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Book Review: Think Like A Freak

I finally finished Think Like A Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors behind Freakonimics. The book brings to light stories and examples where unconventional thinking solved problems and motivated change.
Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner available on Amazon
My key take-aways/ favorite stories:
  • Not-for-profit org, Smile Train, routinely sent out mailers asking for donations (typical charity outreach) till for one campaign, they gave mail receivers an option to donate and opt-out of mailing forever or donate and continue receiving the mailers. Surprisingly, many recipients appreciated the ability to opt-out, and chose to receive periodic updates AND donated. Meanwhile, many who opted out did donate, and Smile Train saved money on never having to send mass mailers to those individuals again.
  • Zappos offers $2000 to any new hire to quit and never be have the ability to be hired again. This gives Zappos the ability to weed out those who would not fit into Zappos’ customer service culture. Meanwhile, a bad hire could cost the company upwards of $25K – Zappos’ return for $2000 was well justified. Less than 1% of new hires took the $2000.
  • Levitt and Dubner wanted to see how helping others make a resolute decision would affect others’ happiness and success. They created a website that let anyone ask a question of what they should do (quit a job or not? Ask for a raise, or no? Go to a concert or go to a dinner?). The site simply ran a coin flip. Levitt and Dubner found that there wasn’t a direct correlation of answer-seekers being happy or unhappy after going with the direction of the website. Levitt and Dubner concluded that more time trying to make a decision has little bearing on being happy or being more successful – just choose a direction.
  • Levitt and Dubner studied how often soccer players took penalties – shooting towards the sides or straight down the middle. Goalkeepers dive to the left 57% of the time, and to the right 41%; meaning, goalkeepers stay in the middle only 2% of the time. However, only 17% of penalty kicks are straight down the middle. Why? Because players think that when shooting down the middle if the goalie happens to stay (kick is missed), then players will be more easily ridiculed. Shooting to the side offers sanctuary in that “at least we tried, and the goalie got lucky”.
There are several other examples of innovative, unconventional thinking. It’s fascinating thinking about how I could use some unconventional thinking to better market and sell.


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