Book Recollection: Think I’ll Take Advice and Give Up

Think Like a Freak

Welcome to the fifth installment of “It’s not a bird” posts.  I can feel the love from all you bird haters out there hehehe.  Clearly my reading as of late has taken a backseat due to having way too many projects in progress at the moment.  Luckily I was able to get a quick book in during our last vacation to the Georgia swamps.  Today’s recollection is their third book in the Freakenomics series from Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.  The first book was extremely entertaining and informative.  I recommend it to all my friends and anybody who wants to understand the power of economics to solve everyday issues.  Then came Super Freakenomics which I listened to via audio book.  That was a bit of a letdown but I still had some takeaways.  I am not as apt to recommend that book to people unless they are absolutely craving additional economic insights.  To be honest, I thought it rehashed too much of Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers offering (link here).  If you want to know what it takes to be a pro or tops in your sport read that book instead.  Then the third book came out and decided to put it on my wish list.  Linda ended up surprising me and getting it for me as a gift so I saved it for the upcoming trip.  First thing is the book didn’t last me the trip – only about three short days of travel and I was done with it.  This was especially irritating since I had not brought a backup which resulted in wasted reading days.  The second comment is it was found wanting.  In my opinion, a definite step down from the other two offerings.  It felt like they were just cranking out a book with material that didn’t make the other two and decorating it with a narrative about how you could learn to think like a freak.  Now that I’m done with it I can summarize my key takeaway as .. quitting is a viable option.  Apparently to think like a Freak means to consider quitting endeavors.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much this contradicts with my personal philosophy.  I do not believe in quitting unless that is the absolute last option and I’ve given everything available to try and push it over the goal line.  It isn’t so much the effort at hand as it is the impact it has on everything you undertake from that point on.  The minute you let the option of quitting get added you have involuntarily added that as an option in everything you do.  Miss a post quota – eh, I get it next month.. next month.. well, it doesn’t really matter since I already missed it last month and next thing you know you are Googling for the next time I am Cait instead of looking through your picture archives for interesting material.  As soon as you give up on a race every time it gets difficult you’ll be debating the option of stopping instead of putting the next foot in front of another.  Convince yourself you don’t need to go out and train for a race and quickly find out you’ll be hitting the snooze button instead of putting your bib on.  It may take longer, it may not look exactly as planned but to the very best of my ability it is going to have a bow on it.  To look forward to this book only to read a contradictory philosophy is a nasty kick.  Note, it isn’t that I do not get their point but they fail to understand the benefits that would have been obtained by not quitting – just example after example of someone who did something else.

There were a couple of interesting chapters.  The concept of admitting you do not know something is a refreshing approach to difficult decisions/expectations.  There are times when you do not have all the information or knowledge to weigh in on a decision.  It might take some extra time to obtain that or need to consider some alternatives before jumping to conclusions.  Whenever I hear someone that I trust admit they do not know the answer at that point in time I inherently trust them that much more.  This is something I’ll definitely take forward.  The other story took a fact I had known to a new level.  Somewhere in the past I read how ulcers were not due to stress (the early hypothesis) and instead became treatable with antibiotics.  This brought an end to a multi-billion industry that was treating the symptom and not the cause.  Turns out there was more to the story.  It is too disturbing to really go into detail here, but let’s just say the discoverer of this solution found it by testing HIMSELF.  This topic eventually drove down into a concept of shit swapping or more clinically sounding transpoosion.   This is probably a good time to get to the takeaways.  There were more than expected, but a lot of them were more reminders for future Trivia Crack questions as to true takeaways.  I’ll leave the choice up to you, but I’d probably find another book to invest time in.  It is always a bigger let down if you let your anticipation get too high which is probably coming into play here.

