Think Like a Freak – by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

1. What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?

Sometimes in life, going straight up the middle is the boldest move of all.

The conventional wisdom is often wrong. And a blithe acceptance of it can lead to sloppy, wasteful, or even dangerous outcomes.

The data suggest that happy people are more likely to get married in the first place.

The economic approach is both broader and simpler than that. It relies on data, rather than hunch or ideology,

A growing body of research suggests that even the smartest people tend to seek out evidence that confirms what they already think, rather than new information that would give them a more robust view of reality.

It’s also tempting to run with a herd. Even on the most important issues of the day, we often adopt the views of our friends, families, and colleagues.

On some level, this makes sense: it is easier to fall in line with what your family and friends think than to find new family and friends! But running with the herd means we are quick to embrace the status quo, slow to change our minds, and happy to delegate our thinking.

“Few people think more than two or three times a year,” Shaw reportedly said.

“I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”

..when people, especially politicians, start making decisions based on a reading of their moral compass, facts tend to be among the first casualties.

2. The Three Hardest Words in the English Language

“Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.”)

Then there are “beliefs,” things we hold to be true but which may not be easily verified.

..multidimensional cause-and-effect questions, which means their outcomes are both distant and nuanced.

With complex issues, it can be ridiculously hard to pin a particular cause on a given effect.

Smart people love to make smart-sounding predictions, no matter how wrong they may turn out to be.

“Despite spending more time with themselves than with any other person, people often have surprisingly poor insight into their skills and abilities.”

..just because you’re great at something doesn’t mean you’re good at everything. Unfortunately, this fact is routinely ignored by those who engage in— take a deep breath— ultracrepidarianism, or “the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence.”

Every time we pretend to know something, we are doing the same: protecting our own reputation rather than promoting the collective good.
Incentives can also explain why so many people are willing to predict the future. A huge payoff awaits anyone who makes a big and bold prediction that happens to come true.

This punishment may seem extreme, but the sentiment is understandable. When bad predictions are unpunished, what incentive is there to stop making them?

..suicide is more common among people with a higher quality of life.

The next time you run into a question that you can only pretend to answer, go ahead and say “I don’t know”— and then follow up, certainly, with “but maybe I can find out.”

3. What’s Your Problem?

Most people don’t have the time or inclination to think very hard about big problems like this. We tend to pay attention to what other people say and, if their views resonate with us, we slide our perception atop theirs.

But a mountain of recent evidence suggests that teacher skill has less influence on a student’s performance than a completely different set of factors: namely, how much kids have learned from their parents, how hard they work at home, and whether the parents have instilled an appetite for education. If these home-based inputs are lacking, there is only so much a school can do. Schools have your kid for only seven hours a day, 180 days a year, or about 22 percent of the child’s waking hours.

In our society, if someone wants to be a hairstylist or a kickboxer or a hunting guide— or a schoolteacher— he or she must be trained and licensed by a state agency. No such requirement is necessary for parenthood. Anyone with a set of reproductive organs is free to create a child, no questions asked, and raise them as they see fit, so long as there are no visible bruises— and then turn that child over to the school system so the teachers can work their magic. Maybe we are asking too much of the schools and too little of our parents and kids?
whatever problem you’re trying to solve, make sure you’re not just attacking the noisy part of the problem that happens to capture your attention.

The first is about problem-solving generally. Kobayashi redefined the problem he was trying to solve. What question were his competitors asking?

The second lesson to be drawn from Kobayashi’s success has to do with the limits that we accept, or refuse..

All of us face barriers— physical, financial, temporal— every day. Some are unquestionably real. But others are plainly artificial— expectations about how well a given system can function, or how much change is too much, or what kinds of behaviors are acceptable. The next time you encounter such a barrier, imposed by people who lack your imagination and drive and creativity, think hard about ignoring it. Solving a problem is hard enough; it gets that much harder if you’ve decided beforehand it can’t..

4. Like a Bad Dye Job, the Truth Is in the Roots

Thinking like a Freak means you should work terribly hard to identify and attack the root cause of problems.

