on May 28, 2014
If you're a fan of Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, you'll love this book. Here's why:
Like many other people, after reading both of the Freakonomics books, I felt like I learned a ton, but I wasn't sure how it would apply directly to my life.
And that's okay. They weren't writing a self help book, and I read their work because I was genuinely curious in understanding how the world works.
But this book departs from their usual method of explaining how the world works and instead shows you how you can better live in the world.
And that's why I believe this is their best book yet.
Here's a little summary of what I learned:
1. In one chapter, the three hardest words in the english language, they talk about one of the main problems that plagues people today - the inability to say "I don't know." And they show you how it's a deadly combination because "cocky plus wrong" is a recipe for disaster. They then show you how to avoid making this mistake. They even give a word for word script you can use.
2. In another chapter, "WHat's your problem," they share the story of Kobayashi and how he became a professional hot dog - and food eater. They walked through his entire process and how he went on to eat 50 hot dogs when people thought eating 30 was impossible. And even though they're talking about hot dogs, you'll see how this can apply to everyone.
As an example, back when I started creating videos for Social Triggers TV, a friend of mine told me they were filming about 6 videos a day. And I thought, "Well, I'm new at this ther's no way ill get there." And I would film 3 videos a day. Eventually, as I got good, I got to the magic number - 6 videos in a day and I felt like I was on top of the world. Until I spoke to another friend who told me they do 15 or 20 videos in a day. I was SHOCKED. But I went back to the drawing board, refined my process, and eventually got up to 17 videos in a day.
I'm being vague here, mainly because I want you to read the book. But it's funny seeing how the same process I used to increase my video production was used by the hot dog champ as well.
3. And my favorite part of the book is when they talk about what they call "the once and done" technique. If you're a non-profit, you'll LOVE reading about this because you'll see how you can potentially increase donations a drastic amount by using this simple marketing tactic.
And that's it.
Great book and I suggest you buy it and read it.
on May 13, 2014
Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading this book. The way that the writers can intertwine different stories to make valid points is remarkable. It really does a good job of proving by observation how some things in life seem irrational, but ultimately make a lot of sense.
The only problems that I have with the book are the length, just over 200 pages, and it rehashes a lot of stuff that they go over in other works. This book is easy enough that you can probably read in one or two sittings and it is very captivating throughout. I really enjoyed the anecdotes they use to bring across the point of the book that everyone can benefit by thinking differently about the world (i.e. think like a freak).
One of the main things that I liked is how they describe the way children ask questions and are so curious about everything. Children don't have a set worldview and are eager to learn by asking a lot of questions. Parents often dismiss these questions when it might be valuable to see the world through a child's eyes and challenge set it stone opinions or thoughts.
The writers also make a good point about how the three hardest words in the English language are "I don't know" and how it should be okay to say these words. By applying these words to our lives, we will first of all lie a lot less and more importantly be able to demonstrate a willingness to find out answers to questions we simply don't know.
As I stated before, I wish that this book was longer, but I really did enjoy all that was written and would recommend "Think like a Freak" for those interested in challenging their current worldview and seeking to approach life in a creative way.
on June 15, 2014
I really like these guys. Their first book, Freakonomics, was worth the hype. The second book felt it was riding on the coat-tails of that success. I'm puzzled about how to think of this third one. It just wasn't very interesting. Or particularly insightful. Or even very entertaining.
I read it on an eReader, so was somewhat surprised when I came to the end of the regular about 2/3 of the way through the book. The remaining 1/3 was detailed, boring endnotes. (And I usually LIKE reading these sort of endnotes with additional insight.) After a few moments consideration, though, I was glad it was over.
Dubner has done a superb job evolving the podcast/radio show from a shadow of the first book to a high quality production with compelling stories, guests, and viewpoints. I'd skip this 3rd book and just tune into the podcast.
