Think Like A Freak – Steven J. Dubner and Stephen D. Levitt

Think Like A Freak – Steven J. Dubner and Stephen D. Levitt
Think Like a Freak is my favorite book by the Freakonomics authors.  Put plainly, to ‘think like a freak’ is to think ‘think like a child.’  Rather than thinking in complex analogies, they explain how to break down problems like a child – a lot harder than it sounds! The book also covers expert performance, incentives, persuasion and quitting.

They discuss how important raw talent is, explaining that to reach expert performance, one must instill themselves in deliberate practice and find a coach or partner. Malcolm Gladwell and Anders Ericson have both done extensive research in this field, and I highly recommend their books Outliers and Peak.

The psychological bias in responding to incentives is particularly interesting. The most effective persuasion incentive is not a monetary one — as I would have guessed — but a herd-mentality, which ranked above moral, social and monetary. This is effectively why the only way to persuade a tough-minded individual is to first understand their opinion is most likely based on herd thinking rather than fact or logic. If you can’t get past this, you will never be able to reason with them (think: your Facebook feed’s political opinions).

This wouldn’t be a Freakonomics book without covering some economics, and they briefly discuss concrete vs. opportunity costs. Ideally, one wants to limit sunk costs while weighing each decision against its opportunity cost – a new decision equilibrium. We should look at these opportunities with a system: striving to always keep sunk costs low, so even with a high opportunity cost decision, we mitigate our financial downside.

I enjoyed how the authors broke down thinking into its base-level. With all the pundits, think tanks, and experts out there, you would assume we have all problems solved. Trying to think like a freak simplifies the process, and it aligns with, but ultimately falls well short of, the First Principles and 5 Whys techniques. However, this book is not an instruction manual, it’s a collection of examples in which complex problems were solved via a means of deconstructing and simplifying.

And in classic Freakonomics fashion, they provide plenty of anecdotes and make us think about, well, thinking.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo
Who would have thought a book about tidying would really be about clearing mental space and eliminating decision fatigue… With only so much willpower each day, why waste mental cognition on finding and choosing clothes in the morning? This is why Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same outfit each day.

The KonMari method is simple:
(1) Discard all possessions that don’t “spark joy”
(2) Categorize the remaining items
(3) Efficiently organize and store

The best way to find out what you really need is to get rid of what you don’t. The reality is, really important things aren’t great in number. The whole point in both discarding and keeping things is to be happy. Don’t surround yourself with what doesn’t make you happy, mentally and physically.

I’ve begun a three year quest to become more of a minimalist. It can be lonely at first; having fifteen t-shirts, ten items in the fridge, and a desk that is practically empty. Marie Kondo notes how many of her clients ‘magically’ discover the time and energy to pursue their passions, and notice more opportunities present themselves. Even if you are lean and organized, you can learn much more aside from the books practical purpose: tidying.

Procrastination is a drug. When we get the urge to clean before an important exam or presentation, the mind is telling us it can’t think in physical clutter. When we eliminate physical clutter, we clear our mind of mental clutter. This idea alone has improved my strategic decision making tenfold. Though it seems paradoxical, when we hold on to materials for the sole purpose of keeping them, we fail to put what we learn into practice. We will not read this, or use that sometime. That ‘sometime’ never comes. If you really want something, use it!

“We live in the present. No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.”

If you’re waiting for the right time to use something, remember, the only difference between unused goods in your drawer and those in the store is the place where they are kept.

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life – Russ Roberts

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life – Russ Roberts
While you might assume Smith’s most revealing explanation of how the world works is in The Wealth of Nations, it’s actually in his philosophy book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Russ Roberts helps break down Moral Sentiments by explaining how individual choices can lead to important social outcomes.

Most of you probably skimmed The Wealth of Nations in high school and immediately think “invisible hand” or “capitalism.” This book teaches a different side of economics: why money isn’t the only thing that matters in life and society. Economics teaches us that making a choice means giving up something, and since life is all about choices, we must get the most out of it by choosing wisely. In making those choices, Smith invites an Impartial Spectator (IS) – a metaphorical figure who constantly judges us against our morals, and we must develop the IS to continue living a better life. It is true that most people are fundamentally self-interested, but this is not the same as selfish. Each moral decision we make can greatly affect society as a whole.

There is no best way to make the world a better place – the difference you will make depends a great deal on your skills, passions and opportunities. However, we often fail to live up to the ideals we champion and the principles we claim to embrace. This cognitive dissonance, a direct result of ignoring our IS, proves we are humans prone to self-deception. Because examining our failures can be painful, we avoid situations in which we confront our shortcomings.

Noticing the flaws in others to spur self-improvement is a survival instinct. Instead of criticizing, we should look to improve upon the flaws we see in others, as they are often the same ones you would find in a mirror.

We ignore our IS daily. We say things not only to convince others, but to also convince ourselves. We fool ourselves into thinking that we’re acting with high morals when we’re not. We do what’s best for ourselves while convincing ourselves that our motivation is for someone else.

We approve or disapprove of other people’s behavior depending on whether their reactions match ours. I want you to like my friends and dislike my enemies.  But I can live with the fact that you don’t like my friends as much as I do.  I care more, says Smith, that you dislike my enemies.

Being good at our work helps others and makes the world a better place. Smith’s vision of what sustains civilization is the stream of approval and disapproval we provide when we respond to the conduct of those around us. That stream creates feedback loops to encourage good behavior and discourage bad. Society has a strong pull, so we should all try to live a high moral lifestyle.