Staff Review: Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Think Like a Freak

by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the two authors of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics return for a third book, this time offering to help readers retrain their brain to “think like a Freak” – in other words, to apply critical thinking to every day life. Whether you need to fix a small problem in your day-to-day routine or initiate a global revolution, Levitt and Dubner have created a short list of steps to thinking like a Freak. Each step is accompanied by a story or two illustrating the point, introducing readers to a Japanese eating contest champion, a doctor who drank a concoction laced with bacteria to induce ulcers and pave the way to finding a cure, and why obviously fake scams like Nigerian e-mail campaigns still make money for the scammers.

Some of the rules in Thinking Like a Freak include:
– Put away your moral compass (so you can see the problem clearly)
– Learn to say “I don’t know”
– Think like a child
– Take a master class in incentives
– Learn to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded
– Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting

Some of these rules seem pretty obvious: if you never say ‘I don’t know’, you’ll never learn, right? (At least, that’s what my dad always says.) Other rules fly in the face of business culture: feeling free to quit flies in the face of the American “stick it out” attitude. Some rules come with a caveat or two. ‘Think like a child’ does not mean ‘act like a child’. But in each chapter, as each one of these rules is explored in detail, a new way of thinking and tackling problems emerges in such a way that anyone can apply it to their lives.

I’m not an economics person. I took both a macro and a micro class in college and barely made it through. Think Like a Freak isn’t at all like those economics textbooks I struggled through. Freak‘s stories incredibly entertaining and interesting because the focus is not on number-crunching, but on the stories behind the numbers. Reading about how competitive eater Kobayashi figured out how to eat hot dogs more efficiently so that he could smash the world record is fascinating, while learning about the clever way that the charity Smile Trains was able to smash through their fundraising goals through a campaign that promised to stop future mailings really changes how I would approach fundraising in the future.

This was the first Freakonomics book I read, and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately went out and got the two previous volumes, and I’ve been listening to the podcast every week. It’s definitely worth checking out, whether you’re new to Levitt and Dubner or a long time fan.

– Review by Suzi


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