“Think Like a Freak” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

  1. 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.
  2. In most cases, the cost of saying ” I don’t know” is higher than the cost of being wrong- at least for the individual.
  3. 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”. And work as hard as you can to do that. You may be surprised by how receptive people are to your confession, especially when you come through with the real answer a week or a day later.
  4. In our society, if someone wants to be a hair stylist or a kick boxer 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 that teachers can work their magic. Maybe we are asking too much of the schools and too little of our parents and kids? Here is the broader point: 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. Before spending all of your time and resources, it’s incredibly important to define the problem-or better yet, redefine the problem.
  5. Only by redefining the problem was he able to discover a new set of solutions.
  6. 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 be done.
  7. You should work terribly hard to identify and attach the root cause of the problems.
  8. Any kind of change is hard, but the chances of triggering change on a small problem are much greater than on a big one.
  9. Here’s another cardinal rule of thinking like a child: don’t be afraid of the obvious.
  10. As Albert Einstein liked to say, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. This is a beautiful way to address the frictions that bedevil modern society: as grateful as we are for the complex processes that have produced so much technology and progress, we are also dizzied by their sprawl. It is easy to get seduced by complexity; but there is virtue in simplicity too.
  11. There is no correlation between appearing to be serious and actually being good at what you do.
  12. And then there’s the tale of the economist on holiday in Las Vegas. He found himself one night in a bar standing beside a gorgeous woman.
  13. “Would you be willing to sleep with me for $1 million?” he asked her.
  14. She looked him over. There wasn’t much to see- but still $1 million! She agreed to go back to his room. “All right then,” he said, “would you be willing to sleep with me for $100?”
  15. “A hundred dollars!” she shot back. “What do you think I am, a prostitute?”
  16. The economist shoots back, “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just negotiating the price.”
  17. With any problem, it’s important to figure out what incentives will actually work, not just what your moral compass tells you should work. 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.
  18. No individual or government will ever be as smart as all the people out there scheming to beat an incentive plan. It’s easy to envision how you’d change the behavior of people who think just like you do, but the people whose behavior you’re trying to change often don’t think like you- and, therefore, don’t respond as you might expect.
  19. Figure out what people really care about, not what they say they care about.
  20. Incentivize them on the dimensions that are valuable to them but cheap to you to provide.
  21. Pay attention to how people respond; if their response surprises or frustrates you, learn from it and try something different.
  22. Whenever possible, create incentives that switch the frame from adversarial to cooperative.
  23. Never, ever think that people will do something just because it is the “right” thing to do.
  24. Know that some people will do everything they can to game the system, finding ways to win that you could never have imagined. If only to keep yourself sane, try to applaud their ingenuity rather than curse their greed.
  25. A good story also includes the passage of time, to show the degree of constancy or change; without a time frame, we can’t judge whether we’re looking at something truly noteworthy or just an anomalous blip. And a story lays out a daisy chain of events, to show the causes that lead up to a particular situation and the consequences that result from it.
  26. A rule makes a much stronger impression once a story illustrating said rule is lodged in your mind.
  27. The notion of sunk costs: 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 quit. This is known as the “sunk cost fallacy” or as the biologist Richard Dawkins called it, “the Concorde fallacy”, after the supersonic airplane. Think about all the time, brainpower, and social or political capital you continued to spend on some commitment only because you didn’t like the idea of quitting.
  28. The third force that keeps people from quitting is a tendency to focus on concrete costs and pay too little attention to opportunity cost. This is the notion that for every dollar or hour or brain cell you spend on one thing, you surrender the opportunity to spend it elsewhere.
  29. 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?
  30. It’s easy to identify with the leader who gave the project the green light. Once a boss gets “go fever”, it takes a lot of courage to focus on potential failures. Institutional politics, ego, and momentum are all conspiring against you. And “go fever” can have consequences far more tragic than the late opening of a Chinese flagship store.
  31. 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. Now they each write down the exact reasons for its failure. A premortem can help flush out the flaws or doubts in a project that no one had been willing to speak out loud.
  32. The “status quo” bias”: a preference for keeping things as they are- and, to be sure, a prime force against quitting anything.
  33. “Sophist” (as in sophisticated): “itinerant teachers of philosophy and rhetoric who didn’t enjoy a good reputation,” one scholar writes, they were more concerned with winning arguments than arriving at the truth.

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