• Think Like a Freak Part 1

    (This is part one of a multi-article review of Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner’s best-selling book, Think Like a Freak)

    Reading a book is all about taking in new information and revising your world-view. Whether it’s the parallels between orc-elf wars and our own modern conflicts or just a new recipe for Linguine, reading is all about challenging yourself. Think Like a Freak is a great addition to any library for those who want to, well, think. The Steves write concisely and capitvatingly, as they always have.

    In chapter 1, they do the classic “define the terms” section of any textbook, trying to pin down what even asking a question means. On p23, they talk about pinning down the single underlying cause, harkening back to their own research showing an increase in birth control and a drop in lead-based paint tying to a decrease in crime in the US from Freakanomics.

    “The key to learning is Feedback.”

    This is dropped towards the bottom of page 34 in chapter 2, like it’s just an ordinary sentence, but ooooh man does it hit hard. The reader can’t help but be reminded all through this chapter of Rumsfield’s famous “Known Unknowns” quote about Iraq as Leavitt talks about ad execs who wouldn’t authorize tests to show them feedback that proved (or disproved) their ad-buy theories. This was deliberately infuriating, because if you don’t test stuff you don’t know whether it works or not. Page 47, they explain that (even in schoolchildren) this trait can be trained out, so there’s that at least, though a maddening amount of people probably depend on this not being done to protect their jobs.

    Chapter 3 is a fun read even if you know all about Takeru Kobashi’s story, and the “big reveal” that he went on to change the face of professional eating loses very little, but you can still learn a lot from his process. The best advice the chapter has to offer isAsk the right question,” even if it’s just the change between “How do I keep warm under the covers” to “How do I keep the covers over me;” the solutions available change readily when the question is re-phrased.

    There’s also the great motivational segment on p64 about not setting artificial limits on yourself, something most have read in many a Tony Robbins book before, though laying it out from a economist’s POV makes the pablum of self-help seem pedestrian in comparison.

    As you dive into the next section of this book, you find yourself unable to wait to build on the “ask the right question/learn to say ‘I don’t know'” foundation Leavitt and Dubner have built so far.

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