Hit the jump to read the takeaways



  • Firms in Japan find a new CEO outside the family and legally adopt him – nearly 100% adoptees there are adult males
  • Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life
  • Conventional wisdom is often wrong
  • We tend t0 seek out evidence to our own opinion
  • When the moral compass comes into play, facts are first casualties
  • Everyone entitled to own opinion .. but now own facts  (Moynihan)
  • Entrepreneur error – political, religious etc. leaders instilling beliefs that benefit themselves
  • Ultracrepidarianism – habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s competence
  • Romania law proposal – hold their witches accountable for predictions that do not come true — WE SO NEED THIS FOR OUR GLOBULL WARMING ALARMISTS… and politicians in general
  • There are 38,000 suicides a year in US – more than twice the homicides – hey Oregon, how about a tax on the family that doesn’t prevent a suicide like your crime tax proposal?  interesting enough they claim that not having an external target to blame unhappiness on is a huge contributor to that high rate.
  • The key to learning is a feedback – totally agree
  • Had an intriguing example of the Wine Spectator award was just a scam to get you to spend advertising money with them – busted
  • One benefit of saying you don’t know every once in awhile.. you get to make up something in the future and more likely to be believed
  • Teachers in the US are more likely to come from the bottom of their class
  • Like it needs to be stated (but glad they did), most people who commit crimes with guns are almost entirely unaffected by current gun laws
  • Martin Luther levied 95 grievances against the Catholic church in 1517 – just noting this since it will more than likely show up on Trivia Crack sometime and now I will get it right
  • Protestants were roughly twice as likely as Catholics to vote for Nazis .. so we have that at least going for us
  • Summarizing an disturbing story about something a lot of people are not aware of – ulcers are caused by bacteria (remember the days when it used to be stress).  The dude that discovered this – Barry Marshall grew the offending bacteria in the lab and then drank it thus giving himself ulcers only 5 days later.  This proved Helicobacter Pylori was the cause.
  • Okay, I’m going to leave off the whole discussion on Transpoosion just for your reading sanity .. thank me later
  • To think like a Freak is to think small
  • Remember that disturbing taxi story that came out of China in 2011 – cab hits girl, doesn’t get out.. runs over her again as he departs.  According to the driver the penalty for the girl dying vs being injured was significantly less – d i s t u r b i n g
  • Zappos successful transformed the mundane world of customer service representatives into a highly desired job through changing the paradigm and empowering them to make decisions for the company on their own and out of the box business models based on fun and power – cheaper than raising the $11/hr pay rate.  They also pay you $2,000 if you quit after your initial training –  culture vs money (less than 1% take them up on that)
  • Once again bad incentives led to the creation of more bad actions demonstrated by paying facilities by the amount of bad emissions they eliminated .. guess what.. they just generated more of the bad emissions so they could get paid more for removing it – brilliant – like paying people to find errors in their program code.
  •  You need to incentivize people on dimensions that are valuable to them but cheap to provide
  • Remember the M&M rider story for Van Halen … you know, the one that required the hosting arena to remove all the brown ones from the bowl.  The authors claim this was just a way for Van Halen mgmt to quickly tell if they had read the entire rider.
  • In US college degrees get you 75% more pay
  • The authors set a trap for terrorists in their previous book enticing them to buy life insurance from a bank
  • They did have some interesting perspectives on the plus of autonomous vehicles – two of which was ability for the elderly to get to their medical appts and no need for a lot of parking spaces downtown because it could come pick you up
  • 14% of US adults can recite the 10 commandments – only 71% could even name one – perspective 25% can name Big Mac ingredients
  • Believe there a huge upside to quitting – this is where the authors and I firmly disagree (quitters never win, winners never quit).  I do not equate course corrections to quitting, but as soon as you let yourself take the easy route you can guarantee that this will be an option for every single problem you ever encounter
  • They didn’t give Richard Feynman credit for convincing the review pane the O-Rings failed in the cold causing the Challenger explosion

4 thoughts on “Book Recollection: Think I’ll Take Advice and Give Up”

  1. Thanks for the review! As you know, I am a HUGE fan of book reviews ever since I was in grad school reading the NYT Sunday Book Review section every week–nowadays I get them daily and in a standalone Saturday section from the WSJ, plus the added benefit of reading relatively unbiased reporting. I get 90% of my information, particularly historical information, from book reviews. And of course I’m talking about book reviews that are written by other experts in the field, where you get multiple facets and ideas.

