On Tuesday night I attended an FT Weekend Series interview with Freakonomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (L&D). The economist and journalist duo have recently published a new book – Think Like A Freak – in a bid to help people solve some of their own problems by looking at data, questioning the obvious and thinking like a child.
L&D said they wrote the new book as people have come to see them as problem solvers and with the answers to all sorts of questions from domestic to governmental and most things inbetween. While they welcome email queries (they get around 50-100 a day, out of which come fascinating case studies), they wanted to create a manual of their approach to problem-solving.
Both Levitt and Dubner are beautiful orators; fantastic storytellers. Levitt shared a brilliant anecdote about a prostitute who he was ‘soliciting’ for data, who in turn took his insight to reshape her own business model – at his expense, ultimately!
They discussed game theory – as practised by King Solomon and David Lee Roth, as well as approaches to giving up or quitting – based on empirical advice with the occasional toss of the coin thrown into the mix. They also talked about big issues such as climate change and the nervous reception their model of ‘experimentation’ to solve the problem received.
Experimentation plays a huge part in L&D’s thinking. They both advocate a ‘childlike’ approach, saying that a child’s innocence actually allows them to alight on better, more creative solutions. The dumbest of questions can be relevant –and can in fact mean you ‘think smarter about almost anything’.