If you liked Freakonomics, by Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner, you’ll love Think Like A Freak, which does a good job of getting you behind the thinking of these two social science guys who major in unconventional wisdom backed up by research.

What follows is not a review. It’s not an executive summary. I’m not sure what it is — perhaps a friendly introduction to the book designed to get you interested.


The authors’ first two books were based on some basic points: 1. Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. 2. Knowing what to measure and how to measure it can make a complicated world less so. 3. The conventional wisdom is often wrong. 4. Correlation does not equal causality. (Married people are happier, but this does not mean that marriage makes you happy. Perhaps happy people are more likely to get married. Or, as one researcher puts it, “no one wants to marry a grumpy person.”

How do you get past your conventional assumptions to breakthrough thinking? Why don’t people think like freaks? It’s ever so tempting to run with the herd. Most people are too busy to rethink the way they think.

Chapter 2: The three hardest words in English language: I don’t know. People have surprisingly poor ability to read their own talents and expertise. The Iraq war was started ostensibly because the presence of weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Eight years later, a hundred million dollars later, 4500 American lives and at least 100,000 Iraqi lives later one wonders how different things might have turned out had the so-called experts said, “We don’t know.”

When chasing a problem, begin by putting away your moral compass. When convinced of the rightness of an issue, one tends to disregard facts. The way to learn is to stop pretending you know everything.

Chapter 3: What’s Your Problem? Only by carefully defining the problem can it be solved. Spend time crafting the right question.

Chapter 4: Like a bad dye job, the truth is in the roots. Thinking like a freak means going for the root causes of a problem. The authors used a fascinating study of Protestants and Catholics in Germany.

Chapter 5: Think like a child. It was a child pointed out the emperor’s new clothes were no clothes at all. To think like a freak just think small. Every big problem has already been thought about a lot by people smarter than we are. Kids marvel at the world around them and are ready to have fun. What makes people good what to do? Doing it over and over again. Which you only do if you enjoy. 1. Have fun. 2. Think small. 3. Don’t fear the obvious.

Chapter 6: Like Giving Candy to A Baby. People respond to incentives.
Figure out what people really care about not what they say they care about. Incentivize based on things that are valuable to them but cheap to you.
Pay attention to how people respond.
Create conditions that change the relationship from adversarial to cooperative. Never, ever think that people will do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do.
Know that people will always try to game the system.

Chapter 7: What do King Solomon and David Lee Roth have in common? How to smoke out the bad guy. You have to read this chapter yourself to enjoy the images. Teach your garden to weed itself. The authors look at why the Nigerian letter scam works.

Chapter 8: How to persuade people that don’t want to be persuaded. 1. Understand how hard persuasion is. Persuasion is hard because those deeply committed to their opinion won’t budge, and those not deeply committed to their opinion simply don’t care. It’s hard to even get their attention. Your opinion may be factually airtight, but if it doesn’t resonate with the listener won’t get anywhere. Don’t paper over the shortcomings of your plan. Acknowledge the strengths of your opponents argument. An opponent who feels his argument is ignored will not listen to you. Keep the insults and name-calling to yourself. Tell the story. Not an anecdote. Consider why the Bible uses story. Consider why Nathan chose to speak the truth to David in a story about a man and his favorite lamb.

Chapter 9: The up side of quitting. The Concorde fallacy. Quitting is hard because it is equated with failure. But is failure always bad? There are lots of ideas out there. Most of them will not work. Risk is part of your job. The authors look at the Challenger shuttle explosion as an example. Learn how to do a pre-mortem.

This book with stretch you and challenge you to rethink the way you think about things. It might also inspire you to look afresh at age old problems.