Think Like A Freak Challenges Conventional Wisdom

Book-covers-AThe third ‘Freak’ book by authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner lives up to the strong tradition of the franchise. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain is different, though, in the sense that it offers some compelling ways to retrain the way you think.

I’ll admit a bias upfront — I’ve never understood how someone could live their entire life believing the same thing on virtually everything. Entrenched thinking has been the bane of the country throughout America’s history. It took decades and even centuries to overthrow some of the erroneous beliefs of Americans. I, for one, am glad blood-letting as a medical standard finally gave way to a more sensible and legitimate method of healing.

I recently had a routine surgery — and every time a nurse or aide stepped into my room they used a hand sanitizer. Two hundred years ago sanitizing a patient or a hospital room was dismissed as tomfoolery.

In the book, the authors spend a considerable amount of time explaining why people hold on to erroneous beliefs and chapter 8, “How to Persuade People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded,” is extremely interesting, although somewhat deflating. As I have blogged over the past year or so, I have attempted to follow the philosophy of Gandhi who believed in openly showing his journey to Truth. As I write, I don’t feel the need to convince people I am correct — and, for the most part, I try to maintain a non-confrontational approach when someone has a different viewpoint. I don’t engage in social media debates, because social media is an extremely poor vehicle to elicit true conversation. By default it pits people against one another, but despite all that, I have often wonder, why do people hold on to a ‘truth’ even though it is incorrect?

Can a person ever be persuaded to change their viewpoint? The authors suggest no for a variety of reasons. They write,

“The first step is to appreciate that your opponent’s opinion is likely based less on fact and logic than on ideology and herd thinking. If you were to suggest this to his face, he would of course deny it. He is operating from a set of biases he cannot even see. As the behavioral sage Daniel Kahneman has written: ‘We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness. Few of us are immune to this blind spot. That goes for you, and that goes for the two of us as well.”

The strength of the book are the stories used to illustrate the topic at hand. In one story, the hotdog eating champion of Coney Island, basically double the amount of hot dogs eaten in 12 minutes, by rethinking the entire hotdog eating process. Before he took on the challenge, the man (who was of ‘average’ weight), threw away all the conventional ways people were eating hotdogs in the contest — which was basically “shovel them in, chew and swallow.” Through a series of trials and errors, he came to understand a couple of key, time-saving techniques. Two of those were separating the bun from the hotdog and the other was tearing both the bun and hotdog in half before placing them in his mouth (saving valuable seconds of chewing/swallowing time).

But what is most interesting about the hotdog story is it illustrates how thinking about the smallest elements of the problem yielded the greatest return on his time and energy.

For a person serious about growing and engaging their mind — or even those simply interested in off-the-wall, intriguing stories with a legitimate point, the book definitely delivers the goods while challenging the intellect.

Rated: 5 out of 5: It’s a great book with plenty of thought-provoking stories, including one where the authors set up a legitimate sting operation that, through pure trickery, nabs some terrorists.

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Categories: Books I have read

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