4 Why Don't You Feel My Pain?: Internalizing the External Effects of Decision Making 65
5 Where Else Would It Work?: Look for Idea Arbitrage 87
6 Would Flipping It Work?: Trying Things the Other Way Around 115
7 Principled Problem Solving: A Guide to Thinking Inside the Box 135
8 The case for Honest Tea 157
9 Reinventing Regulation 171
10 Implementing Why-Not 201
Appendix 215
Endnotes 219
Further Reading 231
Acknowledgments 233
Expanded Table of Contents 235
About the Authors 239
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