Thursday, July 5, 2007


There are a lot of cool words. My favorite: Why. Better yet: Why? Why why? It’s a tasty, terse, power-packed, and utterly insatiable three-letter gem. And, it’s at the root of curiosity, creativity, innovation and great thinking.

Children are masters of the why domain. Their ingenuity, inquisitiveness and seemingly effortless creative leaps are often prompted by why. Until they’re normalized by society to believe things are what they are (and there’s no need to question it!), most everything is a why. As they mature, life becomes more binary: yes and no replace why. Creative thinkers are why people too. Why can’t I do this? Why not try this? Why is this like this? Why does this work this way, and not that way? Why not combine this with this? We can all use a little more why in our lives.

My most-recent company, Crescendo, was conceived based on a combinatorial why: Why not combine the lifestyle virtues of luxury destination clubs with the financial security, diversification and upside of owning a real estate investment fund? French novelist Marcel Proust amplifies Crescendo’s creation: "The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes." So if you want to find untapped innovation opportunities, watch the world around you with "fresh eyes."

Richard Watson contributed the following in a Fast Company piece:

Creative leaps also tend to emerge when someone with a differing perspective tries something new -- either through bravery or sheer naivety. If that person is young or comes from another place (i.e. a different discipline or perhaps a different country) things sometime start to happen. Put two or more differing people together and the sparks can really fly. But why is this so? In my experience it's because older people have usually invested too much under the current system and therefore have too much to lose if a new idea displaces an older one. Equally, people that don't move around or come from the same department or discipline sometimes fail to see what is hidden under their own noses, whereas people from ‘somewhere else' often see it.
My friend Dave is a great why thinker. He flies airplanes for a living and spends much of his grounded life chasing after two why-uttering kids and posing lots of thought-provoking why questions. He texted me a few weeks ago: If I can lease a car, why can’t I lease a house? Good question, a problem seeking a solution.

Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres authored an apt book, Why Not? They offer that the why-not attitude lets you see potential improvements that are just waiting to happen. And, once this mind-set is activated, it’s hard to turn off. You start seeing potential solutions everywhere. Nalebuff and Ayres pose a number of problem-awaiting-a-solution questions, including:
  • Why not have firms call you back rather than have you wait on hold?
  • Why not sell generic first-class postage stamps that remain valid when rates go up?
  • Why not have a fixed-rate mortgage that automatically refinances when interest rates fall?
  • Why not sell pay-per-mile auto insurance?
A few others that amuse me:
  • Why can’t you purchase (own the title/deed to) a self-storage space?
  • Why is the market for private company investments inefficient and illiquid?
  • Why subscribe to satellite radio when – particularly as WiFi becomes ubiquitous and devices become more mobile and potent – you can enjoy Internet radio stations for free?
And, one more: When you ask a four-year-old to do something, why do they always say, “Why, daddy?”

Post-script (8/3/07): Solid, relevant insight from Seth Godin on the appeal of free content, not just for the consumer but also the producer:
"Now you have paid online radio and free online radio. Paid online video and free online video. At first, the paid stuff is good and the free stuff is less good. But soon, producers seeking an audience start to make their stuff free. Because when they do, the audience goes up 100x. And then, in order to compete, others do the same thing. Wouldn't you if you had a touring band? Wouldn't you if you had already exhausted your DVD sales and wanted a big enough audience for your sequel?"

Post-script (8/15/07): Mark Cuban chimes in with a thought-provoking why not: Solution for the Real Estate Market? Take Your House Public? It's a tidy, top-of-mind brainstorm about the illogical, binary approach to home ownership ... reminds me a little of our question above (liquidity for private company investments/real estate partnerships), but Cuban has given it much more thought. Instead of home-by-home IPOs, how 'bout bundling homes into an offering? You can do quarterly or annual appraisals (reporting), though the market value/stock price would be based on -- rightly so -- what an investor's willing to pay. Residential home equities. I like it.


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