Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review of The Idea Hunter

Leverage your super-guru solutions
Remember the dark ages of scrambling to find the right lid for your coffee cup before civilisation was brought blinking into the sunshine world of standard lids? Never mind the budget deficit, a double-dip recession and unwinnable wars, my life was on the verge of collapse from the stress of working out which lid fitted my coffee cup at Starbucks.

The message of 'The Idea Hunter' by Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer is that it didn't take a genius to come up with the idea of a standard-size lid for take-away - sorry, 'to-go' - coffee cups. Wow Einstein, you're telling me that wasn't the work of a genius? No kidding!

Admittedly, 'The Idea Hunter' doesn't get any banal than that, but how could it? It's a formulaic book whose jargonistic language and bland, templated structure makes you want to hate it so much that it's hard to remain objective and recognise any good ideas when they appear. The first 'leverage' (as a verb) is in the preface, 'ongoing' appears on page 1 and we're only on page 5 when the cretinous acronym I-D-E-A makes its painful appearance, followed a page later by 'super-guru'. If you get to page 28, you'll come across the irony-free use of the term "wow-ize". Throughout, we are in the world of the inspirational management mystic - the kind of idiot who gets shown the door in any serious organisation except in America (and even there they went out of fashion a decade ago).

The usual business paragons are here: Warren Buffett, Neutron Jack Welch and Steve Jobs; but the first company to get the sycophancy treatment is Intuit, an organisation whose recent reputation seems to be built less on intuition and more on the old-fashioned and prosaic practice of getting market dominance and squeezing its increasingly captive and unwilling customers for every last cent with the help of well-lobbied regulators.

In some ways, this book lives by the principles it expounds. It insists that the best ideas aren't original but come from using "loose ties", picking up ideas from places that don't have an obvious link with a company's business and doing a lot of talking and reading. This is sensible advice and I won't disparage it.

In keeping with the authors' philosophy, there doesn't seem to be any original research here. All the quotes look like they are second-hand and there is nothing to suggest that the authors met any of the top executives quoted. The arguments follow the standard structure of hypothesis-quote-q.e.d., with little explanation of how to use those examples to advantage. Indeed, it seems to revel in its intellectual shallowness, and it seems the height of vanity to give this method its own trademark.

There is some useful content in here and there is some practical advice later in the book, but its pomposity and grandiose self-importance are extremely off-putting.

Moral: Your writing style can define your market more than you think.

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