How to Think Like a Freak

Too many people think alike, think different

6 min readMar 30, 2020
Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

The human world is currently occupied by invisible things called COVID-19. They spread widely and rapidly to the entire population of human and affects the world’s economy just like Tsunami. This pandemic is canceling people’s marriage plans, separate lovers — especially those who are in LDR (me!), hampered ongoing big projects for some people (name it: 2020 Olympic, marathon events, graduation day), and many more chaos stories. When is this pandemic going to end? No one knows, but we know for sure that we should do physical distancing for at least 2–3 months.

Boring? Checked
Stay at home? Checked
Netflix? Checked
Gaming? Checked
Cleaning? Checked
Online shopping? Checked
Reading? Checked
Cooking? Checked

It has been my almost-third-week working from home since my company exercises that arrangement due to a virus outbreak. In the first week, I felt bored-to-hell since my project is postponed and nothing much I can do for work. I missed my friends, social events, colleagues at work, and hang out at the cafe. Buying groceries to a minimarket feels like going on a trip and it’s really happy to be outside. Next, in the second week, I think I already used to it and feel quite okay with the situation. I feel comfortable with less-task situations, slow pace, and many laying-on-the-bed-playing-games episodes. The urge of going out to a minimarket is lessened and I prefer to be homed. It’s kinda scary tho if I turn into a couch potato after this pandemic ends.

So, yeah, I’m currently trying to be productive by writing a summary of a book that I just read. It’s called Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Through this book, Levitt and Dubner provide the reader with a new perspective on seeing things, using the economic approach. What is the economic approach? It basically an approach that relies more on data, rather than ideology or bias, to understand how the world works objectively.

“Knowing what to measure and how to measure it, can make a complicated world less so.”

So, how to think like a freak? Let me summarize the answer through these points:

1. Learn to say “I don’t know”

Levitt and Dubner named the word I-don’t-know as the three hardest words in the English language. I do think so. Many people often find it difficult to admit that they don’t know because of a simple reason: they don’t want to look dumb. As the writer mentioned, the cost of saying ‘I don’t know’ is sometimes higher than the cost of being wrong, even though wrong answers could lead us to a bad decision.

“It isn’t only that we know less than we pretend about the outside world; we don’t even know ourselves all that well.”

To break the chain, people are encouraged to put away their dogma, biases, and saying I don’t know when faced with a question in an unclear situation. In a nutshell, don’t be cocky and just admit it if you don’t know things.

2. Look out for the core problem

When a problem happened, people tend to focus on the part that bothers them, instead of the core problem. I remember the story of one of my private piano students who have learning difficulties due to a short attention span. Furthermore, his level of intelligence is slightly lower than average kids and it’s quite challenging to teach him to read notes. At first, every session was ended by me getting angry and scolding him for not paying attention. His mind was just wandering all over around and our communication didn’t connect. Then, after 2 months of anger, I figured out that the problem wasn’t because he wasn’t paying attention, but he wasn’t interested in the song. So, I started to change the song with his favorite’s and boom! Unexpectedly, he learned fast. Through that story, I would like to show you how important it is to solve the right problem and it starts by redefining the core issue

3. Think like a child

Try to observe how children behave. They are curious, honest, and unbiased. They talk loud about what they think; They ask when they don’t know; They smile when they are happy and cry when sad. From Levitt and Dubner’s view, these traits are beneficial when it comes to solving a problem because it simply gives us a different perspective than what others think about.

Because they know so little, they don’t carry around the preconceptions that often stop people from seeing things as they are.

Besides having a big curiosity, kids are always having fun. They easily laugh at simple things, they choose to play games rather than study because they simply like playing. However, after growing older, kids turn to adults who bear a lot of responsibilities, and the idea of having fun sometimes implies a lack of seriousness. Yet, the idea to have fun is still encouraged by many people. Why? Because fun is going to be the fuel for keeping you passionate and engage with your work. The more time you spend to carry out your work, the more things you’ll find out and become a whiz on the subject.

4. Choose the right incentive

People always respond to incentives and giving incentives always work to make people do what we want. As a recruiter, I can say that 90% of candidates are looking for a new job because of the financial aspect, which is seeking a higher salary. It’s also a fact that some candidates reject an offer because the number doesn’t match their salary expectations. Nevertheless, the remaining 10% of candidates also want to find a new job because of the non-financial aspects, such as finding a job which is closer to his home, or flexible working hours. So, it’s not always about money.

The key is to learn to climb inside other people’s minds to figure out what really matters to them.

Levitt and Dubner explained there are two types of preferences: declared preferences and revealed preferences; and the key is to find out what’s the revealed preferences. How? By simply put more attention on their actual behavior instead of what they tell to you. For example, I often hear the reason many candidates want to find a new job is that they need new challenges and exposure. After all, what they are truly looking for is no doubt — higher salaries.

5. Admit that your argument isn’t always right

We all know that it’s not easy to persuade people, especially those who don’t want to be persuaded. However, Levitt and Dubner suggested the reader to try to understand the reason why persuasion is hard, in the first place.

One reason may be that smart people simply have more experience with feeling they are right, and therefore have greater confidence in their knowledge, whatever side of an issue they’re on. But being confident you are right is not the same as being right

Being aware that we aren’t always right is the first step to build an argument that can change the other’s mindset. The next thing to do is to acknowledge the flaws of your argument. Identify the potential risk that might happen if people execute your ideas and find a way to mitigate it so we come prepared when people throw those questions to you.

Otherwise, don’t forget to acknowledge the strength of your opponent’s argument. Why do we need this?

“We are blind to our blindness”

I really like this quote because it is a friendly reminder to always learn from others and be humble all the time. Don’t pretend that your argument is always right. Listen more and bark less. Furthermore, an opponent is likely to engage with you if you communicate your ideas decently. Respect for each other.

6. It’s okay to quit

Most people think that quitting meaning failure. Otherwise, quitting could be a solution to get out of stuck. It’s okay to quit a company that couldn’t give you room to grow your expertise. It’s okay to quit a toxic relationship even though it has been going for years.

If the opportunity cost seems to outweigh the sunk cost, here are some ways to think about the big quit

Quitting isn’t as easy as saying because it relates to failure and failure relates to a loser and who wants to be a loser? Again, a nice quote from Levitt and Dubner:

“You cannot solve tomorrow’s problem if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud”

And.. If that word (Quitting) still frightens you, let’s think of it as “letting go”

I think I’m already out of words now and hope my post could be food for thoughts for you. Take care, everyone!