freakanomics review

Super freak

A review of Think Like Freak

It is hard to find an appropriate image relating to freaks. This because, sadly, we still think of being a freak as a negative, despite all the hard work of Levitt and Dubner around Freakonomics. Think like a Freak is the 3rd book I’ve read by the duo after getting my hands on Freakanomics at my parent’s house as a teenager.

I wanted to think a little differently, I’m not radical and despite subscribing to the philosophy I remain a highly traditional thinker. After reading the book I think I question a little more, but I can’t say with much conviction that I Think like a Freak. 

Below are my thoughts on the book and my reflections.

Experts aren’t that good at predictions

Anyone who follows finance closely will already know this.

A study by CXO Advisory Group covered more than 6,000 predictions by stock market experts. They were right 47.4% of the time. We just can’t help being overconfident in our abilities when it comes to subjects where we consider ourselves to be experts. We can’t know for sure what will happen in markets or politics. We can make our best guess, but it is that, a guess.

It is pretty liberating to know we can’t know what happens next. We get to work on what is in our control. How we will react. COVID and lockdown is all the proof we need.

Say I don’t know

For some reason, we are afraid of “I don’t know”. It is probably something to do with school. Being taught that having the answer is always rewarded.

Whenever I have hired someone I haven’t been that worried about them knowing all the answers. I believe it is much more important that they can recognise gaps in their knowledge and they have the wherewithal to find the best possible answer. That is the kind of person I want to work with. The one who says, “I’m not sure about that. Let me check”. Not a bullshit “I’ve done this a 1,000 times”.

I don’t know is powerful.

It pushes us to question our current knowledge and seek new answers. We can never know it all. The information available is just too fast.

Tell it like it is

This message comes across in pretty much every modern marketing book. You might call it being authentic.

The example cited in Think like a Freak is Smile Train. They changed the way they asked for donations. By offering a ‘once and done’ option for donations, people could give and could rest assured that they wouldn’t be pestered for further donations.

Once and done spoke to donors as it gave them more choice and control about giving. It also meant they could feel good about giving, without feeling bad about not giving again.

Get in their shoes

When we want to provide incentives we need to think about what people care about. This might not be the same as what they say they care about. This is always the challenge with market research. Then you want to narrow down the options available and pick one that is cheap enough to run, but good enough to work.

When you are thinking about the person you are trying to incentivise it is also important to listen to them. As we know experts aren’t that good at predicting the future so the changes are that 50% of assumptions were wrong.

Failure is ok

A theme common in books now. We should hope that everyone has finally got the message! It is totally fine to get it wrong, to call a project dead and to learn from the mistakes made. Just try and not make the same mistakes on repeat.

To be a good boss you have to create the kind of environment where people can share ideas, test theories and fail from time to time. This is easier said than done as no one really likes seeing employees get something wrong. But I like to think of this like parenting. If my child doesn’t try and jump from a higher and higher wall they will never learn their limits, they will never push themselves and they will never learn to shake off a graze. The judgement comes in not letting them take a jump that is guaranteed to end in injury.

Challenge your assumptions

I love the Freakonomics series because it pushes me to challenge my assumptions. Just because something has always been that way doesn’t mean it is the best way. How could it be changed? How can we test it? A bold, controlled test, could bring about surprising conclusions.

As I said, I don’t think I am there yet in my innovative thinking. I remain traditional, systematical and analytical. But this book was an enjoyable read even if it wasn’t as much as a personal gamechanger as the original Freaknomics. 

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

About Good Words Online

This blog was designed to be a home for all the content I’ve created over the years. It is a mix of book reviews, personal reflections and business learnings. There is no definitive way to live or work, we all make our own choices. I in no way think I am right about any particular subject. This is simply about sharing what I’ve learnt and creating an online reminder for myself.

The name, good words, has no religious references. We can’t be good all the time. Each of us will make mistakes. All we can do is try to learn from them and try and attempt to be a little better next time.

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