Think Like a Freak is the third book from the two guys who wrote Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, the best-selling popular science books that used economics and statistics to explain problems in society. This book differs by encouraging people to think unconventionally or “like a freak” to figure out problems.
Anyone who enjoyed the first two books by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner will likely enjoy this one. Their breezy writing style and use of clear and interesting stories and data are effective once again as they show how problems can be solved when people approach them from a different standpoint and brush aside normal convention.
There is the scientist who was researching stomach bacteria and injected himself with bacteria to find out if it causes ulcers, something which naturally earned him a lot of derision. But in the end, Barry Marshall won a Nobel Prize. Then there is the former adman who started a successful eyecare charity that earned over $1 billion by being upfront in its fundraising appeals by allowing people to opt out of receiving any further advertising, something that would seem counter-intuitive.
Successful ways of thinking differently can even be extended to less serious fields. For example, Japanese competitive eating legend and hot dog champion Takeru Kobayashi was able to achieve his great success despite not being a big guy and entering his first eating contest as a 20-something-year-old. His secret was due to training techniques that emphasized effective ways to eat hot dogs rather than simply trying to eat more hot dogs.
Ways to think differently include thinking like a child, focusing on the role of incentives, digging deep to understand problems, and learning how to quit. Not quitting when you’re ahead, but to give up a dream. It is not exactly popular advice but it makes sense in some cases. Sometimes it is necessary to give up on something and consider alternatives into which you could redirect your time and effort. It takes courage to admit failure, the authors stress, and perhaps failure should not carry such a terrible stigma.
At times, the book feels a little too simple and the stories flow too smoothly in illustrating solutions. But the main lesson is clear and useful. Think differently and don’t be afraid to do so, especially when the normal ways don’t work. You can’t always go wrong in that.