In their latest book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner cite several examples of people who trick guilty parties (i.e. those who prey upon people who are ignorant and/or gullible) into unwittingly revealing their guilt through their own behavior. Here are three examples:
o Two women appealed to King Solomon, both claiming to be the mother of a newborn. Unable to decide, he ordered the child to be cut in half and divided equally. One woman embraced the idea. He knew immediately that the other woman who begged him to let the other have the child was in fact its mother.
o Rock star David Lee Roth of the Van Halen group has a 53-page list of technical and security requirements. One in the Munchies section specifies "M&Ms (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)." Immediately upon arrival, he checks the jar. "If he saw brown ones, he knew the promoter hadn't read the rider [to the otherwise standard contract) -- and that 'we had to do a serious line check' to make sure that the most important details hadn't been botched either."
o So-called "Nigerian scammers" send millions of email messages each month to millions of people throughout the world. (It's called the "Nigerian scam" because more than half of the messages invoke Nigeria than all of the other emails combined.) I have received 3-5 each week in recent years. The "Beloved friend" message is always illiterate and ludicrous. Stupid, right? Not so fast. According to Levitt and Dubner, the Nigerian scammers know that almost everyone who receives a message will ignore it. But if only one in a hundred recipients provides the requested bank information....
"The ridiculous-sounding Nigerian emails seem to be quite good at getting the scammers' massive garden to weed itself." Those who think like a freak have mastered that skill. Some people use it to prey upon people who are ignorant and/or gullible. Others use it to identify predators.
In Think Like a Freak, Levitt and Dubner develop in much greater depth -- and with a few unexpected wrinkles -- some of the core concepts examined in Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics:
1. Incentives are the cornerstones of modern life.
2. Knowing what to measure, and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so.
3. The conventional wisdom is often wrong.
4. Correlation does not equal causality.
Here's another: One of the keys to success in life (however defined) is knowing what is worth leaving behind, and what is not. This probably what Don Schlitz had in mind when compositing the lyrics for his song, The Gambler: "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, know when to run." And another, referred to earlier: "Teach your garden to weed itself." Be sure to check out the discussion of the $2,000 bonus that Zappos offers to everyone who completes (and is paid to complete) a rigorous training program. (See Pages 128-130 and 150-152.)
These are among dozens of other observations by Levitt and Dubner (and one by Isaac Newton) that also caught my eye:
o When attempting a penalty kick in soccer -- "protecting your own reputation by not doing something foolish -- you are more likely to kick toward a corner...Sometimes in life, [however], going straight up the middle is the boldest move of all." Although "the percentage of success for a shot at the middle is significantly more likely to succeed, only 17 percent of kicks are aimed there." The Freak mindset knows and acts upon such percentages. (Page 7)
o "It has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are [begin italics] I love you [end italics]. We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say [begin italics] I don't know [end italics]. That's a shame, for until you can admit what you don't yet know, it's virtually impossible to learn what you need to." (20)
o "Thinking like a Freak means you should work terribly hard to identify and attack the root cause of problems" rather than waste time and effort responding to symptoms of those problems. (66)
o Isaac Newton: "To explain all nature is too difficult a task for any one man or even for any one age. Tis much better to do a little with certainty and leave the rest for others than come after than to explain all things by conjecture without making sure of anything." (89)
"Have fun, think small, don't fear the obvious -- these are all childlike behaviors that, according to us at least, an adult would do well to hang on to." (100)
Note: Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) once observed that he spent all of his adult life struggling to see the world again like a child. I am also reminded of advice provided by Robert Fulghum in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Share everything, Play fair, Don't hit people, Put things back where you found them, Clean up your own mess, Don't take things that aren't yours, Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody; When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together; and Be aware of wonder.
o On the Smile Train's "once-and-done" option to donors: "There is one more factor that made one-and-done successful, a factor so important -- subtle and powerful at the same time -- that we believe it is the secret ingredient to make any incentive work, or at least work better. The most radical accomplishment of once-and-done is that it [begin italics] changed the frame of the relationship between the charity and the donor [end italics]." (124-125)
When concluding their book, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner observe, "Now that we've arrived at these last pages, it's pretty obvious: quitting is at the very core of thinking like a Freak. Or, if that word still frightens you, let's think of it as 'letting go.' Letting go of the conventional wisdoms that torment us. Letting go of the artificial limits that hold us back -- and of the fear of admitting what we don't know. Letting go of the habits of mind that tell us to kick into the corner of the goal even though we stand a better chance by going up the middle."
As I read and then re-read these concluding remarks, I was again reminded of observations by Alan Watts in The Book: "We need a new experience -- a new feeling of what it is to be 'I.' The lowdown (which is, of course, the secret and profound view) on life is that our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing -- with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego."
