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Science Books

July 20, 2006

Democratizing Innovation
Eric Von Hippel (2006)
ISBN: 0262720477

To most of us, new product development seems like an endeavor reserved only for cashed-up corporations and their science and engineering departments, but it seems that individuals and smaller firms are increasingly customizing off-the-shelf products to suit their own needs. In this short but ideas-packed book, Von Hippel, Professor of Management of Innovation and Head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, shows how the traditional hierarchies of technology have slid slightly sideways, leading to greater democratization of technological innovation and design. It may seem like a bad business move, but Von Hippel shows why it makes good sense for customers and businesses to forge ahead with their own innovations, and in turn pass these new or customized products on to others gratis. This new trend of "user-centered innovation" seems to have evolved out of the information age, with a little help from the free and open-source software movement. Now, physical products have become the targets of innovation, where a product's developmental life continues as it moves among its user base. Von Hippel cites numerous examples of user-centered innovation, ranging from surgical equipment to surfboards. Some designers find the idea of passing on their hard work to others for free as bad business, but Von Hippel argues that they should enthusiastically embrace this technological sea-change to stay relevant in the marketplace. In order to accommodate this new trend, Von Hippel says that intellectual property laws need to be amended. This book is a little gem, suitable for anyone with an inquisitive mind or innovators looking to stay ahead of the pack.

The Female Brain
Louann Brizendine (2006)
ISBN: 0767920090

The Female Brain states from the outset that the brain of the fairer sex is biologically dissimilar to that of the male of the species, a claim that may resonate with many who believe that a divide exists between male and female behavior. "There is no unisex brain. Girls arrive already wired as girls, and boys arrive already wired as boys. Their brains are different by the time they're born, and their brains are what drive their impulses, values, and their very reality," says author Brizendine, neuropsychiatrist and founder of the Women's and Teen Girls' Mood and Hormone Clinic. It's a bold claim that some may consider erroneous, but Brizendine makes some salient arguments. Brizendine says that every human brain begins as female, but that after exposure to excess testosterone - 8 weeks after conception - the communications center and hearing cortex in males diminishes, while the sexual processing center doubles in size. The unique composition of the female brain has implications for how women think, what they value most, how they communicate and with whom they will fall in love. The Female Brain offers neurological explanations for a host of female related behaviors and characteristics observed in daily life. Such as why women on average talk a lot more during the day (20,000 words compared with a male's humble 7,000); how women remember confrontations that males have long forgotten; why teen girls are obsessed with looks and chatting incessantly on the phone; why women can know what someone is feeling; and why women think about sex every other day, while men think about it constantly. Despite this book's seemingly un-PC subject matter, Brizendine believes that she has the neurological answer to Freud's long-standing question: "what does a woman want?" Short of revealing the answer, all we can say is that men will be very jealous. An intriguing read suitable for anyone interested in pioneering neurology, or for those who want an instruction booklet on the workings of the female brain.

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