As we dig deeper into Think Like a Freak, Leavitt and Dubner get immediately to the core of FreakThink – “Thinking like a Freak means you should work terribly hard to identify and attack the root cause of the problems.” (p66)
Of course, this is easier said than done, but with the Stevens’ help, they walk you through the methodology required to slice away layers until the core question can be addressed. People who Think Like a Freak are prone to going ahead and doing what they believe regardless of their detractors – the ‘Forget the Haters’ approach. Dr. Marshall taking the leap and engaging his FreakBrain to undo the entire Ulcer care industry shows that there will be pushback from established sources any time you try to attack a problem creatively.
Ultimately Chapter 4 boils down to “find the second-order cause,” since any problem’s first-order cause is obviously wrong, as addressing the first-order cause would solve it, thus it wouldn’t be a problem any more. Let’s delve into this concept a bit more deeply.
In chapter 5, (Think Like a Child) we learn that the Emperor really doesn’t have any clothes and the source of the old adage “from the mouths of babes…”
To wit, “Because they know so little, they don’t carry around the preconceptions that often stop people from seeing things as they are,” claims Leavitt and Dubner, and of course they are completely correct.
A bespectacled friend of mine once posited, “I was good in school because I sat up front so I could see.” When you’re questioning a problem, always ask the smallest question you can. For instance, the first “small question” test Dr. Marshall asked (“Are there bacteria in the stomach?”) is such a dumb, small question (because everyone in the world agreed ‘no, there aren’t, because of stomach acid’) that when he asked it, and found out the answer was ‘Yes,’ it stunned the science world.
When they begin talking about Expert Research (p96) and drifting into Malcolm Gladwell Blink talk, it’s risky, because pop-psych books are full of grand pronouncements with nothing to back them up; but they claw it back into the world of actual scientific rigor by the time they get around to Magicians and their disdain for doing kids shows.
Chapter Six is all about exploring pervese incentives, from the grisly Chinese truck driver on p108 who, having critically injured a pedestrian, makes the decision to back up over her to only pay a death benefit once rather than a disabled benefit over a much longer time, to the old, extremely British joke about prostitution (“We already agreed you were a prostitute at $1million; now we’re just haggling over price.”)
Solving these problems of perverse incentives and how to phrase an issue takes center stage this chapter, and it’s interesting to go through them, since most are common knowledge or apocryphal stories that get shares around the tech-ier parts of internet discussion boards nowadays, but finally learning the conclusions (such as the phrasing required to save the petrified forests) was eye-opening and satisfying.
The cornerstone of Chapter Six, however, is Brian Mullaney’s story about how he made a success of his charity, Smile Train, when similar charities were only marginally effective.
Seeing Mullaney work to overhaul the very idea of charitable giving through the back half of chapter 6 is crazy, at every opportunity there’s the chance the whole thing could blow up in his face, in fact ‘conventional wisdom’ says it should blow up, but he consistently beats that wisdom and succeeds. The killshot takeaway is on p125, and is this: every interaction needs to be framed as an us-vs-them mentality instead of a you-vs-me mentality. They expand on this by adding Tony Alessandra’s “Platinum Rule“: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.”