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Silver Lining

How looking on the bright side can help you run your business

This story appears in the December 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Why not have telephone solicitors pay us to listen? Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres wonder about this and other potential innovations in Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small (Harvard Business School Press, $27.50). If you like that idea, listen to Yale professors Nalebuff (economics) and Ayres (law) on the value of intelligent optimism-seeing the world not as it is but as it could be, and then channeling that perspective into workable business initiatives. That's how they came up with the pay-to-listen concept, which they think might appeal to oft-ignored telemarketers as well as oft-interrupted consumers.

You can be inventive, they say, by employing four questions: 1) What would King Croesus do? In other words, how would you handle a problem if you had unlimited resources? 2) Why don't you feel my pain? Search your company for incentives that unintentionally encourage people to make bad decisions-and develop better ones. 3) Where else would it work? This suggests transplanting successful ideas from one sphere to another. 4) Would flipping it around work? Try things the other way around. One literal example: flat-topped bottles that use gravity to make ketchup easier to pour.

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