Although the title was a bit strange and the color of the cover was incredibly bright, I picked up a copy of Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. Why? I had come across a glowing review by a friend and she seemed to love the concepts. To my surprise, I really enjoyed this orange colored book. I found strategies that challenged the way I conventionally approached and solved problems. Here are some of the key lessons I learned.
Thinking like a child is not so bad after all
The whole backbone of the book is built on ‘Thinking Like a Freak’ (obviously alluding to the frame of thought inspired by their first book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything). Both Dubner and Levitt lay out an interesting method to look at and decipher the hidden and often crucial side of everything. They suggest breaking down problems to the core concepts and asking bizarre and often childlike questions to come up with what they claim to be extraordinary results. Easy right? Turns out that we sometimes get so caught up with our ego, titles, and experience that we fail to see the fundamental (guilty as charged). This keeps us from asking the most basic questions or suggesting crazy and out-of-this-world solutions like a child would. No titles? Crazy ideas? Strange questions? Who in their right mind would do this? Turns out there are plenty of people out there doing this.
Big Innovation lives right on the edge of ridiculous
One example that comes to mind is IDEO. For those who might not know, IDEO is a wildly successful design and innovation consulting firm in San Francisco that designs products for many leading brands. One of their creative brainstorming processes includes jotting down even the craziest and most outlandish ideas because it yields the most creative solutions. They work their way in from these outlandish ideas because they believe big innovation lives right on the edge of ridiculous. Teams are a level playing field with no one having managerial titles or executive roles to prevent the bureaucracy that usually bottlenecks creative ideas. This is a proven and tested method with international media coverage yet it is a process that most people tend to avoid. This is what Dubner and Levitt want everyone to understand. Thinking like a child is not so bad after all.
How to eat fifty hot dogs in twelve minutes
Dubner and Levitt don’t just stop there. In a later chapter, they go over education reform by approaching it from a unique angle. “What’s wrong with our schools?” they ask. Many people all over the United States try to find an answer to this burning question. Many blame teachers, lack of resources, and school programs. What if the question was framed differently? How about, “Why do American kids know less than kids from Estonia?” With this we are able to explore other options. What about the parents? Children spend most of their lives around them. Isn’t this a viable path for analysis? Levitt and Dubner think so. When we ask questions differently, we can find answers in unusual places. Included in this chapter is the interesting story of Takeru Kobayashi, a legendary hot-dog-eating champ who used this very method to break the record of fifty hot dogs in twelve minutes when everyone thought it was impossible. How did he do it? Instead of asking, “How do I eat more hot dogs?” like everyone else did, Kobayashi asked a different question: “How do I make hot dogs easier to eat?” Using this method he was able to come up with creative solutions like eating the hot dogs in smaller and soggier pieces (to name a few).
Admitting you ‘don’t know’ more often is best
One chapter is dedicated to analyzing how ‘experts’ are no better at making predictions than a blind horse but everyone claims to know what lies in the future of business, finance, or more. Dubner and Levitt go over the benefits and negative aspects of claiming to be all knowing. Many people play this gamble because of the off chance their prediction might be right. If they strike gold they will be instantly famous and gain a higher status thus making them more ‘credible’ and brand-able. If their prediction is not correct however, they hurt their credibility and can dig a pretty deep hole for themselves. What do we learn? Many people, especially entrepreneurs, should admit when they are unsure and instead explore the un-known by asking questions. Saying ‘I don’t know’ more often actually builds trust with peers and can boost credibility. How? You will be perceived as more honest because when you DO know something your success rate will be higher.
Storytelling is a powerful tool to use
There are more interesting stories throughout the book that I think are valuable for all kind of entrepreneurs out there. One of the chapters goes over a trap that Dubner and Levitt set for terrorists in their previous book and how it played out. They also go over a controversial theory where they claim that the legalization of abortion in the U.S. might have led to the decrease of crime in the early 90’s after almost three decades of an all-time high crime rate. The weaving of amazing stories and lessons are well worth the read. At 200 pages it might be a quick read but the content and take away has helped me with problem solving and critical thinking. Think of it like a mix of thought provoking business lessons similar to The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries and the powerful storytelling found in David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. Definitely check it out.