The Tim Ferriss Show, Episode 7: Stephen Dubner, Co-Author of Freakonomics

41 Comments

apple_orange_freak

Stephen J. Dubner (@Freakonomics) is an award-winning author, journalist, and radio and TV personality.

He is best-known for writing, along with the economist Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics (2005), SuperFreakonomics (2009), and Think Like a Freak (2014), which have sold more than 5 million copies in 35 languages.

In this podcast, we discuss dozens of topics, including: his writing process, religion, parenting, favorite documentaries, and much, much more.

I recommend checking out his new book, Think Like a Freak. If you liked the assumption-busting, myth-testing stories of Freakonomics or any of my books, you’ll enjoy it.

Click here to subscribe/listen to the show on iTunes.
Click here to subscribe to the show via RSS (non-iTunes feed).

If you have a second, please leave me an honest rating and review on iTunes by clicking here. It will help the show tremendously, including my ability to bring on more incredible guests. Thanks!

Please let Stephen (@Freakonomics) know what you enjoyed most.

Show notes are below, courtesy of reader Kasperi — thanks for posting in the comments!

Selected Show Notes and Links

Questions:

-How do you collaborate with your co-author getting the material together for a narrative?
-How do you make a good story? How does Stephen start brainstorming a story?
-How Stephen ended up choosing his own religion
-From the book, which two principles would Stephen most like to teach to his children?
-Discussion about Stephen’s children & Tim’s thoughts about family and kids
-As a mentor, how would Stephen improve his student’s thinking?
-Stephen talks about how it’s sometimes easier to learn from bad examples than great examples
-The surprising origin of the word ‘sophisticated’
-How to overcome “mental masturbation”– wasting mental energy on meaningless nonsense
-In the book, which were the principles that didn’t make it in, but could have made it in alternate universe?

Rapid fire questions:

-What are Stephen’s favorite movies/documentaries?
-What does the first hour of Stephen’s day look like?
-Does the clothing you wear affect your mood or attitude?
-What are Stephen’s favorite sources of reading material?
-If Stephen could provide his younger self one or two pieces of advice, what would those be?

Movies mentioned in episode:

Seven Up!
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058578/

Websites mentioned:

New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/

Wall Street Journal
http://online.wsj.com/

Marginal Revolution
http://marginalrevolution.com/

Freakonomics (Find Stephen here)
http://freakonomics.com/

Books mentioned:

Think Like A Freak

Levels of The Game

Companies/organizations mentioned:

Uber
http://www.uber.com

Quantified Self
http://quantifiedself.com/

Posted on: May 19, 2014.

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41 comments on “The Tim Ferriss Show, Episode 7: Stephen Dubner, Co-Author of Freakonomics

  1. Stephen is a great writer, researcher and story teller; however, he is also a fantastic marketer. Freakonomics has become a brand in itself (these guys are consultants, speakers, academics . . . ) and Stephen’s relentless pushing will ensure its continued growth.

    If you have a slight edge on a relatively interesting topic, the Freakonomics model is a good one to emulate!

    Like

  2. Great episode, Tim!

    Show notes:

    -How do you collaborate with your co-author getting the material together for a narrative?
    -How do you make a good story? How does Stephen start brainstorming a story?
    -How Stephen ended up choosing his own religion (Judaism)
    -From the book, which two principles would Stephen most like to teach to his children?
    -Discussion about Stephen’s children & Tim’s thoughts about family and kids
    -As a mentor, how would Stephen improve his student’s thinking?
    -Stephen talks about how it’s sometimes easier to learn from bad examples than great examples
    -The surprising origin of the word ‘sophisticated’
    -How to overcome “mental masturbation”, wasting mental energy on meaningless nonsense
    -In the book, which were the principles that didn’t make it in, but could have made it in alternate universe?

    Rapid fire questions:

    -What are Stephen’s favorite movies/documentaries?
    -What does the first hour of Stephen’s day look like?
    -Does the clothing you wear affect your mood or attitude?
    -What are Stephen’s favorite sources of reading material?
    -If Stephen could provide his younger self one or two pieces of advice, what would those be?

    Movies mentioned in episode:

    Seven Up!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058578/

    Websites mentioned:

    New York Times

    http://www.nytimes.com/

    Wall Street Journal

    http://online.wsj.com/

    Marginal Revolution

    http://marginalrevolution.com/

    Freakonomics (Find Stephen here)

    http://freakonomics.com/

    Books mentioned:

    Think Like A Freak

    Levels of The Game

    Companies/organizations mentioned:

    Uber
    http://www.uber.com

    Quantified Self

    http://quantifiedself.com/

    Like

      • You asked, we delivered (not on time, but with time)…
        Show notes copied above from Kasperi Apell; times are only approximate

        – [3:25] How do you collaborate with your co-author getting the material together for a narrative?
        – [7:30] How do you make a good story? How does Stephen start brainstorming a story?
        – [16:50] How Stephen ended up choosing his own religion (Judaism)
        – [28:40]From the book, which two principles would Stephen most like to teach to his children?
        – [33:50] Discussion about Stephen’s children & Tim’s thoughts about family and kids
        – [37:00] As a mentor, how would Stephen improve his student’s thinking?
        – [38:20] Stephen talks about how it’s sometimes easier to learn from bad examples than great examples
        – [42:30] The surprising origin of the word ‘sophisticated’
        – [43:35] How to overcome “mental masturbation”, wasting mental energy on meaningless nonsense
        – [49:45] In the book, which were the principles that didn’t make it in, but could have made it in alternate universe?

