Book Reviews

Book Reviews


Book Review: Selling Blue Elephants, by Moskowitz and Gofman


By Stephen Northcutt

I will be brief. This book was a disappointment. The premise on the cover is: "How to make great products that people want before they even know they want them."[1] The primary focus of the book is Rule Developing Experimentation (RDE). According to Wikipedia, "Rule Developing Experimentation (RDE) is a systematized solution-oriented business process of experimentation that designs, tests, and modifies alternative ideas, packages, products, or services in a disciplined way using experimental design, so that the developer and marketer discover what appeals to the customer.[2]


I am interested in the concept because having rules is important. I work for a growing company[3]; we have a nunber of new hires that do not possess the "tribal knowledge" and we are in the midst of establishing "the rules". However, you don't want the rules to hamper innovation. So the idea of a disciplined method to build rules and test those rules for better results is certainly appealing. However, the examples in the book left me with a sense that I have a fuzzy understanding of what the authors might be talking about, but I did not feel equipped to go out and apply the method in my organization.


The book is not a total loss. There are some great food examples for coffee and spagetti sauce where it is clear how they decomposed the problem and discovered, amazingly enough, that customers want choice, a lot of choice. This is described far better in another business book, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. After the food example, I could more or less follow a few of the case studies. I will try the approach to a better magazine cover on one of our next brochure covers; there is a picture summing up the results of their approach on page 139. It is probably a notional example, but it is so corny in terms of artwork that I had a hard time learning from the example. The biggest turnoff is that it seems like they are pushing software services from http://ideamap.net/products.asp[4] pretty much throughout the book as if the primary purpose of the book was to sell their software products. It is harder to focus on the content when you feel like you are getting a sales pitch.


All that said, I might be slow on the uptake and the book might be the hottest thing since Reese's Peanut Butter Cups; if you have used RDE successfully and are willing to be interviewed, please feel free to make contact, stephen@sans.edu. If you have read the book, felt you understood it and have examples of how you applied the information, again, please drop me a note, I have an open mind and am willing to rewrite this review based on additional data.

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1. Selling Blue Elephants, Moskowitz and Gofman, ISBN 0-13-613668-0, http://www.amazon.com/Selling-Blue-Elephants-products-people/dp/0136136680
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_Developing_Experimentation
3. http://www.sans.org
4. http://ideamap.net/products.asp