Decades ago, I realized that most human limits are self-imposed, and, that it takes great courage to learn who we are (who we REALLY are) and accept it, then summon the courage needed to become the best person we can possibly be.
on June 26, 2014
About half way through Think Like a Freak, I was reminded of my favorite Calvin and Hobbs comic strip. Calvin is eating his bowl of breakfast cereal and he says to Hobbs “The best bowl of Sugar Coated Cocoa Bombs is the second. Because after the first, you feel like having more and after the third, you feel like puking.”
OK, maybe this book did not make me want to puke, but I was very disappointed. This book, by the authors of two other books on the economics of familiar activities, both of which have Freakonomics in the title, has gone one serving too far.
Think Like a Freak purports to show us how to think more creatively and not get stuck in the common knowledge trap, the stuff that we “know” to be true. But, really, how is this different from “thinking outside the box” and, if we go back to the beginning, Eduard De Bono and “lateral thinking”? It isn't. If you want to learn about thinking like a Freak, try De Bono’s Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, published in 1970, no less.
Think Life a Freak has a whole chapter on how to persuade people. Look, if I want to learn how to sell an idea, I will consult an ad executive or even a life insurance salesman. What do an economist and a journalist know about persuasion?
The last chapter is on the benefits of quitting something that is going nowhere. I only wish they had placed it closer to the front of the book so that I might have found the courage to ditch early instead of slogging my way through to the bitter end.
P.S. The above is how I really feel, but, a caveat: I may have been influenced by how much I liked their first two books and how disappointed I was with this one. In isolation, it may not be that bad a book, but I can confidently suggest reading one of the first two and passing on this one.
on July 5, 2014
If you don't regularly listen to their Freakonomics podcast, then this book is worth your time. However, if you listen regularly, then none of this is new information. The only thing unique is the way they've organized it into some top line advice. That being said, if you've been feeling guilty about not donating to their podcast, then purchasing this book might help you feel like you've provided some support.
on July 31, 2014
This book feels rushed or desperate. It is far below the standards that readers of previous books have come to expect from these authors. No new or informative examples are provided. This is an attempt to build a training manual to teach others to think like the authors. If that was their intent, I feel as if they missed the mark.
on November 12, 2014
The original "freakonomics" was in large measure an attempt to revive sociology by calling it "economics". This particular book seems to have been generated by demand for yet another book on the topic in spite of there being very little useful left to write about it. Even the authors admit the subject is getting thin to write about at the end. This is mostly a book of self-help aphorisms with the author's trademark anecdotes surrounding them.
The premise of the book is that people are supposed to "re-train" their brains to think like someone in sociology. Leaving aside if that is a good or even useful thing, the core of the book is as previously tons of anecdotes followed by the authors interpretation of what they mean. But in truth, the interpretations of everything from Van Halen to the decisions of King Solomon are simply the author's subjective opinions often with a real lack of any sort of method at all.
What seemed new this time were rather trite self-help motivational metaphors dressed up as sociology. All kinds of nonsense like kicking the ball up the middle rather than going for the more obvious shot. That people have to just quit and let go (Good old predictable pseudo-Buddhist selfishness). That saying I don't know is acceptable.
At the end, it comes down to the same questionable concepts that have spread throughout society. In particular into areas like education and police work. Those ideas being that statistical measurement, incentive rewards and cynically treating people as a herd of animals can solve any problem. But its never that simple because people game the system for the rewards and people will always subvert any system of measurement.
For example, if David Lee Roth uses the color of candy as a test to validate a 53-page document being enforced, that will in practice work only a few times. Because when someone fails the test, the story will spread and even people who get everything else wrong will know to get the candy right. As well, the wisdom of solomon works well as a one-off, but the problem for a judge is that there is a record of past behavior that builds up within the system. Something that works the first time by shock will never work again because people will expect it.
The authors also again briefly touch on the ultimate fallacy of the social sciences. The problem of correlation and causation. But as before, just because they mention it doesn't mean they follow it themselves. They tend to deal in a very trivial way with the real problems of "thinking like a freak" (actually thinking like a sociologist). That the data is often incomplete. That the data can often not be trusted and especially cannot be trusted if rewards are associated with a certain result. And that humans will game any attempt at data collection to their own self interests.
