Book review: Think like a freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

The tagline for this book is “the authors of Freakonomics offer to retrain our brain”. I am a big Freakonomics fan – I remember hearing lots about the book and I think even borrowing the book at the library but my very first foray into Freakonomics was at the airport in Hong Kong and I finished the book not 1 or 2 hours later on the flight home to Vancouver. I had listened to this audiobook through and had thoroughly enjoyed it; since it was being offered on sale, I could not resist to get a physical copy of the book (which also helped me to take notes on key parts of the book).

Here are my key takeaways from the book:

  • Redefining problems to be able to discover a new set of solutions (this was in the context of Kobayashi and his quest to become the ultimate eater). I like this as a creative way of finding new solutions – often times I find that we are stuck solving problems in a certain way but if we redefine the problem, we can often find different solutions that we would have never thought of. For example, one of the problems at Toastmasters is finding and attracting guests – one way of redefining the problem would be to have great meetings and relying on word of mouth / appealing to the interest of guests. The solutions for finding and attracting guests, and the solutions for having great meetings can be very much different but the results may be the same (or better) using one method over the other. In addition, many of the ways that clubs would find and attract guests is not easily measured or tracked whereas having great meetings can be done (through good speakers, fun table topics, comprehensive evaluations, etc.)
  • Remove artificial barriers – I’m sure we have all heard the story of Roger Bannister and the four minute mile. Once he broken the barrier, runners all over started breaking it as well – it seems that these runners had formed an invisible or artificial barrier in their mind and once they realized that it was artificial, runners started breaking records. One way to use this is to go way beyond what you think is completely possible (for example, if you think that you can only do 5 pushups, aim to do 20 pushups — and then be pleasantly surprised at the number of pushups you do past 5)
  • Think like a child – when you are generating ideas, try to think like a child. For example, don’t filter out stupid ideas or ideas that you think might not be feasible. Be curious. Have wild ideas.
  • Small problems vs. big problems – break down big problems into small problems that you can focus in on. One of the studies in the book talked about literacy in China – rather than try to solve literacy (big problem), three economists decided to give out eyeglasses for free and found that literacy increased as a result (eyesight = small problem)
  • Tips on how to persuade people:
    • Don’t pretend that your argument is perfect
    • Acknowledge the strength of your opponent’s argument
    • No ad hominem attacks
    • Tell stories
  • A quote that I really liked about innovation / creativity / disruption:
    • “If you go down a path and it turns out to be a dead end, you really made a contribution because we know we don’t have to go down that path again” – Michael Bloomberg

All in all, like Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, this was a very entertaining and short read that intertwined stories, studies, facts and conclusions in an easy-to-read way.