Sometimes, the most unusual of collaborations can produce the most spectacular results. This was certainly the case in 2005, when author Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt joined forces to co-author the ground-breaking work Freakonomics. This book, which sold a staggering 5.5 million copies in more than 40 languages, was the first in a series that has combined unique and personal narratives with unconventional analysis to explore the benefits of innovative thinking.
The Freakonomics series has created a blueprint for thinking outside the box, and encouraged loyal readers to identify entirely new methods of solving their problems. Whether these relate to major global reforms or the issues that complicate everyday life, Dubner’s and Levitt’s literature has revolutionized thought processes and changed the boundaries of possibility for citizens from across the land.
With this in mind, what are the pivotal lessons that can be taken from the Freakonomics series and how can they be applied in your everyday life? Let’s consider the following 8 ways you can think outside the box like Freakonomics.
1. You can say ‘I Don’t Know’
A common theme that has ran throughout the Freakonomics series is that the majority of issues are more complex than they initially seem. We do not generally acknowledge this fact which subsequently creates a learning gap that can affect us negatively as we grow older. This is why the latest book in the series, Think like a Freak, has dedicated an entire chapter that encourages individuals to say ‘I don’t know’ on a more frequent basis and open up their minds to new information and understanding. This is particularly important when discussing environmental issues, as Dubner claims that such an outlook would prevent individuals from “getting on one side of the debate and digging in their heels” without a comprehensive understanding of the topic in question.
2. You can think Small and Still Succeed
This taps into another prolific section of the Think like a Freak book, which implores readers not to abandon their childlike instincts as they enter adulthood. After all, it is the child’s capacity for open-mindedness and curiosity that makes them able to absorb information in their infancy, while their ability to think small and without inhibition also enables them to conceive viable solutions for problems. The concept of simple and uninhibited thinking has been embodied by the brand Pokerstars, which employed hard working and renowned sporting legends such as Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal as brand ambassadors as a way of driving recognition, challenging existing misconceptions and transcending the industry in which they operate. By selecting a relatively simple and bold solution to a problematic marketing issue, the brand embraced childlike instincts to achieve success.
3. You can live with Risk Easier than Regret
While it may be argued that bold and simplistic decision making can incur risks, this is not necessarily something that should be feared. One of the most persuasive arguments of the whole Freakonomics series is that risk represents an easier burden to carry than regret, as the latter occurs as a result of failing to take a chance due to fear or an innate sense of inhibition. This can only ever create uncertainty and leave you wondering what might have been, and while risk takers may ultimately succeed or fail they have a clear conscious and the knowledge that they have at least tried to achieve their goals. So when making a decision, it may be worth re-evaluating the process and considering which option you would end up regretting if you failed to take it.
4. You Can Flip a Coin to make Important Decisions
For complex decisions that also affect others, such as relocating or changing careers, your thought process is likely to be even more confused and convoluted. In these instances, flipping a coin can be an excellent way of helping you to achieve clarity and choose a finite path. This theory was tested on a website called Freakonomics Experiments, which invited visitors to share their dilemmas and offered to flip a coin on their behalf. While this may seem fanciful, more than 40,000 visitors have taken the plunge and many found that they were more content when the coin encouraged them to follow a particular path. In contrast, others choose to ignore the coin toss as they instinctively believed the call to be wrong for them. It is therefore clear that the result of the coin toss is inconsequential, as the intuitive sense of clarity and insight that it brings enables individuals to make an informed decision.
5. You can conduct a ‘Premortem’ when considering Options
There is a fine line between thoughtfulness and over analysis, and it is important to achieve a balance when making decisions. This is something that is considered in detail in Think like a Freak, where the authors reference a theory forwarded by leading psychologist Gary Klein. Using something that he refers to as a “premortem“, it is possible for individuals to give careful consideration to their upcoming decision in a way that creates clarity rather than confusion. More specifically, by thinking ahead into the future and imagining that your decision has produced little but abject failure, you can pinpoint exactly where issues are likely to occur and how easy it will be to avoid them. This will enable you to develop a balanced view of the risks involved, before determining whether or not it is a decision that should be delayed or discarded in favour of an alternative option.
6. You can disregard the Majority of Conventional Wisdom
In Freakonomics, the authors discussed the concept of conventional wisdom at length and concurred that it is generally either wrong or biased towards the views of the writer. The main reason for this, they argue, is that the experts who generate conventional wisdom are inclined to use their knowledge and informational advantage to articulate their own agenda or express an informed opinion. It can also be used to create sensationalism regarding a social or political issue, and Freakonomics uses the example of drug dealers to make its point. While experts present the illicit drug trade as being extremely immoral and driven by individuals who generate huge financial gains, for example, in reality it is little more than a capitalist enterprise where the majority of workers earn less than the minimum wage. This is something to bear in mind when evaluating information and it reinforces the importance of developing knowledge and forming your own, unique opinions.
7. You can be sure that Correlation does not Always Mean Causation
As the Freakonomics series has continued, the authors have moved away from their economic basis and focused more predominantly on social science. This is reflected in one of their core principles, which is that correlation does not directly imply causation. It is a common misconception that when two variables change in the same manner at the same time, one is automatically responsible for triggering this evolution. This is not the case, however, and despite this being a fundamental finding of social scientific research it is often ignored. In any case where two or more variables in your life begin to change simultaneously, it is always worth addressing the circumstances on their own individual merit and identifying any other factors that may be responsible.
8. You can become too Preoccupied with End Results rather than the Process of Achieving them
The Freakonomics brand is now huge, and includes Dubner’s radio show in addition to a blog, film and additional literature. Dubner references his own radio show in the most recent book, and says that he is often disturbed at how fans evaluate an event or debate and “look at its conclusion rather than the process of getting there“. To illustrate this, he presents the example of a discussion where it was suggested that hitting a pedestrian with a car has surprisingly few consequences in the modern world. This was met with acclaim by pedestrian advocates, despite the fact the same demographic had criticised Dubner for suggesting that “drunk walking” may be a huge factor in the rate of automotive accidents. In short, we have a tendency to celebrate occasions where people reach similar conclusions to ourselves, without considering the discussion in its wider context and the process of arriving at such an assertion.
Featured photo credit: Suzi Duke via flickr.com