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A PYW Book Review: Lightning in a Bottle

by Tris Hussey on December 11th, 2006

Before I get into this book review there are a few things you need to know about me.  First is that I love books.  Real books.  Paper ones.  Hardcover, softcover, doesn’t matter, but I like paper.  I really don’t like e-books and I only read ones written by my friends.  Yes, it’s a bias, but frankly I spend enough time in front of this silicon-powered box that I like to get a way from it to read.  Next thing is that if someone e-mails me and says something to the effect of "… I have a book on business or blogging or technology and I want to send you a copy … " chances are I’m going to say yes.  Kinda like "you had me at hello" from Jerry McQuire.  If you offer me a real book to read and review, well you are going to get my attention.  Finally, I’m a pretty fast reader.  Come on, spending six years getting a B.A. and M.S., being a full-time researcher, and now a pro blogger, being able to quickly read and comprehend stuff is a real asset.  I try to practice this often ;).  In fact, I often take a break from reading feeds on the computer to read a book, just for the mental gymnastics.

Okay, so this book, Lightning in a Bottle: The Proven System to Create New Ideas and Products that Work.  I got an e-mail a long while ago from the marketing person at the publisher.  Actually so long ago I was wondering if they had forgotten me (hint, if you are going to send me a book, send it quickly).  Regardless, I read the book today (Sunday).  Yes, today, I told you I read fast.  The premise is simple.  One in ten new ideas fail, the authors say they have a "system" (I like methodology better) to help you make more ideas successful.  The method is seven steps:

  1. Learn
  2. Develop working theories
  3. Develop ideas and concepts from the working theories
  4. Conduct financial due diligence
  5. Talk to consumers one on one.
  6. Iterate the concepts by listening to the consumers
  7. Take the best concepts and monetize them.

Okay sounds pretty good and simple, right?  I think so too.  Actually I had to wait for most of the book to get to them.  Once I got there, I did like the method and how it was presented.  Logical, straightforward and without business-speak or jargon (I really hate those).  More than half of the book is devoted to debunking the "myths" surrounding how ideas are produced and deployed today.  Stuff like focus groups, brainstorming, etc.  Yeah I always like to take pot shots at group brainstorming (especially those godforsaken ice-breaker activities).  If nothing else the book might give you a case of the "ouches", as in "ouch my company does that all the time".

I’m a good market for this book.  I’m a part of several startups.  Some of which are built on new ideas.  Some of the ideas are even mine, and I can see the flaws in how we (I) put those ideas into action now.  For this kind of business book, there are some key things that have to be there for it to be successful at all.  First, it has to be easy to read.  Droning on will not cut it.  We’re all to busy for that.  This book is easy to read.  Given that I tore through it in a few hours and didn’t want to put it down (no, I’m not that hard up on reading material … I got into the book), this is a good sign.  I will put down a business book (a genre not usually one of my favs) if I can’t get into it.  Second important thing is that if you’re going to challenge the conventional wisdom, you better do it with both evidence and humour.  Yes, humour.  Again, this book has this.  A good three-quarters of the book is spent building the case for how our standard way to developing business ideas is flawed and giving examples of successes.  The authors do poke jabs at themselves as well.  The, "man I wish we knew then what we know now", stuff.

Okay so we have an easy to read book, that has a good idea.  The idea is presented well and seems to be easy to try.  Okay is there a downside?  The one niggling thing that was going through my brain while reading the book was that the authors seemed really close to the subjects that were highlighted as good examples and were a tad soft on an example of something that went wrong with someone they knew.  You know, though, it’s their book, these are people they know, and a little bias isn’t a bad thing.  You can sense it’s there early on and get over it.  Once you get over it, stuff starts falling into place.

Now, the big question, would I buy this book if I saw it on the shelf?  Probably not.  This isn’t the fault of the book, though, when I go to the bookstore I’m usually looking for fun reads, not business books.  Now, am I glad I read it?  Yes, certainly.  I learned something, I have some new techniques to try, and a darn good blog post out of it ;).  Should you look for it and buy it or find it at your library?  If you’re an entrepreneur, yes.  If you’re in a large business, maybe (that’s only because I’ve seen so many people come in with new ideas like this and get squashed like a bug).

There you go.  Lightning in a Bottle, a good read that should get your brain cells going.

Disclosures:  Besides the free copy of the book, I was given no other compensation to write this review.  This review has not been edited, vetted, or previewed by the authors or publisher.  The words and opinions are my own.

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