think like a freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life.

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

The conventional wisdom is often wrong. And a blithe acceptance of it can lead to sloppy, wasteful, or even dangerous outcomes.

Correlation does not equal causality. When two things travel together, it is tempting to assume that one causes the other. Married people, for instance, are demonstrably happier than single people; does this mean that marriage causes happiness? Not necessarily. The data suggest that happy people are more likely to get married in the first place. As one researcher memorably put it, “If you’re grumpy, who the hell wants to marry you?”

The absurdly talented George Bernard Shaw—a world-class writer and a founder of the London School of Economics—noted this thought deficit many years ago. “Few people think more than two or three times a year,” Shaw reportedly said. “I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.”

One thing we’ve learned is that when people, especially politicians, start making decisions based on a reading of their moral compass, facts tend to be among the first casualties.

It has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are I love you. We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say I don’t know.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan was famous for saying: “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.”

The world is also thick with “entrepreneurs of error,” as the economist Edward Glaeser calls them, political and religious and business leaders who “supply beliefs when it will increase their own financial or political returns.”

…ultracrepidarianism…“the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge or competence.”

Think back to the soccer player who was about to take a life-changing penalty kick. Aiming toward the center has a better chance of success, but aiming toward a corner is less risky to his own reputation. So that’s where he shoots. Every time we pretend to know something, we are doing the same: protecting our own reputation rather than promoting the collective good. None of us want to look stupid, or at least overmatched, by admitting we don’t know an answer. The incentives to fake it are simply too strong.

While one might expect that suicide is highest among people whose lives are the hardest, research by Lester and others suggests the opposite: suicide is more common among people with a higher quality of life. “If you’re unhappy and you have something to blame your unhappiness on—if it’s the government, or the economy, or something—then that kind of immunizes you against committing suicide,” he says. “It’s when you have no external cause to blame for your unhappiness that suicide becomes more likely. I’ve used this idea to explain why African-Americans have lower suicide rates, why blind people whose sight is restored often become suicidal, and why adolescent suicide rates often rise as their quality of life gets better.”

“It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ,” said the esteemed neurologist Roger Bannister, best known as the first human to run the mile in less than four minutes.

Thinking like a Freak means you should work terribly hard to identify and attack the root cause of problems.

Small questions are by their nature less often asked and investigated, and maybe not at all. They are virgin territory for true learning.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote across many genres, including children’s books. In an essay called “Why I Write for Children,” he explained the appeal. “Children read books, not reviews,” he wrote. “They don’t give a hoot about the critics.” And: “When a book is boring, they yawn openly, without any shame or fear of authority.” Best of all—and to the relief of authors everywhere—children “don’t expect their beloved writer to redeem humanity.”

We’ll often say one thing and do another—or, more precisely, we’ll say what we think other people want to hear and then, in private, do what we want. In economics, these are known as declared preferences and revealed preferences, and there is often a hefty gap between the two.

Once people are asked to donate, the social pressure is so great that they get bullied into giving, even though they wish they’d never been asked in the first place.

But let’s consider a different set of parents: the ones whose children are currently dying in traffic accidents. Around the world, some 180,000 kids are killed each year, or roughly 500 a day. In wealthy countries, this is easily the leading cause of death for kids from ages five to fourteen, outpacing the next four causes—leukemia, drowning, violence, and self-inflicted injuries—combined. In the United States alone, traffic accidents kill more than 1,100 kids, age fourteen and under, each year, with another 171,000 injuries.

As scientists like to say: The plural of anecdote is not data.

Anecdotes often represent the lowest form of persuasion.

That’s the idea behind a “premortem,” as the psychologist Gary Klein calls it. The idea is simple. Many institutions already conduct a postmortem on failed projects, hoping to learn exactly what killed the patient. A premortem tries to find out what might go wrong before it’s too late. You gather up everyone connected with a project and have them imagine that it launched and failed miserably. Now they each write down the exact reasons for its failure. Klein has found the premortem can help flush out the flaws or doubts in a project that no one had been willing to speak aloud. This suggests one way to make a premortem even more useful: offer anonymity.

