Friday, June 20, 2014

Freaks like to have fun

You too can have fun if you think like a freak. For a vast majority the idea of fun connotes that you aren't serious. In reality, however, there is no correlation between appearing to be serious and actually being good at what you do. A freak is what an ordinary is not and is therefore looked down upon by the ordinary, the vast majority.  

Barry Marshall was indeed a freak. Not convinced that ulcers in the stomach are caused by stress or spicy foods, this Australian doctor set out toward finding the root cause of illness rather than simply swatting away symptoms. The US$ 8 billion ulcer industry was not too pleased with what Marshall was up to. By infecting himself with ulcer, perhaps the only person to have done so, Barry Marshall was helped by his colleague Robin Warren in uncovering the bacterial cause of ulcer. For reliving ulcer patients from a lifetime of doctors’ visit and unrestricted consumption of expensive Zantac, both were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005. 

Not all freak activities could land you with a Nobel but being freak will surely make you do more of what you love to do. You will think about it before you go to sleep and as soon as you wake up, without carrying undue heaviness on your mind. A freak sees things from a literally new angle, often ends up gaining an edge in solving a problem. It is this relentless curiosity of an eight-year old in you that the world may not like, calling you a crank and even avoiding you, something that a freak should get accustomed to. 

Thinking a new angle can fetch you a fortune! A lean and thin Japanese, studying economics, could double the world record of eating maximum hot digs and bun (HDB) in 12 minutes. Before he entered the Coney Island contest, the record stood at little over 25 HDB and one could imagine 27 or even 28 HDB to be the new record. But the 23-year old Takeru Kobayashi ate 50 HDB, more than four hot dogs and buns per minutes for 12 straight minutes. In achieving such a rare feat, Kobayashi had thought about the problem from a new angle. Avoiding the obvious question:  How do I eat more hot dogs? Kobayashi had posed a different question: How do I make hot dogs easier to eat? Only be redefining the problem was he able to discover a new set of solutions.    

Clearly, both Levitt and Dubner continued to have fun ever since they published their first two books – Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics. The first two books simply used data to tell stories, throwing light on parts of society that often lay in shadow. Those who have read the previous books may find the latest a bit less exciting, as it is somewhat prescriptive. Though not a self-help book, this book in the series tries to offer some advice that may occasionally be useful. It seems the journalist Dubner had more say than economist Levitt in this book, ‘economics’ has disappeared in favor of ‘freak’ from the title, encouraging the reader to think a bit differently, a bit harder and a bit more freely.    

Yet, it would be hard to imagine if anyone will aim the penalty kick at the center even when it has been statistically proven that the goal keepers jump toward the kicker’s left corner 57 per cent of the time, and to the right only 41. But sometimes in life going straight up the middle might be the boldest move. Who knows! The authors contend that the only way to have fun is to let go the conventional wisdoms that torment us; let go the artificial limits that hold us back; and let go the fear of admitting what we don’t know. Think Like A Freak makes interesting, absorbing, engaging, and somewhat reflective reading. 

Think like a Freak
by Stevan D.Levitt and Stephen J.Dubner
Allen Lane, UK/India
Extent: 268, Price: Rs. 499

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