Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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Inventions: Why Not

October 24th, 2003 · No Comments

The Economist discusses a new book – “WHY NOT? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small” – by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres, and points to their website, which has become “a hotbed of bright ideas.”

From the book’s introduction on the website:

Nalebuff and Ayres offer four distinct problem-solving tools motivated by four questions:

  • What Would Croesus Do? Imagining how a consumer with unlimited resources (a modern-day Croesus) would solve a problem can inspire practical solutions. For example, Donald Trump or Bill Gates dont spend much time waiting on hold. They have an assistant wait on hold and then buzz them when the call goes through. Of course, we cant all afford personal assistants. Is there any way the rest of us could emulate this personal assistant strategy? Instead of waiting on hold to speak with an airline customer representative, why not have the airline call you back (just like Gatess assistant) when the rep is ready to talk to you? With caller ID, you wouldnt even have to enter your number.

  • Why Dont You Feel My Pain? Externalizing internal problems, forcing the cost of inefficient practices to the surface is another way to solve problems. For example, the cost of providing auto-insurance is based on how many miles people drive. But the price doesnt reflect mileage. Why not pay-per-mile auto insurance? Why not have telemarketers pay us to listen to their pitches? While they are trying to sell you a product, you can be selling them your time.

  • Where Else Would It Work? This translation tool starts with a solution from another context and searches for a problem it might solve somewhere else. Why not translate ski area season passes to movie theaters? Why not take the airplane version of R-rated movies and make them available on DVDs? The April 15th deadline for contributions to an IRA is what leads to the idea of extending the tax deadline for charitable contributions.

  • Would Flipping It Work? Looking for potential symmetry and then turning things around offers unexpected solutions. Priceline.com built a business by flipping the way prices are set; they have customers offering prices to airlines. Heinz and Hunts stimulated sales by turning their ketchup bottles upside down. Having customers rewind video tapes at the beginning of the rental prevents people from shirking. Spain eliminated its waiting list for organs by changing the default from opt-in to opt-out. Instead of a boycott against companies that do things wrong, why not a buycott for companies that do things right.

  • Looks like a must-read! Have to think how we can apply these ideas to the problems of SMEs and Rural India.

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