Yale professors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres engage readers in an intriguing oxymoron. They believe invention can be automated. Why Not? outlines a populist high-octane approach to creative problem solving. "We aspire for this book to change the way people think about their own ability to change the world." The authors' ideas and examples--from adopting British water conserving toilets to having telemarketers pay you to listen--bristle with energy, conviction, and occasional loopiness. Their approach upends cliched problem solving models by asking, "What would Croseus (the ancient rich king) do?" They take Edward de Bono's lateral thinking out for a spin, suggesting pay for view television might include a fee for eliminating commercials.
Nalebuff and Ayres are at their best in exploring "Idea Arbitrage," a tool for applying one solution to a host of other problems and yielding day care at IKEA, corporate vanity stamps, and library coffee houses. Some promising concepts, such as the technique of leveraging mistakes to create new solutions, are not as clear as others. Overall, the authors make an entertaining case for the idea that innovators are made and not born. --Barbara Mackoff