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The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  330 ratings  ·  44 reviews
A leading economist answers one of today’s trickiest questions: Why do some great ideas make it big while others fail to take off?

“Brilliant, practical, and grounded in the very latest research, this is by far the best book I’ve ever read on the how and why of scaling.”—Angela Duckworth, CEO of Character Lab and New York Times bestselling author of Grit

“Scale” has become
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 1st 2022 by Currency
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Kate Marchand
Apr 30, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
Thanks to Currency Publishing for a hardcover of this great book in exchange for a fair review.
Chapter 8: Quitting is for Winners. Yes!
Great book with lots of insight and great research. Not the boring business book you might at first think. 😊
Feb 08, 2022 rated it really liked it
People who think about building the next Amazon or Google often wonder, what is the recipe? What are the fatal mistakes that kill an organization before it scales? This book will resonate with anyone who has worked in Silicon Valley, because those are the questions it explores. It analyzes a number of common ways in which things go wrong, and what might be done to avoid them.

The first part of the book is a brief summary of recent behavioral economics findings. It talks about some common biases
Feb 12, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This book was great! At first glance, it may seem like a generic business book about scaling organizations, but List’s background in running field experiments makes for a much more compelling read. He has experience conducting experiments in academia, at ridesharing companies, for the federal government, and in program evaluation for an education nonprofit in Chicago, among others. Drawing from this experience, List explains some key reasons why ideas that succeed in pilot studies never take off ...more
Adrian Hon
Feb 27, 2022 rated it it was ok
It's rare for someone to tell you how much they hate workers. That's what you'll find in this book – but I get ahead of myself.

For context, I don't read a lot of business books, so this book may be no better or no worse than your average rah-rah airport book for harried execs looking for a new edge. The reason I got it is because Tim Harford (FT, BBC) recommended it on Twitter. I will have to be more skeptical of Harford's recs in future because this book wasn't just disappointing, it was quite
Jason Furman
Mar 11, 2022 rated it it was amazing
An enjoyable, reliable and wide-ranging guide to how to scale ideas. The book includes a lot of economic lessons applied to questions like how to scale a business, a nonprofit, or a policy response. Most of these are familiar to students of economics and psychology but it is their application that is most interesting, including ideas like the dangers of false positives, generalizing from non-representative samples, lack of spillovers and economies of scale, and the importance of thinking on the ...more
May 07, 2022 rated it it was ok
Scaling, especially for non-profits and social programs, is an important dilemma in need of effective solutions. This book features some good wordsmithing around that, like the analogy about ingredients instead of chefs. And it promotes the general idea that we should do more of what works and less of what is useless or harmful. Unfortunately, the specific content consists of quite a lot of sloppy hogwash.

Alternatives for understanding about successful scaling:
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wro
Andy Auger
Mar 29, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book on false positives and scaling. Real world examples throughout. Reminded me of Good to Great. Couldn't put it down! ...more
Zunian Luo
Feb 10, 2022 rated it it was amazing
What’s your secret sauce—the chef, or the ingredients? This is but one of several important questions you need to ask yourself in order to successfully scale, according to The Voltage Effect—a Michelin star cookbook in the world of scaling that gives a fresh perspective on what to do (and not to do) in your scaling journey. Much like a well-crafted meal, a scalable idea requires several essential ingredients, ingredients which Head Chef John List calls the five vital signs. Through bite-sized ch ...more
Cyrus Samii
Apr 10, 2022 rated it liked it
It’s a decent book, but sometimes dumbed down to a degree that I found annoying. I don’t think I’ll ever use the term “voltage” in the way List hopes people will.

List is a very interesting and creative scholar, and I did enjoy hearing about his journey.

Based on his academic and applied work in industry, he derives some factors that may help you in assessing whether you really are ready to take a product or intervention to scale:

Are your inferences from the research that you have done reliable? C
Jarrod Hoffman
Mar 23, 2022 rated it really liked it
John List writes fascinating stories and data in a humble and provocative way. I learned quite a bit through the read and I was grateful for the many economic definitions he shared. My only unmet desire was a slightly deeper dive into the economics, maybe some formulas or graphs, but other than that it was a gem full of practical applications for several areas of my life.
Anders Nielsen
Apr 14, 2022 rated it really liked it
Great book with lots of stories on why scaling works and don't work and how to run field experiments on big datasets.

Main reason for me to not give it five stars is that lot of the basics has already been covered in other books
Ben Rogers
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

I got a lot out of it.

How to scale ideas, behavioural economics, and what makes programs and policies work.

A lot of this is pertinent to my career, and I really appreciate List's excellent writing in his own exciting career.

I would highly recommend this if you are interested in behavioural economics - something I love. Think Kahneman or Ariely.

Admittedly, I found the last quarter of this book a little underwhelming, but the rest of the book was outstanding.

Feb 14, 2022 rated it it was amazing
fascinating. quite informative.
Chad Schultz
Feb 21, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Interesting books with aspects of business, economics and psychology.

