Fareed speaks with Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of Freakonomics and the new book Think Like A Freak, about new ways of looking at the world’s problems. Watch the video for the full interview.
You have an example, a hot dog eating contest, where you kind of redefine the contest, right?
Levitt: Exactly so. Takeru Kobayashi showed up at the Coney Island hot dog contest. And the world record was 25 hot dogs. He was an economics major, and he put the ideas we're talking about here and he broke it down. So he started by redefining the question. Everyone else was trying to figure out how to eat more hot dogs, could they stretch out their stomach by drinking water or fasting and binging? And he asked a slightly different question, which was how can I eat a single hot dog more efficiently and faster? And so he realized he should separate the bun and the dog, he should tear the dog in half and he came out there and he doubled the world record from 25 to 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. And it was an unbelievable change, and it's the equivalent of Usain Bolt running the 100 meter dash in 4.7 seconds, which is what Dubner says is between a taxi and a cheetah.
Dubner: A New York taxi and a cheetah depending on what the traffic is like in New York City...
And part of what helped him was that he didn't worry about what the previous record was and things like that. And you say that we could all do this with something as simple as pushups. Explain.
Dubner: Yes. So a very, very simple example of this is let's say you were…really, really out of shape and you decided “I want to do something – let me do some push-ups today.” And I get down and I think how many am I going to do? Let me try 10. And once you set that top in your mind, you get down and you start getting tired when you're doing 10, probably seven or eight – mentally and physically tired.
Now imagine the same person decided “I'm going to do 20.” When do you start to get mentally and physically tired? Not around seven or eight. You'll blow right through 10 before you realize how out of shape you are. So that's what we suggest, is that people figure out which limits or barriers are artificial and ignore them, throw them away.