    Do you know that in the end Feynman decided that the O-rings were not the ultimate cause of the Challenger disaster, and in fact released a dissenting paper on the findings of the commission? He decided it was weakness in the booster wall from too many bolt holes that produced a failure at the overlap where the O-rings were located. In any event he revealed in a later book that he was secretly fed information on the O-ring material problem throughout the proceedings of the commission from NASA engineers who did not trust their management. Which is why they were smart to bring on outside help.

    In that later book, Feynman said that when he was asked to be on the commission he hadn’t ever thought much about the Space Shuttle because in all his readings of scientific papers he had never seen any result from a Space Shuttle experiment. I’ve always thought of that remark whenever the subject of the International Space Station comes up. People tell me that the experiments are proprietary and the results are not available, but I doubt it. I don’t think much has come out of it other than studying ad nauseum the effects on the body of a long-term space environment, which gets you only so much.

    I rarely quit anything, but I will sometimes put something aside. But I won’t forget it, and I return sometimes years later to finish it up. I did stop challenging that one lady in Trivia Crack who continued to destroy me time after time, though. I think she was using paid cheats, or at least that’s what I’m hoping. But I haven’t forgotten, and since she’s older than I am I’m going to wait a number of years until she’s senile and go after her then. Not that I’m competitive or anything.



  2. Wow, I think that comment is longer than my entire post! I remember you telling me about your fascination with book reviews – I can see how you could get a quick synopsis of something without having to invest the time to actually read the book – that of course is not what I am suggesting regarding my recollections – I think of them more as if I have to go back and remind myself what key elements I gleamed from the book I can quickly reference this page rather than thumbing through the book. This also aligns with my inability to actually write in a book so this gives me a way to annotate without destroying the book itself. One of my quirks, but most of my reading material looks like it just came off of the store shelf – first thing I do is remove the dustcover and only use 3M tabs if I need to bookmark something for later. This might be a byproduct of having to resale my text books at the end of the year to try and recoup a serious dent in the checkbook.

    I had no idea about the Feynman followups – I’m going to have to change my entire perception of how that all came down. I just remember him sitting in front of an O-ring sitting in ice water during the investigation.

    I said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, I’ve even told my friends – my brother is the most competitive person I know even compared to me … those who know me can appreciate what that level looks like!


  3. Of course, I exaggerate for fun. I don’t think competitive is the right adjective to use, though. I’ve never gotten mad on a golf course or tennis court or anywhere, and in a direct one-on-one competition I’m just trying to do the very best I can and have fun. I have deliberately missed questions in Trivia Crack to avoid shutting out people in the first round. And most of my jokes are about me screwing up or looking stupid somehow.

    What I really am is personally competitive–competitive to do well myself–and I think the correct term for this is obsessive. I do think I’m the most obsessive person I know in that I really tend to dig into whatever I’m doing, whether it’s birding or nomography or astrolabes or data visualization software or anything else I take up. That’s the reason I delayed so very long and deliberated before starting back into bird photography, because I knew I would pursue it intently once I did and it would take up quite a lot of my free time. And of course I’m happy when either one of us gets a new bird.

    But I tell people that being obsessive helps me to get things completed when there are really tedious tasks at certain points such as wrapping up a project. I am also able to concentrate intensely for long stretches while working on something, and I learn about these niche areas in great depth. I think both of us have that obsessiveness except you have more personal discipline (as in training for runs) and can manage multiple projects, while I have essentially no discipline and have single-minded bursts of activity on one obsession at a time. I’m the definitive single-tasker.

    Well, that’s the most I’ve ever talked about myself psychologically, I think. Certainly not something I like to do. 🙂



  4. okay… we’ll go with obsessed (translated as self competitive) … by definition of multiple projects do you mean, birding, photography, drawing, insect walks, cartoons and work? hmmmm seems like a juggle to me. My psychology sums up in four words – I hate to fail. What I lack in ability and education I try to compensate with stamina (and now you know why I run)

    thanks for the comments!


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