Book Review: Think Like a Freak


Lately I’ve been utterly fascinated with books that detail alternative ways of thinking and mindsets that find success. I’ve become (at heart) a student of social sciences, so something like Levitt and Dubner’s Think Like a Freak is right in my sweet spot. My first introduction to this world came by way of the Freakonomics podcast, and its great start if you’re curious about how these guys think. It’s just a great listen in general. Once I dug into this book however, I was very pleased. Let me explain.

I picked this up at the airport on my way to Portugal and managed to read it in less than a week. In so doing, I’ve been reading at an unusually fast pace, which is great too. I hadn’t read any of the the other “Freakonomics” books, but had enjoyed the podcast immensely over the past year. This was my chance to get a little deeper into the ideas behind a topic that really does enthral me. Much of what makes this book great is that it tells some amazing stories.

The story of Takeru Kobayashi is an incredible example of thinking like a “Freak”. How he went from relative obscurity as a skinny Japanese speed-eating competitor to smashing the speed eating record at the Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. This wasn’t because he made himself super strong or found a way to chew faster, it was his ability to think about the problem differently and find realativly simple ways to attack it and succeed.

Then there is a concept of admitting that you “don’t know” about things others seem so convinced. This idea is so simple, but Levitt and Dubner  lay out  how difficult it is to find people that are willing to say they don’t know. I’m all too familiar with this concept in I.T. as the typical call to a vendor’s support centre yields some sort of positive spin on “You won’t get what you want”, but you’ll rarely encounter a “no” or “I don’t know” from them; Even from the lowest levels of the support hierarchy.

The book is, at it’s base, an attempt at teaching you how to think more quickly, more simply, and with more humility when encountering a problem solving situation. That’s something we can all gain some insight from, even if the book may not be life-changing (or you’re already familiar with some of the concepts herein). Thankfully, the stories are entertaining and at times eye-opening.

To be sure, success in in this chaotic word requires that we exercise the ability to think “on our toes” or think fast around problems that seemingly change on a dime. Levitt and Dubner have given that a name, but the ideas here are not terribly revolutionary. That’s ok, because as they point out time and time again, thinking like  a “Freak” is incredibly rare.

A worthy book to add to your growing bookshelf or Little Free Library.

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