They push things like "root cause" analysis. But the problem with root cause analysis is that often it can lead to either the conclusion that there is no root cause or that nothing can be done about the root cause. The assumption that an addressable root cause exists to every problem has been one of the dooms of the social sciences historically.
This particular book also tends toward what amount of self-help metaphors dressed-up as sociology. We are giving profound statements about success such as the importance of knowing what to leave behind. We get the old saw of the weedy garden. We get sports metaphors about being bold rather than playing it safe. We are supposed to think like children (another old saw from the self-help world).
The end of the book is the standard argument to "let go" of all attachments and personal limitations. The idea being that the road to success is through ruthless self-interest. But what it really seemed to me to be saying was to erase self-doubt as a consideration in decision-making. They put it differently. They paint doubt as worrying about the "conventional wisdom", of being "artificial limits" and taking risks based on instinct. This is not really new. It does somewhat fit into Freakonomics in the sense that an individual should always consider themselves the scientist and everyone around (and in particular under them in employment) as being the equipment rather than people.
Because to me, the heart of "thinking like a freak" is to turn the world into an experiment and the people around you (especially those who work for you) into lab rats. The person who thinks like a freak thinks like a social scientist. A social scientist can have no attachment to a particular experiment. And certainly no attachment to the lab rats. Even more so, the lab rats being the subjects of the experiment, should have no say at all in what is done.
Thus at the end of the book, the authors have somewhat reached convergence with the old ideas of the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. If we all thought like "freaks", we could all have the utopia of Skinner's "walden two". But if that sounds attractive, its best to consider that its a whole lot of fun for someone who gets to be the "scientist" running the experiment on other, but it may not be so much fun to be the person experimented on. A whole world of people who "think like a freak" would be a bad place for most.
on July 1, 2014
I have read both of the predecessors of this book and enjoyed them both. (When Freakonomics came out, I am sure that I bored many people with re-tellings of many of the fascinating insights.) I enjoyed this one too, although I get the feeling that the guys are running our of ideas and there was less "meat" in this one.
There are still some great stories (including "What do King Solomon and David Lee Roth have in common? and advice for Penalty Kickers in Soccer) but perhaps unsurprisingly, it's not quite as enjoyable (nor insightful) as the others.
on June 4, 2014
The message of the first two books was that people respond to incentives. The message of the third book is that the authors are cool. Too cool.
They can see through David Cameron's dedication to the NHS (he lost a kid to grave illness); they feel qualified to discuss football (that they grew up calling soccer); by now they're old enough to have children that they bring into the discussion and they are soooooo smug about having gotten some wannabe UK terrorists to buy health insurance.
While I don't doubt for one second that these are some very important people, they don't need to talk down to me so much.
They quote George Bernard Shaw, but then they recast one of his famous exchanges with a woman as one between "an economist" and a Vegas entertainer. They propose that governments issue bonds that behave like lottery tickets without bothering to check that the UK has been selling Premium Bonds since 1956.
They've gotten sloppy, bottom line.
I take particular issue with the penalty kick example: Statistically speaking, the authors inform us, football players who take penalty kicks would do better to shoot straight down the middle, but allegedly they don't because they don't want to look silly if the goalie does not jump to the side. They're, you know, self-motivated and they put their interest in not looking stupid before the team's interest in winning.
What if the guy taking the shot kicks the ball just a tad off the middle and actually MAKES IT EASY for the goalie? Is that not the more plausible explanation for not aiming straight? Same way he can't be guaranteed to get the corner without potentially hitting the post, he probably also can't be guaranteed to send it perfectly straight down the middle, no? How about that, Messieurs Levitt and Dubner?
I completely lost patience when I read their apocryphal story about some British occupying force guy in Palestine insisting on a cold beer. REALLY? A British guy who prefers cold beer to warm beer?
The last chapter of the book is about quitting. The authors explain how sometimes it's better to give up. A chapter on quitting while you're still ahead would have been more apropos. They should have padded out Freakonomics with about half the examples in Superfreakonomics and left it there!
That said, this is not a bad book. It was an entertaining and undemanding read, just what I needed on my late night flight to Ibiza last Friday. But it's not to the same standard as Freakonomics. Which is a shame, because these guys can do (and have done) better.