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Notes on the book "Why Not?" (How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small)

A while back I finished a great book on problem solving (and ideas) called Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small. (There's also a website called Why Not Open Source Movement.) I wanted to post my notes from the book, summarizing their points. If you think these are interesting, I urge you to buy the book. I found it a great resource.

The authors present two basic idea-generating methods, and four problems-solving tools:
  1. Problems in search of solutions
    1. What would Croesus do (WWCD)? (UNCONSTRAINED CONSUMER)
    2. Why don't you feel my pain (INTERNALIZATION)?

  2. Solutions in search of problems
    1. Where else would it work (TRANSLATION)?
    2. Would flipping it work (SYMMETRY)?

Following are some details on the main points.

1.1 What would Croesus do (WWCD)? (UNCONSTRAINED CONSUMER)
  • Have someone else solve problem first.
  • Customers: product misuse -> new problem and solution; Good to think of what hypothetical customer would do.

1.2 Why don't you feel my pain (IMPROVED INCENTIVES)?
  • Self-interest -> doing wrong thing.
  • "Negative externalities" (misguided or missing incentives).
  • Look for inefficient behavior by buyers or sellers.
  • Solution: INTERNALIZE external effects -> feels my pain so does right thing.
  • Look for systematic customer mistakes.
  • Penalty vs. incentive.

2.1 Where else would it work (TRANSLATION)?
  • "Don't think, look!"
  • Look in other cultures, countries, religions, etc.
  • Look at neighbor.
  • Different context - 1) identify attributes of solution that concisely explain solution of problem. 2) generalize description.

2.2 Would flipping it work (SYMMETRY)?
  • Stress test: 1) Stress different words in declarative description of problem/solution. 2) Flip stressed words.
  • Anti-symmetry possible good too.

Here are a few notes from the final chapters.

Chapter 7: Principled problem solving (identify PRINCIPLES)
  • Think inside the box (constraints can help make search more productive).
  • Identify problem's PRINCIPLES (axioms) - what you *do* know (knowing 75% of answer -> easier to find other 25%).
  • Beware false (artificial) principles, but they're possibly useful for applying elsewhere for solutions.
  • Confidence - be a "Platonist" - assume discovery, not creation.

Chapter 8: The case for honest tea
  • Use DISSONANCE to discourage others from entering your market (new product would be very inconsistent with current).

Chapter 10: Implementing Why-Not
  • Karl Marx: We shouldn't be satisfied with just analyzing or interpreting the world: "[T]he point is to change it."
  • presenting: elevator pitches - one line
  • KISS - keep it SIMILAR, silly.
  • WHO to pitch to: pay attention to who would have interests (identify audiences).
  • Install the CO-VENTURER perspective in audiences - e.g., give up rights.
  • Open source - "just share it"; can cause demand as originator get reputation as "idea person."

To summarize - a very helpful book, I believe.

Reader Comments (2)

Great post !!, I must to tell you that your blog is excellent with good ideas...thanks raul

November 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thanks a bunch, raul. I really appreciate it.

November 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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