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Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
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Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner

Approaching problems from an unexpected angle

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  • I don’t know” are the hardest words to say in the English language. We tend to formulate a hasty conclusion rather than admit we don’t know.
  • Often, we’re faced with options that seem obvious but choose to stick with what is conventional. This results in useless practices that cost us a lot of money when the real feedback showed us that our thoughts were wrong.
  • Incentives are not set up to make people do their jobs as well as humanly possible. They’re about meeting benchmarks that have little to do with actual triumphs or progress.
  • Expressing uncertainty – saying I don’t know – could reshape our thought processes in ways that lead us to reject the protocol that gets handed down to us.
  • The story of Takeru Kobayashi, the world record holder for eating the most hot dogs in twelve minutes, shows us that redefining strategy is vital to success when current practices reach a plateau.
  • His cognitive approach made it possible to redefine the problem and reformulate the questions involved. “How do I eat more hot dogs?” turned into “How do I make hot dogs easier to eat?”
  • Next to redefining problems, refusing to accept perceived limits is the most important approach in changing the rules. We have to ignore what seem to be legitimate barriers so we can freely approach and change practices.
  • Thinking like a child can improve chances of success dramatically. One way of thinking like a child is to think small. It’s better to solve a problem partially than to fail completely at solving the bigger issue. Breaking up issues into manageable parts can lead to progress in unexpected places. Small questions allow more room for progress since they are less likely to involve complex, intertwined issues. Chances of actually effecting change are greater when we approach problems in their smallest form.
  • Incentives with no strings attached are the best way to retain people. We should try to frame interactions as collaborative, and the best way to get what you want is to treat others with decency. Decency has the power to push any interaction into the operative framework.
    • Figure out what people care about vs. what they say they care about (revealed vs. declared preferences).
    • Incentivize dimensions that are valuable for others but cheap for you.
    • Feedback is always important.
    • Switch from adversarial to cooperative.
    • Never assume that people will do what’s right.
    • Some people will always be able to game the system; applaud their ingenuity rather than deploring their greed.
  • Developing a system that sorts out itself is the best way to build a sustainable future. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, offers every new employee $2000 to quit. He reasoned that a person taking the money over the job would cost the company a lot more in the long run. False positives are the most time- and money-consuming losses for any company. Figuring out if something can be viable from the beginning is adamant for success.
  • If you don’t know what to do: flip a coin. Sometimes, when we don’t know what to do, we have to make a decision to move forward. Flipping a coin usually gives you just as much chance of moving forward when dealing with things that hold you back. Plus, the second the coin is tossed and the decision appears, most people feel happy or sad: which means they knew all along what they wanted but just needed some extra help.
  • The things that hold you back are usually:
    • Thinking that quitting is failure.
    • Worrying about the costs you’ve made.
    • Difficulty assessing the opportunity cost (the opportunity you lose by spending your time elsewhere).
  • There’s no such thing as best practice. There’s only good practice and next practice!

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