Because poverty is a symptom— of the absence of a workable economy built on credible political, social, and legal institutions.

In countries whose political and economic institutions are built to serve the appetites of a corrupt few rather than the multitudes, food is routinely withheld from the people who need it most.

A rise in abortion meant that fewer unwanted children were being born, which meant fewer children growing up in the sort of difficult circumstances that increase the likelihood of criminality.

So what is the root cause? Simply this: too many children were being brought up in bad environments that led them to crime. As the first post-abortion generation came of age, it included fewer children who’d been raised in such environments.

5. Think Like a Child

As long as you can tell the difference between a good idea and a bad one, generating a boatload of ideas, even outlandish ones, can only be a good thing.

Ideas nearly always seem brilliant when they’re hatched, so we never act on a new idea for at least twenty- four hours. It is remarkable how stinky some ideas become after just one day in the sun.)

Small questions are by their nature less often asked and investigated, and maybe not at all. They are virgin territory for true learning.

Since big problems are usually a dense mass of intertwined small problems, you can make more progress by tackling a small piece of the big problem than by flailing away at grand solutions.

Any kind of change is hard, but the chances of triggering change on a small problem are much greater than on a big one. 4. Thinking big is, by definition, an exercise in imprecision or even speculation. When you think small, the stakes may be diminished but at least you can be relatively sure you know what you’re talking about.

One in four children, it turns out, has subpar eyesight, while a whopping 60 percent of “problem learners” have trouble seeing.
Here’s another cardinal rule of thinking like a child: don’t be afraid of the obvious.

They don’t pretend they’re enjoying a meeting when they really want to get up and run around. Kids are in love with their own audacity, mesmerized by the world around them, and unstoppable in their pursuit of fun.

There are certain realms in which having fun, or even looking like you’re having fun, is practically forbidden. Politics, for one; academia too. And while some firms have lately been spicing things up with gamification, most of the business world remains allergic to fun.

Why is it so important to have fun? Because if you love your work (or your activism or your family time), then you’ll want to do more of it. You’ll think about it before you go to sleep and as soon as you wake up; your mind is always in gear.

Just keep in mind that as much as you may enjoy playing the lottery, the state is having even more fun— because it always wins.

Have fun, think small, don’t fear the obvious— these are all childlike behaviors that, according to us at least, an adult would do well to hang on..

6. Like Giving Candy to a Baby

..people respond to incentives.

Different types of incentives— financial, social, moral, legal,

..number now stands at about 6.5 percent.

The key is to learn to climb inside other people’s minds to figure out what really matters to them.

The problem is that while some incentives are obvious, many aren’t. And simply asking people what they want or need doesn’t necessarily work.

..declared preferences and revealed preferences, and there is often a hefty gap between the two.

Don’t listen to what people say; watch what they do.)

Look around the world and you’ll find overwhelming evidence of the herd mentality at work.

So if you are the person designing an incentive scheme, you can use this knowledge to herd people into doing the right thing— even if they’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

The key is to think less about the ideal behavior of imaginary people and more about the actual behavior of real people. Those real people are much more unpredictable.

Perhaps it suggests that we humans are incorrigibly felonious, hell-bent on grabbing our fair share and then some; that we are always looking out for ourselves rather than the greater good;

..people are complicated creatures, with a nuanced set of private and public incentives, and that our behavior is enormously influenced by circumstances.

“conscience laundering”— doing charity to make themselves feel better rather than fighting to figure out the best ways to alleviate suffering.

People are truly altruistic, driven by a desire to help others. 2. Giving to charity makes them feel better about themselves; economists call this “warm-glow altruism.”

Once people are asked to donate, the social pressure is so great that they get bullied into giving, even though they wish they’d never been asked in the first place.

1. Novelty. When is the last time a charity— or any kind of company— offered to never bother you again? That alone is enough to get your attention. 2. Candor. Have you ever heard a charity acknowledge what a hassle it is to get all those beseeching letters in the mail? In a world of crooked information, it is nice to hear some straight talk. 3. Control. Rather than unilaterally dictate the terms of the transaction, Smile Train gave the donor some power. Who doesn’t like to control their own destiny?

