Think Like A Freak Book Review


I’m in the process of reading Think Like a Freak – by the authors of Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephn Dubner. Amazon summarizes the book as this:

Levitt and Dubner offer a blueprint for an entirely new way to solve problems, whether your interest lies in minor lifehacks or major global reforms. As always, no topic is off-limits. They range from business to philanthropy to sports to politics, all with the goal of retraining your brain. Along the way, you’ll learn the secrets of a Japanese hot-dog-eating champion, the reason an Australian doctor swallowed a batch of dangerous bacteria, and why Nigerian e-mail scammers make a point of saying they’re from Nigeria.

While I’m only on Chapter 2 – The Three Hardest Words in the English Language, I was most impressed about how uninformed the majority of us are and yet won’t admit. Not only are we uninformed, we pretend as if we are informed and make decisions or even predictions based on our limited perceptions. Despite all the bad predictions and all the people who have made them in a way that have adversely affected other humans, there seems to be a lack of punishment or even personal responsibility behind them.

“When bad predictions are unpunished, what incentive is there to stop making them?” the authors propose.

The second piece of his chapter that stood out to me as a marketer was Feedback. How do you know if you are or aren’t doing something correct without feedback. So the experiement in the book went like this.

The importance of feedback in making decisions


We asked companies about print ads. How often do they run, could they tell whether these ads were effective? Despite the fact these large corporations were paying for inserts every single Sunday in 250 markets for over 20 years, not one company could say they were effective.

Because these companies were running ads on some of the highest shopping days, they were ‘assuming’ the ads were working because people were buying more. The question asked was, were people simply buying more because it was a high shopping day. Nobody knew and nobody wanted to take the risk to find out. But….there was an incident where one company had an employee who forgot to call in the Sunday ad buys which resulted in no newspapers ads for an entire summer. When asked how sales were despite the failure, the company didn’t know – they didn’t think to look. When asked to look, they realized sales had remained the same despite having not showing print ads that summer.

The take away –

“To this day, on every single Sunday in every single market, this company still buys newspaper advertising –even though the only real piece of feedback they ever got is that the ads don’t work.”

That is crazy and yet that is exactly how most businesses are operated.

Fortunately, with digital marketing, we have the ability to track advertising a little more carefully and obtain feedback. While the systems aren’t perfect, we can monitor a lot of different variables to determine what we see is working.

So next time you ask – How Do You Know It Works? The answer is through Feedback. If you aren’t getting feedback in the form of real data, ask again.