Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Think Like a Freak, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

This week I'm continuing my exploration of the work from Levitt and Dubner and if you're interested you can ready my reviews of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, both of which have been very popular and have brought all manner of questions to Levitt and Dubner, some of which they've been able to answer, some of which they haven't. This book definitely feels a little lighter than the other books and I think part of that is because it's radically different from its predecessors. Rather than looking into the hidden sides of economic phenomenons people don't think about too often, this book talks more about how you yourself can look into the hidden side of things and try to figure out how things work. Again they utilize somewhat anecdotal evidence which comes with its own problems, but it's still entertaining.

Basically Levitt and Dubner talk about how people can ''Think like a freak'' and achieve success through a variety of methods, including doing the unexpected and understanding how people react to incentives. Without stealing too much of their thunder for the book, they include several key strategies which human beings, for a variety of reasons, just don't think or don't want to do. A good example is being willing to say "I don't know'' instead of bluffing your way through an answer. I can say in my own personal experience saying ''I don't know'' has resulted in certain people calling me Sergeant Schultz in the past (long story) so I can understand why people would be reluctant to say it. Other examples include rethinking questions when traditional approaches aren't working, not being afraid to ask obvious questions because people might be too embarrassed to ask the obvious question, anticipating failure and preparing for it, not being afraid of failure and using it as an opportunity to learn, and a process they call ''letting your garden weed itself'', basically building bigger and better traps that will only catch the people you want them to catch.

Overall the book's kind of interesting, but I did feel like it was mostly a rehashing of concepts that had already been explored in the previous two books. They go to greater lengths explaining their methodology, but I felt like it was only a much smaller expansion on material they've already talked about. Basically it's a self-help book with some pretty sound and basic advice, but I almost feel like you could have picked up the advice in the book from the earlier books as well.

Another thing that was interesting was the inclusion in the audiobook, at least the version I had, of three of the podcasts which they've done on a regular basis. They were pretty interesting because they explored some topics and utilize empirical research from a number of sources, but they also felt kind of short and didn't come with quite as much closure as I'd like. But in the end it was a fun add-on to the audiobook that I enjoyed.

I think if you want to learn some of the strategies Levitt and Dubner have used which made Freakonomics such the success that it is, it's an okay book to read or listen to. It's basically a self-help book which is okay, but to be perfectly honest not my usual fare and I probably went into this book with the wrong sort of expectations.

- Kalpar

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