The New York Times The New York Times Business August 10, 2003

Email This Article E-Mail This Article
Printer Friendly Format Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-mailed Articles Most E-Mailed Articles
Reprints & Permissions Reprints & Permissions
Sponsored by Sprint



Colleges and Universities

Harvard University

Forbes Magazine


Real Estate
Sign up for E-Mail Alerts!
Receive the latest property listings in your inbox...

Sell or Rent Your Home
Post a property listing on…

Find a Mover
Get instant quotes for full-service, self-service and last-minute moves...

Get Mortgage Quotes
Get instant mortgage quotes and calculate payments...

Daredevil Ideas from the `Anti Dilberts'


WHEW! Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres toss out so many ideas, from the oddball to the audacious, in their book "Why Not?" (Harvard Business School Press, due in October) that it makes you dizzy. And makes you think, too.

The two economists (and Forbes columnists) see themselves as the "anti Dilbert." Calling Scott Adams's cartoons funny but cynical, they proclaim themselves "optimists, perhaps even idealists." To that end, they clamber onto one rickety limb after another to look for answers, to make people "think about their ability to affect the world."


Citing everything from game theory to "Star Trek" to "Gulliver's Travels," they push and nudge at problems vast and minuscule, turning them upside down, inside out, scouring for fresh perspective.

Do H.M.O.'s fail to "feel your pain?" Make them pay your heirs $1 million if you die. Is one-size-fits-all car insurance unfair? Have those who drive more pay more. Do too few people donate vital organs when they die? Make donation the default choice — if you want to be buried intact, you must say so — and organs will be plentiful. And on and on.

Some ideas are original, some recycled; the authors just want to get the pot bubbling. One intriguing notion: install airplane-style black boxes in cars for a morning-after back-seat peek. ("Just how fast were you driving my BMW last night, son?")

Or this, in their typical way of flipping a problem around: Instead of requiring political donors to go public, require donor anonymity. Ergo, no quid, no quo.

And here's one that could save billions of teeth-gnashing, finger-tapping hours: Instead of an airline, say, putting you on hold (repeatedly reassuring you, oh so sweetly, how much it cares about your business), have its recording promise to call you back when an agent is free.

Occasionally, ideas veer into the unworkable, like round-the-clock hotel check-in (the corollary: 4 a.m. checkout?), or the bizarre, like how to peel a banana. But more often, light bulbs pop, and the reader mutters, "Why not, indeed." 

newspaper Expect the World every morning with home delivery of The New York Times newspaper.

Get The Times for as little as $2.90 a week.

Advertiser Links

$7 Trades at Scottrade

Free Credit Report! Online in Seconds.

Click here to get your FREE 2003 Stock Market Outlook!

. Harvard Scholar Rebuilds African Studies Department  (July 16, 2003)  $
. Harvard Chief, at Commencement, Vows Change  (June 6, 2003)  $
. Harvard Scholar to Visit Princeton Institute  (May 8, 2003)  $
. COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE; Niche Markets Dominate Boston's Office Scene  (May 7, 2003)  $
. National Briefing | New England: Massachusetts: Harvard's Sexual Assault Policy  (April 18, 2003) 
Find more results for Colleges and Universities and Harvard University .

. King Ranch Is Facing Texas-Tall Challenges
. Economic View: Factories Move Abroad, as Does U.S. Power
. How to Avoid Cracking the Retirement Nest Egg
. Ready to Renovate? Keep an Eye on Taxes
. Strategies: The Big Mo in Stocks Hits a Wall of Trading Costs