Nominally, it's about common errors when "scaling up". Taking a restaurant to a business with over a dozen locations; rolling out an experimental program from one school to hundreds of schools; that kind of thing. Not all of the studies and advice references seem to be directly related to that, but it is all interesting.

I feel that some of the main lessons of the book are:
1) make sure your test group is fully representative or
Fernando  Hoces de la Guardia
Interesting insights from the research done at private sector, but the constant hubris of taking credit for well stablished ideas (eg claiming that he came up with the idea of evaluating the cost-benefit of public policies in the margin) made it hard to enjoy
Mar 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing
The Voltage Effect is a much-needed addition to the econ/business/management literature: finally, a book that not only shares *ideas* but actually focuses on their implementation – in particular, how to make them work at scale.

The book offers a framework and practical toolkit for scaling that can directly be applied to real-world business ideas or policies. It is basically structured as a checklist, reviewing chapter by chapter various issues to be aware of (hello, false positives and spillover
Mar 12, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finally finished #thevoltageeffect by John List. This is an excellent book, and a great companion piece to ”Influence is Your Super Power” by Zoe Chance. John is a world-class behavioral economist with broad experience in higher education, government, and industry. In this book, John draws on his research to tell us why some ideas scale and why some fail.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part examines five fundamental reasons why an idea/product/project will fail to scale. And par
Ben Bentzin
Apr 24, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highlights why some businesses and policies scale and others don’t

John List offers an insightful and research based analysis of five key reasons why ideas don’t scale and approaches that increase the likelihood that an idea will scale. Concepts from the author’s field of economics are explained in easy to understand terms. This book will be particularly useful for entrepreneurs and policymakers wanting to scale their ideas and anyone interested in understanding more about the fascinating field o
Daniel Myers
Mar 02, 2022 rated it liked it
The book in some sense is a compilation of what List has learned throughout his career… none of his concepts seem novel, however he does a good job pushing the reader to take a deeper look into things…. He definitely sees himself and other good data guys as white knights here to fix the worlds problems, while also caveating and pointing out that people almost always miss factors that affect scaling (data guys included)
Mar 26, 2022 rated it liked it
Listened to this on a road trip, so that may be why it is a 3 because it is hard to listen when u are doing that many consecutive hours. He talks about social economics, studies and how/when to take smaller studies/data successes and scaling them to a bigger population. What to look out for, how quitting can mean winning, how important an organization's climate is to it'sy success and a ton more....very interesting. ...more
Mar 31, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I personally would own this book for chapter 8 (Quitting is for Winners) alone.
This is a must-read book for people trying to make an impact in this world. It covers the logistics of acheiving goals for businesses, customers, and even oneself. The advice/recommended strategies for creating effective changes or results are novel and and very relevant to the problems, big and small, or today, and the stories told effectively illustrate the significance of each suggestion.
Bitsy Kemper
Mar 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating! I’m not even in the biz world anymore, but loved everything about this book. And you don’t have to be an Econ major like me to find it as fascinating as I did. Great insight into human behavior, not just how or why products/businesses fail. My husband is glad I’m finished reading so I can stop talking about it lol.
Kevin Postlewaite
Mar 20, 2022 rated it it was ok
This book is reasonable for what it is but it claims to be something different.

This book is fine as an introduction to economic and statistical thinking but if you're already familiar with this kind of thinking and widely-known results all you'll get is some not-very-compelling anecdotes from the author.
Ryan Kalin
Apr 30, 2022 rated it it was amazing
'The Voltage Effect' highlights the significance of considering what can be scaled in (primarily) business, but also in everyday life and decision-making. It is an enthralling read and highly applicable to everyday life. This is a highly influential work, and will certainly induce a positive effect upon both the future of "self-help" literature and its readers. ...more
Mar 17, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Just finished the Voltage Effect and really enjoyed it. Book was super digestible - clear on the takeaways without having to hammer example after example. I found the excerpts on Lyft Pink particularly helpful - I'm actually working on a subscription package for my current company. ...more
Mar 26, 2022 rated it liked it
Definitely like his ideas, but good lord, please stop telling us about all the fancy CEOs you know, all the companies you’ve saved, all the struggling nonprofits who’ve come to you desperate for help, and all the money you’ve made or saved businesses or governments. Typical white savior economist.
Steve Dunn
May 05, 2022 rated it liked it
Meh. Little groundbreaking here and be sure you get a dash of his politics. Also I occasionally get the feel that he has some confirmation bias going on or what I think is slightly different in that he finds a way to explain results regardless of them to fit his desired result.
Feb 09, 2022 marked it as to-read
Shelves: npr, economics, uchicago
As heard on The Indicator from Planet Money:
A great guidebook to scaling ideas.
Masayuki Arai
Mar 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing
many points to remember !
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Professor John A. List is the Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on combining field experiments with economic theory to deepen our understanding of the economic science. In the early 1990s, List pioneered field experiments as a methodology for testing behavioral theories and learning about behavioral principles that ar ...more

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