The most radical accomplishment of once- and- done is that it changed the frame of the relationship between the charity and the donor.
There’s the financial framework that governs everything we buy, sell, and trade.

There’s an “us- versus- them” framework that defines war, sports, and, unfortunately, most political activity. The “loved- one” framework covers friends and family (at least when things are going smoothly; otherwise, look out for “us- versus- them”). There’s a collaborative framework that shapes how you behave with work colleagues or in your amateur orchestra or pickup soccer team. And then there’s the “authority- figure” framework, in which someone gives instructions and someone else is expected to follow them— think of parents, teachers, police and military officers, and a certain kind of boss.

But the very nature of an incentive suggests that when a rule changes, behavior does too— although not necessarily, as we’ve seen, in the expected direction.

But if there is one thing we’ve learned from a lifetime of designing and analyzing incentives, the best way to get what you want is to treat other people with decency. Decency can push almost any interaction into the cooperative frame.

Some of the most loyal customers any company has are the ones who had a big problem but got treated incredibly well as it was being resolved.

7. What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common?

Teach Your Garden to Weed Itself.

By one industry estimate, it costs an average of roughly $ 4,000 to replace a single employee, and one recent survey of 2,500 companies found that a single bad hire can cost more than $ 25,000 in lost productivity, lower morale, and the like.

..95 percent of the burglar alarms that U.S. police respond to are false alarms.

..ovarian screening for healthy women should be eliminated entirely since it’s not very effective to begin with and because false positives lead too many women “to unnecessary

Along the way, he identified the most valuable characteristic in a potential victim: gullibility.

8. How to Persuade People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded

When someone is heavily invested in his or her opinion, it is inevitably hard to change the person’s mind.

Rather than try to persuade people of the worthiness of a goal— whether it’s conserving energy or eating better or saving more for retirement— it’s more productive to essentially trick people with subtle cues or new default settings.

The first step is to appreciate that your opponent’s opinion is likely based less on fact and logic than on ideology and herd thinking.

Your argument may be factually indisputable and logically airtight but if it doesn’t resonate for the recipient, you won’t get anywhere.

So if you want your argument to be truly persuasive, it’s a good idea to acknowledge not only the known flaws but the potential for unintended consequences.

Acknowledge the strengths of your opponent’s argument.

..the opposing argument almost certainly has value— something you can learn from and use to strengthen your own argument.

A spate of recent research shows that negative information “weighs more heavily on the brain,” as one research team put it.

..negative events— vicious crimes, horrible accidents, and sundry dramatic evils— make an outsize impression on our memories.

Alas, not all stories are true. A great deal of conventional wisdom is built on nothing more than a story that someone has been telling for so long— often out of self-interest— that it is treated like gospel. So it is always worth questioning what a story is based on, and what it really means.

Why are stories so valuable? One reason is that a story exerts a power beyond the obvious. The whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts— the facts, the events, the context— that a story creates a deep resonance.

Perhaps the best reason to tell stories is simply that they capture our attention and are therefore good at teaching.

..the first thing you have to do is you have to entertain folks enough so they will pay attention.”

..a rule makes a much stronger impression once a story illustrating said rule is lodged in your mind.

9. The Upside of Quitting

The second is the notion of sunk costs. This is pretty much what it sounds like: the time or money or sweat equity you’ve already spent on a project. It is tempting to believe that once you’re invested heavily in something, it is counterproductive to..

The third force that keeps people from quitting is a tendency to focus on concrete costs and pay too little attention to opportunity cost.

Quitting is hard in part because it is equated with failure, and nobody likes to fail, or at least be seen failing. But is failure necessarily so terrible?

When failure is demonized, people will try to avoid it at all costs— even when it represents nothing more than a temporary setback.

A premortem tries to find out what might go wrong before it’s too late. You gather up everyone connected with a project and have them imagine that it launched and failed miserably.

..deciding whether a goal is unattainable is probably 90 percent of the battle.

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