How to think like a freak

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In 2005, economist Steven Levitt and his partner, journalist Stephen J. Dubner, became publishing sensations with their bestselling book, Freakonomics. The pair had a unique approach, applying economic theories to a variety of subjects not traditionally covered in the field, including analyzing the business model of inner-city drug dealing and role of legalized abortion in reducing crime rates.

Since then, Levitt and Dubner have written two follow-ups: SuperFreakonomics and their latest, Think Like a Freak. In the new book, the number-crunching researchers offers readers advice on solving problems and approaching life in more creative, unconventional ways.

Dubner appeared on CBC's The Lang and O'Leary Exchange to discuss the book and share tips on thinking like a freak.

Tip 1: Turn away or put off your biases.

"We all have a pretty strong set of biases, whether we know it or not. And usually we don't know it. And that means we are inclined toward a certain position - whether it's a political position or even a moral or theological one. [It] resonates with us but is not necessarily very practical." 

Tip 2: Look for simple solutions.

"We like to think that the only solution to a problem is a kind of complicated one, or one that nobody else has come up with. We advocate that thinking like a freak is really kind of thinking like a child; being willing to look at potentially obvious answers, being willing to think small. A lot of big problems are big and entrenched because they're unsolvable. If, however, you're willing to think small [and] carve off a small piece of the problem, we would rather answer one small question well than fail to answer the big problem."

Tip 3: Admit when you don't know something.

As a society, Dubner said, we tend to value confidence and associate a lack of knowledge or skill as personal weakness. But when you don't know something, that's a perfect opportunity to learn everything you can about it.

"How can we find data? How can we get feedback? Maybe we need to set up some experiments to run to figure out what the real answer is. But the minute that you pretend to know or assume the answer to a problem that's very hard to solve, [is] the minute you're going to excuse a whole potential set of options."