Useful and inspiring advice for tinkerers.


HOW TINKERING, GOOFING OFF, AND BREAKING THE RULES AT WORK DRIVE SUCCESS IN BUSINESS technology gossip blogger Tate debuts with an account of how companies are innovating by freeing workers to dream up their own side projects.

In six case studies, the author shows how Google’s “20 percent time” policy—which encourages Google engineers to take 20 percent of their time to work on ideas that interest them personally, an approach that has led to the creation of both Gmail to Google News—has inspired other corporations to find ways to empower employees to pursue their passions. The policy is now “harvesting innovation from the margins” at many tech and other companies. Side projects have common tenets: They provide creative freedom, connect with people’s passions, generate crude early versions, leverage existing products, generate improvements rapidly to create in-house buzz, continually “sell” the project in the hope of becoming a full-blown company initiative and embrace the help of people outside the organization. Tate’s case studies detail the evolution of side projects and lessons learned at selected companies, including Google, where an engineer’s effort to create Gmail proceeded in incremental advances, allowing him to show colleagues he was incorporating their ideas, getting feedback on flaws and generating discussion on how to grow the product; Ludicorp, a Web startup with limited resources, which reinvented itself with a side project that produced the leading photo website Flickr; and Yahoo, whose Hack Days (“like 20 percent time on crack”) allow participants to create initial designs and collect feedback. Other chapters describe innovations by zealous individuals in non-tech settings, including the creation of the Bronx Academy of Letters, an unusual high school based on high expectations in an impoverished South Bronx neighborhood; the Huffington Post’s “Off the Bus” project, which galvanized thousands of volunteer citizen journalists to offer a different kind of coverage of a presidential election; and top chef Thomas Keller’s side project in nostalgia that led to the launch of a successful new restaurant, Ad Hoc.

Useful and inspiring advice for tinkerers.

Pub Date: April 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-200323-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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