We might add that Winston Churchill, despite his famous advice to those Harrow schoolboys, was in fact one of history’s greatest quitters. Soon after entering politics he quit one party for another, and later he quit government altogether. When he rejoined, he quit parties again. And when he wasn’t quitting, he was getting tossed out. He spent years in the political wilderness, denouncing Britain’s appeasement of the Nazis, and was returned to office only when that policy’s failure had led to total war. Even in the bleakest moments, Churchill did not back down one inch from Hitler; he became “the greatest of all Britain’s war leaders,” as the historian John Keegan put it. Perhaps it was that long streak of quitting that helped Churchill build the fortitude to tough it out when it was truly necessary. By now, he knew what was worth letting go, and what was not.

from the notes section:

Family firms in Japan have a long-standing solution to this problem: they find a new CEO from outside the family and legally adopt him. That is why nearly 100 percent of adoptees in Japan are adult males.

In defense, however, of Germanic Catholicism: a new research project by Spenkuch argues that Protestants were roughly twice as likely as Catholics to vote for the Nazis.


a thicker market

Jon Gruber:

“Basically churches are the source of social capital in society, are the main source of social capital in society. And therefore if you’re around more people like you, that’s a bigger community, that’s what we call in economics a thicker market. There’s more people around who can help you out as you’re growing, help you out if you’re hurting, it’s really sort of a social insurance notion of a church. And then finally and most speculatively, faith itself may produce better outcomes. I know a number of people who are very religious. It gives them a calmness and a certainty that allows them to be successful in other areas of their life.”

the hot dog champion is full of wisdom

“I always change my mentality very quickly. Simply said, sometimes you win because someone is having a bad day and sometimes someone beats you because you are having a bad day. Even winning or losing doesn’t necessarily even mean really that you are the best. So when you look at the long run you can’t think about you and competing against a rival or rivals. That doesn’t even tell you 100% that you are the best. What you can only do is compare yourself to yourself and try see how far you can actually go.”


notes from the presentation secrets of steve jobs

Acts Scenes
Act 1 Plan in Analog Answer the One Question that Matters Most Develop a Messianic Sense of Purpose Create Twitter-Like Headlines Draw a Road Map Introduce the Antagonist Reveal the Conquering Hero
Act 2 Channel Their Inner Zen Dress Up Your Numbers Use “Amazingly Zippy” Words Share the Stage Stage Your Presentation with Props Reveal a “Holy Shit” Moment
Act 3 Master Stage Presence Make It Look Effortless Wear the Appropriate Costume Toss the Script Have Fun


Peter Drucker: As soon as you move one step up from the bottom, your effectiveness depends on you ability to reach others through the spoken and written word.

Xvii – People do not pay attention to boring things.

4 – Save your bullet points for grocery lists.

5 – Remember, it’s the story, not the slides…


9 Elements of Great Presentations Headline Passion Statement 3 Key Messages
Metaphors and Analogies Demonstrations Partners
Customer Evidence and 3rd Party Endorsements Video Clips Flip Charts, Props and Show-and-Tell


9 – (an example of a good metaphor) Jobs pointed out that many people said iTunes is their favorite application for Windows. It’s like giving a glass of ice water to someone in hell!”

11 – Keep in mind that the average viewed clip on YouTube is 2.5 minutes… Our attention spans are shrinking…

13 – A Steve Jobs presentation follows Aristotle’s classic five-point plan to create a persuasive argument:

  1. Deliver a story or statement that arouses the audience’s interest
  2. Pose a problem or question that has to be solved or answered.
  3. Offer a solution to the problem you raised.
  4. Describe specific benefits for adopting the course of action set forth in your solution.
  5. State a call for action.


17 – The listeners in you audience are asking themselves one question – “Why should I care?”

24 – (Guy Kawasaki) “The essence of evangelism is to passionately show people how you can make history together. Evangelism has little to do with cash flow, the bottom line, or co-marketing. It is the purest and most passionate form of sales because you are selling a dream, not a tangible product.

24 – Sell dreams, not products.

28 – (Steve Jobs to John Sculley) “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

32 – Marcus Buckingham… after interviewing thousands of peak performers, he arrived at what he considers the single best definition of leadership: “Great leaders rally people to a better future,” he writes in The One Thing You Need to Know.

43 – iPod. One thousand songs in your pocket.

45 – (examples of headlines) “Google provides access to the world’s information in one click.” “ Cisco changes the way we live, work, play and learn.” “Starbucks creates a third place between work and home.” “We see a PC on every desk, in every home.”

