• The Voltage Effect

  • How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale
  • By: John A. List
  • Narrated by: Will Damron
  • Length: 8 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (273 ratings)

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The Voltage Effect

By: John A. List
Narrated by: Will Damron
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Publisher's Summary

National Best Seller • 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 best-selling author of Grit)

One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2022 - Men’s Journal

“Scale” has become a favored buzzword in the startup world. But scale isn't just about accumulating more users or capturing more market share. It's about whether an idea that takes hold in a small group can do the same in a much larger one - whether you’re growing a small business, rolling out a diversity and inclusion program, or delivering billions of doses of a vaccine. 

Translating an idea into widespread impact, says University of Chicago economist John A. List, depends on one thing only: whether it can achieve “high voltage” - the ability to be replicated at scale. 

In The Voltage Effect, List explains that scalable ideas share a common set of attributes, while any number of attributes can doom an unscalable idea. Drawing on his original research, as well as fascinating examples from the realms of business, policymaking, education, and public health, he identifies five measurable vital signs that a scalable idea must possess, and offers proven strategies for avoiding voltage drops and engineering voltage gains. You’ll learn:

  • How celebrity chef Jamie Oliver expanded his restaurant empire by focusing on scalable “ingredients” (until it collapsed because talent doesn’t scale)
  • Why the failure to detect false positives early on caused the Reagan-era drug-prevention program to backfire at scale
  • How governments could deliver more services to more citizens if they focused on the last dollar spent
  • How one education center leveraged positive spillovers to narrow the achievement gap across the entire community
  • Why the right set of incentives, applied at scale, can boost voter turnout, increase clean energy use, encourage patients to consistently take their prescribed medication, and more. 

By understanding the science of scaling, we can drive change in our schools, workplaces, communities, and society at large. Because a better world can only be built at scale.

©2022 John A. List (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“List is far too thoughtful to write something gimmicky or simple. . . . An entertaining and clear writer. His book is chock-full of compelling stories of businesses that failed and others that went big.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Skillfully done . . . Careful, comprehensive, and fun, The Voltage Effect excels in turning a seemingly boring niche topic into a fascinating book that’s relevant to all, from CEOs and policymakers to naturally curious people with a taste for learning how economics shapes our lives in the real world.”—ZME Science 

“If you’ve ever wondered why so many promising solutions fail to achieve their desired impact, look no further. . . . A master class in how the quirks of human irrationality can make or break our ideas in the real world.”—Steven D. Levitt, professor of economics, University of Chicago, and co-author of Freakonomics

What listeners say about The Voltage Effect

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Awefully stupid book

I can’t believe this book is written by an academic. Everything in the book is intuitive and common sense. Nothing new! How does the author achieve where he is by being this mediocre?

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    2 out of 5 stars

Meh

The author tries to talk about social change from time to time but is out of his depth (IMHO). And he seems to be at the very beginning of his journey to look at things through an equity lens. On the substance, the book didn't provide a whole lot of insights for me. I'd recommend looking up his 5 principles and skipping the book.

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Pointless Self-Aggrandizing Autobiography

This book is 95% autobiography. Instead of practical advice for scaling ideas, you'll find incessant bragging and name dropping as the author desperately tries to convince you he's a good person despite working a top job at Uber and that the Bush admin was impressively "evidence-based" thanks to him, except for the whole WMDs thing (he literally says this).

This is obviously a guy who desperately wanted to tell his life story but wasn't famous enough to justify it, so it's been dressed up as some kind of business insight when this book is actually just a conceited rich guy with 8 kids to feed (!) blithering on as he brags about himself.

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An excellent understandable book it gets real insights.

Amazing book that really takes fundamentals of economic data and the human personality snowing into it to show you how scaling is possible and how it fails.

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I simply enjoyed this book

It may have been the first book that I didn't struggle to get through this year. I was always looking forward to picking it back up. Interesting stories, and the narration was perfect. If I ever get around to writing a book I'd want Will Damron to narrate it. Thanks to Freakonomics Podcast for introducing me to John A. List

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Hard to stay focused

John tells stories about successful companies and personal experiences that I did not find inspiring. It's hard as a "consultant" to excite readers verses hearing from those who have actually built things.

I did learn a few concepts like people fight harder to not lose something over fighting to gain something. There are some good insights.

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Some good concepts, examples are oversimplified

A good source for building a list of things to research further. The stories and exmples used were grossly oversimplified to illustrate a single point, but much more complex and nuanced than the author acknowledged. The author also seemed to cherry pick a few useful concepts, but did not offer a comprehensive guide to scaling. Would have been more useful if there had been a more thorough presentation of each example, as opposed to one-dimensional stories that left out many critical factors and dangers that accompany the author's suggested approaches or conclusions.

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Best Book on How to Scale

The Voltage Effect provided more substance on scaling than any other book on scaling. Concepts and ideas where based on real events and backed by additional research. It was written in a clear and concise manner. I highly recommend this book.

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Overly righteous guy tells good stories

if you're politically minded then this is a great example of sharing political messages.

The fishing village example in the book doesn't at all align with previous stories about knowing when to quit pursuing.

author is morally flexible and not principled but a very good story teller.

if you're listening to this book for utilities, I'd not recommend it.
if you're listening it for entertainment or sourcing stories, then it's a great book for you.


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Life changing depositions....

loved it. One of the best book I have ever read. I am currently advising and implementing those findings into my business.