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.