51 – Three is the magic number.

90 – (Hans Hofmann) “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary make speak.”

92 – Simple slides keep the focus where it belongs—on you, the speaker.

97 – (Garr Reynolds) “In Jobs’s slides, you can see evidence of restraint, simplicity, and powerful yet subtle use of empty space.”

98 – The argument for the visual representation of ideas is such a powerful concept that psychologists have a term for it: the picture superiority effect (PSE).

106 – Jobs dresses up numbers to make them more interesting. Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell once asked Jobs what he thought about Apple’s market share’s being “stuck” at 5 percent in the united States. (As of this writing, their share is 10%). The average reader might consider a 5 percent market share to be tiny. Jobs put the number in perspective when he described it this way: “Our market share is greater than BMW or Mercedes in the car industry. An yet, no one thinks BMW or Mercedes are going away and no one thinks they’re at a tremendous disadvantage because of their market share. As a matter of fact they’re both highly desirable products and brands.”

119 – (Suze Orman) “Others criticize simplicity because they need to feel that it’s more complicated. If everything were so simple, they think their jobs could be eliminated. It’s our fear of extinction, our fear of elimination, our fear of not being important that leads us to communicate things in a more complex way than we need to.”

138 – According to Kawasaki, good demos are as follows: Short. Simple. Sweet. Swift. Substantial.

151 – People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

there was no need to define myself

Christopher Knight:

Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.

Haruki Murakami talks about Colorless at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival – my notes

Haruki Murakami appeared at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival and talked about Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage with the Independent’s Boyd Tonkin (BT) on Saturday.

These are my notes from the events. No recording was allowed. I am satisfied I have tried my best in taking these notes.

I was there 2 hours before the event started and there were at least 15 people waiting in line.

I had a front row seat!

Director of the festival again reminded, “no photos”, “no filming”.

Haruki Murakami (HM) was dressed in a more relaxed fashion then the day before. He wore a “Vinyl Junkie” t-shirt, checked jumper, white socks and blue Sketchers shoes.

Sketchers shoes.

HM said Edinburgh was a “beautiful city.” He would run in the morning. Running was the “best speed to look around the city”. Walking is too slow and driving is too fast. He said it rained a lot and talked about how hot it was in Japan. HM: “I think I am missing summer.”

HM would be going to Jura. Reason? HM: “I like whiskey… single malt.”
BT commented on the similarities between Norwegian Wood and Colorless. HM said there was no connection, “I didn’t remember Norwegian Wood at all.” Audience laughed and so did Noriko the translator. She was super amused.

HM said Colorless was based on his own experience. HM: “I have experience similar things… I was hurt… Different situation, sentiment same.”

HM: “When he’s hurt so deep, the scar stays.” He repeats “scar” and “stays”.

When asked to comment on the similarities between Sara Kimoto in Colorless and his other strong female characters, HM said, “Really?” Audience laughs again. The author’s forgetfulness is very charming. Noriko is also amused. That’s perhaps he speaks so little in public.

Both NW and Colorless are love stories. HM: “Love story is a story of search… sometimes they find one (lover). Sometimes they couldn’t. Sometimes they made a mistake.”

Sketchers shoes.

Asked about Kuro going to Finland, HM said she has to go far away, “another world”, “limbo”. It sounded like he did not choose Finland for any specific reason other than it’s far away.

An important clarification: HM: “Finland is not a limbo at all. Metaphorically speaking.”

HM: “I think of myself as a kind of engineer. I don’t think of myself as an artist… That would be easier for me to think of it this way.”

HM said that if he sees himself as an artist, “that would be too heavy” for him.

HM: “I have never experienced writer’s block. If i don’t wan’t to write anything, I don’t write. I do ironing. I do translation.”

He’s currently translating a Norwegian work. I didn’t get the author’s name.

BT talks about how different his books are in the use of humour and “fantastic elements” and how it would require him to be more humorous in one book and less in the other. HM: says there are “various sides in me” and he can adjust himself to meet the demands of the story, “It’s what the story decides. Not I.”

BT asked if talent must be nurtured. HM: “I have never think about talent or gift.”

HM: “I don’t think about how much talent or gift I have. It’s useless to think about it.” He just tinkers, “does his best”.

