To me, the subtitle of Nalebuff and Ayres's book is especially significant because few of us understand how to use everyday ingenuity to solve problems big and small. So often we ask, "What didn't I think of that?" I wholly agree with Nalebuff and Ayres that we could have, had we been willing to view a given situation (need, problem, irritation, etc.) from several different perspectives. For whatever reasons, we seldom do so. That is, we see and hear what we expect because our mental "filters" perpetuate fixed mindsets. Let's pretend that you have entered the Nalebuff and Ayres Executive Hardware Store. Either Nalebuff or Ayres greets you, offering a complimentary toolbox rather than a cart to use while shopping. "If you need anything or have any questions, please let me know." You then thoroughly explore each of the store's three main departments. Problems in Search of Solutions: Tools which enable you to take the perspective of an unconstrained consumer and internalize the external effects the external effects of decision-making Solutions in Search of Problems: Tools which help you to identify "idea arbitrage" and experiment with "things the other way around" Problem Solving with a Purpose: Tools which enable you to think effectively and productively "inside the box" The proprietors realize that no visitor to their store needs all of these tools at the same time, nor will all visitors use any one of the tools in precisely the same way. The central purpose of Nalebuff and Ayres' book is to offer various "tools," then explain what each can do and how to use it properly, thereby to change "the way people think about their own ability to affect the world. Our goal is to make it natural -- even expected -- for everyone to challenge the status quo and ask, Why not do it this way instead?" They cite countless examples from a wealth of real-world experiences, many of which illustrate what I call "the invisibility of the obvious." I agree with Nalebuff and Ayres that innovation can be taught. Many of the most innovative consumer products (e.g. Post-Its as well as those derived from Velcro and Gore-Tex) were created by technology and fabrics already available. To ask "Why didn't I think of that?" is to acknowledge the invisibility of the obvious. Heightening our awareness of potentialities within the so-called commonplace, thereby enabling "everyday ingenuity," is precisely why Nalebuff and Ayres wrote this thoughtful, thought-provoking, and eloquent book. It will be of greatest value to decision-makers in literally any organization (regardless of size or nature) who are in urgent need of generating new and better ideas, perhaps re-configuring mature products or services, and generating ideas which will be the seed of entirely new products and services. The quotation from George Bernard Show with which they begin the first chapter seems especially appropriate to the conclusion of my brief commentary: "Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not?'" Fill your own toolbox and then have at it!
Nalebuff & Ayres presents four questions (plus a recommandation for 'structured lateral thinking'). They show in great length that they take their own medicine by many doing many new ideas for solving daily hassles as well as societal problems. The book follows the tradition of De Bono due to its search for methods for lateral (cross-sectional and seeing-things-the-other-way-around) thinking. It is an easy and entertaining book to read, even in spite of its age (8 years since publication in 2003). I have not seen any reference to it in the literature which worried me somewhat but still it looks worth a try in practice. Which I will do.