Levitt & Dubner: Think Like a Freak

Apr 25, 2015

I’ve read the previous books by Levitt & Dubner and I’ve listened to the Freakonomics podcast for years now. Quite naturally, I got the Think Like a Freak book as well.

The book has basically only one problem: all the topics have been covered in the free podcasts. Unless you prefer reading to listening there’s really no point in buying the book. The extra information provided is negligible and pretty much not worth it.

In case you don’t listen to the podcast and won’t listen to it, you’ll enjoy the book. The style and tone is typical of Levitt & Dubner, each chapter discusses one concept based on unobvious examples and sometimes tries to give some advice. The principles at the core are still the same: question presumptions, don’t let culture limit your options, be curios, don’t confuse correlation for causation, identify and manipulate incentives.

To list some of topics:

  • Admitting lack of knowledge might be beneficial and might help understanding problems better but social structures highly discourage it.
  • Identifying the real problem helps in solving it. Limiting the problem to what can be quantified often leads to the most of the problem being ignored (standardized school tests).
  • Novel approaches often fail but they might provide a drastic improvement instead of gradual changes.
  • Simple is often better than complex, naive approach might give the best results measured on a budget.
  • Incentives fall into different groups. Moral incentives are weak. A shift between friendship and business relationship (with its incentives) is hard to reverse.
  • Separating equilibria, using cheap information as a proxy for important decisions.
  • Persuasion of unpersuadable is really hard.
  • Quitting is underestimated and might save a lot of time, effort and money, but again, society often discourages it.

All in all, it’s a fun quick read, but if your ears work, go listen to the podcast.