HEW! Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres toss out so
many ideas, from the oddball to the audacious, in their book
(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
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."