Co-authors Levitt (Economics/Univ. of Chicago) and journalist Dubner (Super Freakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, 2009, etc.) continue on their mission to get people to think in new ways in this lively book about decision and persuasion.
Building on their first two books, the authors offer advice for dealing with “minor lifehacks or major global reforms.” Most people, they argue, “seek out evidence that confirms what they already think, rather than new information that would give them a more robust view of reality.” They urge openness to evidence that may seem obvious, counterintuitive or even childish. Children, they conclude, are much more likely than adults to focus on small, solvable problems rather than “intractable, hopelessly complex” issues. “Small questions are by their nature less often asked and investigated….They are virgin territory for true learning,” they assert, and much more likely to inspire change. Nine fast-paced, story-filled chapters offer nuggets of useful advice: Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” It’s essential for learning. Reframe questions: “If you ask the wrong question, you are almost guaranteed to get the wrong answer.” Stay alert to the real root cause of a problem; it may be far different from what people generally assume. Levitt and Dubner analyze the upsides and downsides of incentives and consider the insidious power of “herd thinking.” Genial storytellers, the authors admit that much of their advice may seem like common sense (and, of course, they covered much of this territory already in their previous books), but they cite study after study—by psychologists, sociologists, educators and scientists—to show that sometimes common sense is severely underutilized.
Upbeat and optimistic, Levitt and Dubner hope that by thinking “a bit differently, a bid harder, a bit more freely,” readers will be able “to go out and right some wrong, to ease some burden.”