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A Better Approach to Breakthrough Ideas

by Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne

Pub Date: March 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-200619-6
Publisher: Harper Business

Why think outside the box? Write business consultants Coyne and Coyne, “the key is to find just the right box in which to think.”

Readers may not have known that a famed Broadway producer, responsible for such hits as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, was also the father of the corn maze, an idea whose time, it seems, had come when he hit on it back in the ’90s. Corn mazes are now a big draw in some parts of the country, though the authors must be using faulty stats to set the number of visitors at twice that of the Grand Canyon. Why couldn’t we think of that contribution to American civilization? We can, write the authors—it’s mostly a matter of learning how to ask lots of questions that might generate the desired answer, which presumably is to hit it rich, in the manner of the “Z-1-4” (“zero to $1 billion within 4 years”) businesses they profile here. Enter “Brainsteering,” a gimmicky but, at least on the face, effective method for “consistently generating breakthrough ideas.” It would steal the authors’ thunder to describe this method too closely, but let’s take, for instance, their thoroughly useful series of questions meant to help pick out a welcome gift for the person who may have everything: “What was their favorite toy, hobby, or activity during the period of their life on which they look back most fondly?” “What event or accomplishment in their life are they most proud of”? The authors pepper their narrative with such idea-sparkers, with an appendix that is worth the cover price, and introduce acronym-tagged concepts that seem as if they ought to bear fruit, as with the notion of a “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive” system of investigation.

The occasional distractions of pop-business cheerleading notwithstanding, if the book evokes a few creative ideas, it will have done good service.