Click here to watch the recording of our live-streamed event with John List, Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago that occurred on November 11, 2021 at Colby College. Professor List introduced us to his new book entitled The Voltage Effect.

What is it about some ideas that allow them to catch on and energize large groups of people, while others are doomed to flounder before ever getting off the ground? Even the most inspired initiative for change has no guarantee of success. It all comes down to a simple yet vitally important variable: whether the idea has the potential to scale.

In The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale (February 1, 2022), behavioral economist and University of Chicago professor John List reveals why every idea’s greatest opportunity—and challenge—lies in it’s potential to go from small to big.

Based on Professor List’s decades of boots-on-the-ground research, this book is a fascinating exploration of the potential of ideas. Full of actionable advice, it’s also a practical guide for identifying a plan’s problems, preventing them from voltage drops that drain their momentum, and engineering the voltage gains necessary to scale to limitless heights.

The Voltage Effect begins by warning every innovator to avoid Five Vital Signs that can impede their idea from scaling:

  1. False positives
  2. Overestimating how broad an appeal your idea will have
  3. Making a plan based on elements that can’t be replicated on a large scale
  4. Unintended consequences that backfire
  5. Supply-side economics & lack of sustainability

Once you’ve evaluated your undertaking according to these five criteria, and cleared those hurdles, List empowers you with techniques proven to increase an idea’s odds of scaling.

The book is filled with anecdotes and real-life examples of scaling shortcomings and successes—ranging from preschools for underprivileged children to policy decisions of presidential administrations; from Jamie Oliver’s restaurants to Elizabeth Holmes & Theranos; from Fortune 500 companies to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Voltage Effect is an accessible and eminently useful guide for anybody with the spark of an idea for positive change in the world. Whether you’re starting a business or trying to solve climate change or make a difference within your local community, this is the book that will get your idea off the ground.

Professor List is a behavioral economist whose field experimental research has focused on issues related to the inner-workings of markets, the effects of various incentives schemes on market equilibria and allocations, how behavioral economics can augment the standard economic model, on early childhood education and interventions, and most recently on the gender earnings gap in the gig economy (using evidence from rideshare drivers).  This has lead to collaborative work with several different firms including:  Lyft, Uber, United Airlines, Virgin Airlines, Humana, Sears, Kmart, Facebook, Google, General Motors, Tinder, Citadel, Walmart and several non-profits.

Professor List’s research includes over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles and several published books, including the 2013 international best-seller, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life (with Uri Gneezy), and The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale (publication date February 1, 2022).

List was elected a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011, and a Fellow of the Econometric Society in 2015. List received the 2010 Kenneth Galbraith Award, the 2008 Arrow Prize for Senior Economists for his research in behavioral economics in the field, and was the 2012 Yrjo Jahnsson Lecture Prize recipient. He is a current Editor of the Journal of Political Economy.

For more information about Professor List, visit his professional homepage.