How Can You Learn to Think Like a Freak?


For more on Stephen Dubner, read our chapter on him “How to Write a Runaway Bestseller,” in our book.

The Freakonomics Authors’ New Approach to Creative, Productive Thinking

The phenomenally successful Freakonomics platform–two bestselling books, a blog, a number one podcast, a radio show, and a consulting business–was built on the principle of looking at the world through the filter of economic theory.

Authors Steven Levitt, a behavioral economist, and Stephen Dubner, a journalist, believe that an “economic approach” to thinking shouldn’t just apply to economics, but to problem solving in general.

In their new book, Think Like a Freak, the authors show us that by applying these theories, we can all think a bit more productively, more creatively, more rationally.

Here are three ways Dubner and Levitt encourage us to “think like a freak:” Continue reading

What’s a Festival For?


Lightin’ Hopkins, photo Micheal Smith











The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival lineup is presented as a musical genealogy from roots to branches

Decades ago, a group of music lovers including Allison Miner, a transplant to New Orleans, put on the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival at a few open stages and a gospel tent in New Orleans’ Congo Square. The festival’s mission was to present the music and culture of New Orleans and surrounding areas, and to fulfill a quest that Miner, and she suspected others, were on, “for authenticity in a world that seemed increasingly manufactured.”


Mahalia Jackson, AP

Gospel great Mahalia Jackson wasn’t even booked for the event but showed up to perform because she heard about it.

Forty-four years later, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival has grown from a day-long event in the heart of the city to a sprawling 8-hour-a-day, 7-day, 12-stage, music, food, and cultural extravaganza at the Fair Grounds Race Course every early spring that attracts over half a million people.

Continue reading

Confessions of an Angel Investor











Yun-Fang Juan, Silicon Valley insider, angel investor and a former FaceBook lead engineer, has seen some questionable ideas turn into gold. You might have heard of them: Google, Facebook and WhatsApp.

The WhatsApp Lesson

Back in 2010, Yun-Fang Juan, a Silicon Valley insider and co-founder of Stealth Startup, was at a Mountain View taqueria with her husband Keith Chiem. The high-powered couple was sharing a meal with Brian Acton, a long-time friend, former Yahoo! colleague and best man at the couple’s wedding. Acton was working on a new messaging app on iOS that he said he could turn into a billion dollar business. The new app had a couple thousand users, a steadily growing user base, and the company wanted to hire more engineers. Acton was trying to recruit Chiem, and Chiem was interested. But with a background in statistics, Juan ran the numbers—doing a back-of-the-envelope analysis. Maybe Acton would be able to build a $100 million company, but she gave his chance of turning it into a billion company a multiple of 0.1%. After taxes, she estimated, her husband’s equity in the company might be one or two million dollars.

Now that might sound like a lot of money to most of us, but Juan who had worked at Yahoo! and Facebook and her husband had already cleaned up with Yahoo! stock and would do so with FaceBook holdings. So Juan told her husband: “If you want to work with Brian because he is a brilliant guy, do it. But it makes no sense to do it for the financial rewards.”

Juan’s husband passed on the offer.

Two months ago, Acton’s little messaging app, WhatsApp, sold to Facebook for $19 billion.

Juan called it an “expensive and humbling lesson.” It reminded her of times in the past when she had seen other business models with what at the time seemed to be limited potential—that is until they went on to become multi-billion dollar companies. Continue reading

How to Use the Science Behind Habits to Sell (Anything!) Better










We often think of our habits as quirky things we do over and over again without really thinking about them–twirling a lock of hair, checking a cell phone on the way out of the subway, leaving the toilet seat up or down. But when we are selling a product or service, those repetitive actions are exactly what we want people to indulge in.

Be sure that when someone plows land in Farmville or clears jelly off the board in Candy Crush–over and over again, because they can’t stop playing–there is the sound of joyous ka-chinging in the Farmville and Candy Crush boardrooms.

So is there a secret to triggering habits in people so that they’ll engage and keep engaging with whatever it is you create? Pete Trainor, Associate Director UX at SapientNitro, believes that there is. And in his recent fascinating SXSW Interactive talk, “The Neuroscience of Success,” Trainor shared some of the principles that he has distilled over the years from psychology, behavioral, and experimental economics and observations of the human animal: himself. Continue reading

The Circle and the Dot: A Metaphor for Life


What if a school principal told the truth about a test?

Because of the No Child Left Behind Law passed in 2002 our daughter and all of her classmates have spent the last couple of months preparing for tests that may (or may not) measure their intelligence and their ability to think critically.

Our daughter’s teachers have little idea what will be on the test. The test makers have given the schools very few details about what the questions will be or how they will be phrased. It’s something like training for a mystery Olympic event—on opening day you may be asked to pole vault, synchronize swim or run the 440.

