Limitations of Scaling a Business or Idea & Ivermectin

Sunday, February 27th, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics are Limitations of Scaling a Business or Idea & Ivermectin.

Our speakers are Jonathan List and Ari Ciment.


Larry Bernstein:

Welcome to What Happens Next.

My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six
Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer period for deeper engagement.
Today’s discussion will be on two topics: Can a business or idea scale and if so what are the
critical variables and an update on the Ivermectin – Covid Controversy
Our first speaker will be University of Chicago economist John List who will discuss his new
book The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great, and Great Ideas Scale. We are going
to learn about scaling for apps like UBER and why most great ideas do not scale efficiently
because there is some feature that cannot be ramped up.

You are going to love this discussion because we are going to handle a huge variety of subjects
like when to quit your job or your marriage, why Amazon Prime and the Kmart Blue Light
Specials are the most incredible marketing tools, and the societal benefits of non-competition

Our second speaker will be Dr. Ari Ciment who is back once again to speak about the ivermectin
controversy. There was fraud in the critical trials, so I want to understand where do we stand
with ivermectin and what can we learn about evaluating medical trials for next time.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker John List.


Jonathan List

Topic: How to scale a business
Bio: Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and Chief Economist at Lyft
Reading: The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale is here

Thanks so much for having me on Larry. My book starts off with a student who raises her hand and says your academics have been at poverty eradication for 50 years, public education for decades, how come you’re not making any impact?

We haven’t been making big impact in these areas because of scaling. So, about a decade ago, I started to look into how people view scaling and implementation, and it was primarily art. In the business world, throw spaghetti against a wall and whatever sticks you should cook it. Move fast and break things that are all pretty much gut feelings. When you’re using it to affect billions of people’s lives, we should have a little bit of science in there.

I wrote this popular book called The Voltage Effect, unlocking those secrets that we have in in our academic world. And my particular book has two parts. The first part unpacks the five key signature elements that are integral whether your idea can take off. Those are cases where there was never any voltage in the first place though it appeared that there was.
The second is overestimating how big a slice of pie your idea can capture. The third is failing to evaluate whether your initial success depends on unscalable ingredients. These are unique circumstances that can’t be replicated at scale. The fourth is when your implementation of your idea leads to spillovers or unintended consequences that can help undo the good stuff in your idea. And the fifth, as a Chicago economist I can’t be all on the demand side, I have to also be on the supply side. The fifth is the supply side of scaling. And that’s whether your idea has economies or diseconomies of scale.

You might wonder why did he title his book The Voltage Effect? It’s really because when we do something in the small and we scale it, we typically do have huge voltage drops. And what that means is it looked great in the Petri dish; it was a mountain of a result. And then when we scaled it, it became a mole hill. So scaling is essentially turning a mountain into a mole hill. That’s one kind of voltage effect. The other kind is voltage gains. Think about Facebook, which has great network externalities. It doesn’t look so good in the Petri dish, but after you scale it, more and more people use it.

The good becomes more valuable for people who are using it. The first half talks about signatures of ideas that have good voltage and bad voltage. And the back half of the book talks about four little economic secrets to a high voltage and that includes using behavioral economic incentives. This is what psychologists would say we should think about in terms of framing. The second one is making decisions on the margin. As economists we’re always marginal thinkers rather than average thinkers. The third one is knowing when to quit. And the fourth one is designing your organization so it has a great culture. I will stop there with my six minutes of fame. And I’ll turn it back over to you Larry

Jonathan List 6 Minutes and Q&A:

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Ari Ciment

Topic: Ivermectin – Does it work? Why were studies flawed? Can we learn from the
Bio: Pulmonologist and Covid Physician at Mt. Sinai Miami Beach Hospital

Ari Ciment Q&A:

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Thanks to John and Ari for joining us today.

That ends today’s session. I want to make a plug for next week’s show.

Our first speaker will be Heather Mac Donald who will speak about her recent article in The City
Journal entitled The Guardians in Retreat. And the topic is the rise of wokeness in art museums
and The Art Institute of Chicago in particular. This will be a very provocative discussion.

Our second speaker will be Rosemary Salomone who is the Kenneth Wang Professor of Law at
St. John’s University. Rosemary has a new book entitled The Rise of English: Global Politics
and the Power of Language. Rosemary is interested in the reaction to the growing dominance of
English in the world of business and science. And how this is impacting millions of youngsters’
choice of a second language. In addition, we will discuss the growing influence of Mandarin and
Hindi as competing languages in global commerce.

Please email me your questions for next week’s session, if you want to participate at

If you are interested in listening to a replay of today’s What Happens Next program or any of our
previous episodes or if you wish to read a transcript, you can find them on our website Replays are also available on Apple Podcasts, Podbean and

Thanks to our audience for your continued engagement with these important issues, good-bye.