Think Like A Freak Book Summary

In my pursuit to improve my thought process when encountering new situations, I decided reading Think Like a Freak, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, would be beneficial. What I’m finding, as I read more, the same concepts come up over and over. Think Like a Freak has many of the same concepts and stories I encountered when reading Decisive (book review) and Originals (book review).

For example, in Think Like a Freak, they discuss the story of Zappos, a shoe company, where during the training program for new employees, they offer everyone the chance to leave the program for $2,000 cash. If a person wants to leave, they will get $2,000. If not, they will continue to be trained in and be an employee of the company. Zappos offers this chance to take the money and leave because they want to weed out anyone who is looking to make a quick buck. By weeding out potentially bad employees, they save money in the long run. This story was also shared in Decisive as a way for a company to “ooch”.

Takeaways from Think Like a Freak

While there is some overlap with other books, there was some new information that I took away from Think Like a Freak about how to improve my critical thinking. One of the major keys to critical thinking is allowing yourself to say “I don’t know” and then searching for the answer.

I’ve started to apply this in my day job, and I believe it makes a person look better when asked a difficult question. Obviously, you don’t want to say “I don’t know” to every question. When you say, “oh, I didn’t consider that”, or “okay, I was overlooking that point and will go and search for the answer”, your manager will be much more receptive and open to any shortcomings. If you try and fib and beat around the bush, your manager may not appreciate that.

Never Stop Experimenting

Another key takeaway I have from Think Like a Freak is the need to experiment and try new things to gain experience. I’m at a very interesting point in my life. Currently, I’m in a great financial situation for my age group. I’m trying to build on that, but in the mean time, experiences are extremely important as well.

One thing I want to keep working on in the coming months is striking up conversations with strangers and trying to connect with them as fast as possible. I will try to take them out of their normal daily routine and try to inject life into their lives through my easy going-ness and ability to make people feel comfortable.

Remarkable Quotes and Passages from Think Like a Freak

Some other notes, quotes, and takeaways from Think Like a Freak:

  • First and foremost, always try to be aware of your knowledge and what limitations you have. It is perfectly acceptable to say “I don’t know.”
    • We really don’t know ourselves all too well. We make false assumptions about our abilities and we fail to acknowledge what we don’t know.
    • “Making grandiose assumptions about your abilities and failing to acknowledge what you don’t know can lead unsurprisingly, to disaster.
  • When solving problems, it might be best to put away our moral compass.
  • The key to learning is feedback. Use experiments to get feedback.
    • “Knowledge is not mastery. Execution is mastery.” – Tony Robbins
  • Ask the right questions to get a full view of the problem. It is important to not just focus on your own issues.
    • Redefine the problem. Ask a question like: how can we simplify this?
    • Seek to view problems from a new angle. Try to figure out how the world works.
  • “It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ.” – Roger Bannister
    • Artificial barriers are made-up. Ignore them and break through them.
  • Have fun, think small, don’t fear the obvious.
    • Find the root cause of the problem. By finding the root cause, we can understand the problem at the lowest level and build from there.
      • Think small, think detailed. By examining the smaller issues, we can start to understand the big issues.
    • 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.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask about the “obvious”.
  • Understanding incentives of all players in a given scenario is a fundamental step in solving any problem.
    • Figure out what really matters to other people, not what they say they care about.
      • Don’t listen to what people say they want; watch what they do.
    • Try to shift the frame and mindset of the other person from adversarial to cooperative.
    • Never ever think that people will do something just because it is the “right” thing to do.
  • Our behavior is enormously influenced by our environment, mindset, and circumstances.
  • 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.
    • Consider the other side’s argument to gain credibility.
    • Tell a story; stories capture our attention and therefore are good for teaching.
  • “Let go of conventional wisdoms that torment us. Let go of the artificial limits that hold us back – and the fear of admitting what we don’t know.”
  • Our resources are not infinite; you cannot solve tomorrow’s problems if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud.

“Let go of conventional wisdoms that torment us. Let go of the artificial limits that hold us back – and the fear of admitting what we don’t know.”

Our Recommendation for Think Like a Freak

Overall, I would give Think Like a Freak 3/5 stars. My major takeaways from this books are that it is okay to say “I don’t know”, to try different things and experiment, and the fact people are driven by various incentives.  Think Like a Freak is a quick read with some interesting stories and good thinking points.

If you are looking for a book on how to change your thinking, I would recommend Decisive (book review) and Originals (book review). Both of these books are more comprehensive and will help you change your thinking, decision making, and outlook on various situations.

Have you read any of the books by Levitt and Dubner, such as Freakonomics or Super Freakonomics? What do you think of books like these? Do you try to improve your decision making process?