HM says he has a basement in his head which he uses when he writes. HM: “I go down to the basement. It’s scary.”

HM says writing is about his “essence”, not gift. The essence referring to the dark basement in his head.

BT said HM is famous around the world for his running and discipline. HM: “Famous? That’s great.”
The way HM says “famous?” is the same way he says “really?”. He says it fast, louder than usual and with a great sense of incredulity. Charming like hell.

HM says he needs to be physically strong so that he can “do down into the darkness” and be able to “return to the surface”. He says he is not a genius, so he would need to be strong and go down into the darkness and do the work.

HM is running the same distance as before but his “speed is getting worse and worse.”

HM listens to mostly american rock when running. He mentions Creedence Clearwater Revival. He likes Radiohead. He likes Black Eye Peas these days.

Music enables HM to keep writing. The Beatles helped HM to write Norwegian Wood.

In the morning, he listens to Classical. Driving – Rock. Sundown – Jazz.

He likes Stan Getz and Thelonious Monk.

Monk – “he knows what is the right note”. HM: “I like to write novels like he plays music.”

He is publishing a book about Monk in the summer in Japan. It is a collection of essays including one from him.

HM: “Translation is a hobby… good for balance of my mind.”

He doesn’t know why he likes Raymond Chandler. “I like his work so deep I cannot explain why.”

Asked if he has made any discoveries regarding writers, he said he has not.

He said translating has helped him put his feet in other writer’s shoes. He likes that but “not high heels”.

HM said a good translation really depends on the text. He said James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was recently translated in Japanese – “that must be a tough job”.

HM quotes Woody Allen again, like the day before “empty sex is better than no sex”. Actual quote: “Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go its pretty damn good.”

HM: “I don’t like to write sexual scenes. It’s embarrassing.”

HM: “Sex and violence is simply the door to unconsciousness.”

Sketchers shoes.

HM said that the european/american audiences are different from the asians. europeans/americans are more logical. Asians “just accept the story. They just accept.”

HM talked about how in Greek mythology when Orpheus wanted to go to the underworld to see his wife, he had to do many things. “In Asia, it’s easy. If you want to go other side, you just go.”

Q&A. HM said it was easier for him to write male characters but he also likes to write female characters (“I’m observing so many ladies”).

HM: “I like Sara (Colorless) so much.”

HM said if he was not a novelist, he would be a jazz bar owner like before.

When asked about his favorite characters in his own novels, he said he likes Shirakawa (he’s not like me at all). He likes cats. The talking cats in Kafka.

When asked who should direct films made from his books, “I like David Lynch. Woody Allen. I have no idea.”

HM likes Japanese food. Sashimi. Sushi. Tofu. He asked the audience member who asked him whether he likes food, “Do you like tofu? It’s good. It’s good for your body.”

He ends the session by saying, “Seaweed is great.”

one thing that reading haruki murakami’s novels has taught me

“I think of myself as a kind of engineer. I don’t think of myself as an artist…. That would be easier for me to think of it this way.” – Haruki Murakami at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

One of the things reading Haruki Murakami novels taught me and is still teaching me is to see myself as ordinary. Even now, occasionally, I think of myself as special. I am not so special.

Some people have described me as self-deprecating. This is closer to the truth: I sometimes do good work, sometimes bad; I am too often hypocritical, biased, inconsistent and self-centered. I am too often an asshole.

When I started reading Murakami, I was thinking a lot about mental health. I wasn’t depressed but I thought I could be. People are difficult, life can be “difficult” even when you have food on the table and a roof over your head.

I had always been interested in the truth. It’s elusive I know but falsehoods are easier to figure out. And by eliminating falsehoods, one can reach closer to the truth. These are falsehoods – I am unbiased, I am good, I always try my best, I am hardworking, I am clever.

While extraordinary things happen to Murakami’s characters, the protagonists in his novels are ordinary people. They may have obsessions but they live simple and quiet lives and do not have an inflated opinion about themselves.

That is my desire.

At the book festival, Murakami also said that if he sees himself as an artist, “that would be too heavy”.

I desire that lightness – in my slides, my writing, my traveling, my affiliations, my emotions. Sometimes I ask myself if I am aiming too low. I leave the question unresolved. Tension is good if you manage to not let it destroy you. Recognising that I am weak, that I am scared is lightness.

It’s easier for me to think this way.