What you could learn from ‘Think like a Freak’ by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt (2015, 211 pages)

Questioning perceived wisdom is a high stakes game.  If you are wrong, then you can be laughed at or vilified.  If you are right, then people may not listen.  If you are very lucky and enough people accept that you are right, you can transform the world.

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner now have a reputation for turning commonly held truths on their head.   Thier fist book (Freakonomics) and second book (SuperFreakonomics) were fantastic explorations of counter-intuitive thinking.  Think ‘Like a Freak’ builds on these last two book, and attempts to provide several techniques that you can use to improve your problem-solving and decision-making.

  • Be careful with your morals, because otherwise, you have already decided what you are going to do
  • “I don’t know” gives you the opportunity to learn and move solutions forward
  • Think like a child—because children are not limited by self-doubt and they ask better questions
  • Fix the cause and not the problem
  • Think about incentives very carefully (see below)
  • Just being right will not persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded
  • Fail fast – learn to iterate and don’t be afraid of failure

‘Think like a Freak’ begins to explore how Levitt & Dubner think.  Read this book if you want to improve the way you make decisions and develop your ability to make a counter argument.

Link to Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt web page

Amazon link – Think Like a Freak: Secrets of the Rogue Economist

There are several other great bits of advice in the book.


  1. Figure out what people actual care about (not what they say they care about)
  2. Incentives people on dimensions that are valuable to them and cheap to you
  3. Pay attention to how people respond, if their response surprises you, then try something else
  4. Switch frame from adversarial to cooperative
  5. Never ever think people will do something as ‘it is the right thing to do’
  6. People will try to cheat – don’t loose your head about it


How to change someone’s mind

  1. It’s not me: it’s you – resonate with your audience
  2. Don’t pretend your argument is perfect – show the trade-off (if it is not critical)
  3. Acknowledge the strengths of the other side’s arguments
  4. Tell stories