The kids will sit their tables, taking these tests for 70 minutes a day for a total of six days.

By the way these kids are in third grade.

Continue reading

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Superachiever?


From “The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well” (Plume/Penguin)

For our book, “The Art of Doing,” we interviewed over three-dozen Superachievers in business, entertainment, the arts, tech, science and sports, about how they do what they do and discovered that talent is just the beginning. It’s what you do with that talent that matters. Find out if you have what it takes to be a Superachiever.

Buy “The Art of Doing” hereSignup for “The Art of Doing” free weekly e-newsletterFollow us on Twitter. Join “The Art of Doing” Facebook Community.  If you’ve read “The Art of Doing” please take a moment to leave a review here.

Some of the Most Fascinating Humans In New York, Collected In One Place

'This guy was dancing for tips on the sidewalk. I asked him to try and put all his skill into a single move, and this is what I got.' Brandon Stanton, "Humans of New York"

‘This guy was dancing for tips on the sidewalk. I asked him to try and put all his skill into a single move, and this is what I got.’ Brandon Stanton, “Humans of New York”

When Brandon Stanton’s photo project of the Big Apple’s interesting characters grew beyond his original vision, he followed it straight to bestsellerdom.

[Our original article on Brandon Stanton ran in Fast Company last Fall. Recently Brandon was at SXSW for a book signing for his best-selling book, Humans of New York, and a talk on everything he’s learned about audience building, crying alone in his bedroom, the magic of social media and the difficulties of standing out in a world where everyone has something to “like” and “share.” Brandon himself says that he thinks he “has some special insight into building a large following around a new idea. But may have just gotten lucky, and could be completely full of shit…”]

At 21 years old, Brandon Stanton—the creative force behind the immensely popular photo blog Humans of New York—had flunked out of college (earning a combined score of zero on his five courses). Kicked out of his parent’s home, he was doing drugs, working at a dead end job at Applebee’s and living in his grandparent’s basement in Atlanta, Georgia. He was also convinced that he was going to write a bestseller.

Stanton described the unanimous reaction of his friends and family at the time: “They all said, ‘What the hell is wrong with Brandon? What a loser!'”

But now, not even a decade later, Stanton, 29, has eventually achieved his dream with over three million blog followers and a #1 bestseller. Continue reading

How to Succeed at Failing: A SketchNote


When we interviewed superachievers for our book, we wanted to know how they had achieved their incredible success but in our conversations with them, something kept coming up that surprised us. As we dug into the chronologies of these people’s lives and careers, we found that even more than their triumphs, it was failure that actually shaped their stories of success. What is failure? What’s the science behind it? Is there an art to it? Why do some people collapse in the face of it while others actually profit from it?

It’s become our latest obsession. Continue reading

Art of Doing Talk at SXSW ’14: “The Power of Failure” Monday, March 10 Austin TX



What happened to Momofuku’s David Chang before he became a foodie god? What drove Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh to create one of the world’s greatest company cultures?

The high achievers we interviewed for our book failed more because they tried more. And because they tried more, they’ve been able to succeed at goals that they may have never imagined possible for themselves. In our talk at South by Southwest Interactive ’14 we’ll discuss some of the science and art of failure—everything from frivolous failures to 9/11—to find out how some people collapse in the face of failure while others use it as motivation.

Join us and/or spread the news. Follow us on Twitter to get reports from SXSW14. Continue reading

The Self-Assured, the Self-Critic, the C-Student and Other Failure-Resistant Archetypes



Your personality speaks volumes about how you’ll cope when setbacks happen. 

Do you have what it takes to bounce back from failure?

Cass Phillipps, has witnessed more flameouts than an American Idol. The San Francisco entrepreneur started FailCon, the first conference ever to ask successful founders, investors, designers and developers, “What’s gone wrong and how did you fix it?”

It was Phillipps’s own failure that inspired her to start the conference in 2009. When a startup she launched was flailing and she needed advice, she was frustrated by the smiley-faced “if you don’t have something self-promotional to say, don’t say anything at all” startup conferences she was attending. She didn’t need to know what to do in the face of success, but what action to take in the face of failure.

Since then at FailCon (which has now gone global), Phillipps has been witness to the confessionals of hundreds of self-professed failures, big fish (some of the biggest names in tech including PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and Zynga’s Mark Pincus), small fries, the famous, the infamous and everyone in between. She’s heard these failure testifiers stand up in front of a crowd and share their tales of tragedy and woe, for personal catharsis and the spread of useful knowledge of what to do and what not to do.

So who gets over failure best? Phillipps, who should know, offers Five Fail Survivor Archetypes: Continue reading