        Rapid fire questions:

        – [56:30] What are Stephen’s favorite movies/documentaries?
        – [57:40] What does the first hour of Stephen’s day look like?
        – [1:00:35] Does the clothing you wear affect your mood or attitude?
        – [1:03:15] What are Stephen’s favorite sources of reading material?
        – [1:05:50] If Stephen could provide his younger self one or two pieces of advice, what would those be?

        Like

  3. Crazy just finished the book and was going to recommend you get him on the podcast. Also keep doing as many of the small essay podcasts as you can do.

    Like

  4. The way he starts the day contradicts many suggestions from other people, that is, not to check email first thing in the morning.

    How can he wake up at 5 AM?

    Like

  5. I loved this one! #timtimtalktalk #4thewin

    My selfish and hopeful future podcast guests:
    Nate Silver
    Malcolm Gladwell
    Chris Anderson (TED)
    Dana White
    Dr. John Berardi (Precision Nutrition)
    John Borthwick (Betaworks)
    Peter Thiel
    Reid Hoffman
    Sean Parker
    Greg Glassman (CrossFit)
    Bill Maris
    MG Siegler
    Kevin Rose (again, but laser focused on the startup process, VC, Google ventures)
    Eric Friedman & James Park (Fitbit)

    Just to name a few…

    Like

    • Joe, I second your great list and would add:

      Robert Greene
      Chase Jarvis
      Walter Isaacson
      Gary Vaynerchuk

      Hopefully we can hear some of these great thinkers and doers in future episodes of #timtimtalktalk

      Like

  6. Parenting! You’ve just moved to the top of my to listen list, though I keep going back to the idea of being a more Stoic parent, so you’ve taught me something new about parenting without intending to!

    Like

  7. I would like to comment on the advice to the younger self: “do not be afraid” because my younger self had not understood the complexity of this little sentence.
    It is something people say often and these words are so misleading in my opinion. It does not seem that we are in control of this feeling, more that we are reacting to this feeling. My advice to my younger self would be: if you feel fear, watch it, notice it and try to find the source. In this fear might be something you desire most. Step up to it and do things you feel afraid of and not only things you feel comfortable with!
    Instead of doing nothing the result might be: – you fail, – you love it, – you like it, – you do not like it, – you change your mind, … but this will always take you further.

    Greetings from Germany!
    Heike

    Like

  8. Hi. I would like to read another book from Tim Ferriss with the title “The 4 Hour Investor”. Are there any plans in the pipe ? Would be another megaseller !

    Like

  9. Tim- Great podcast again! I’m downloading the Freakonomics books now. Really enjoying listening to these while I workout. Keep em coming!

    How’s the month of no alcohol going?

    Like

  10. Hi Tim,

    I am really enjoying your podcast so far. Keep up the great work. I also really enjoyed the short format show. On the short format episodes, it would be nice to see a breakdown of links like you have for your long episodes.

    Thanks and keep up the great work.

    Brad

    Like

  11. Only 20 comments on such a unique podcast surprises me.
    Tim is a “Maker” and that’s why these podcasts are exceptionnal.
    He doesn’t ask questions all interviewers ask again and again on the result.
    But dig into the “How” genius step by step make results.
    I loved at 7mn42sec Tim asks how Stephen brainstorms with the co-author…
    That’s a dream… finally a maker asks questions, and BTW Stephen Dubner clearly connected to Tim more and more during the interview.
    Real conversation… at a point Tim asks 55mn42sec for a part two and the voice of Stephen clearly shows he’s very enthusiastic to.
    These podcasts are unbelievable by their contents of course but even by teaching this art of communicating with great people.
    I always knew Tim’s perhaps biggest talent is learning from great people.
    Finally these podcasts are occasions to hear how he structures and articulates questions…
    I just want these podcasts to never end…
    And Tim is also tactful and alternates not easy questions like at 23mn53sec on the “influence of social environment… at New York that opens lot of conversations otherwise you wouldn’t have…” (at what Stephen starts by saying very good question) and lighter questions. Knows when stay silent for 5-6 minutes and when give his own opinion on the question.
    Every element to create real conversation and answers we would never have elsewhere.

    Tim, I hate compliment you so much like a groupie, but these podcasts are FANTASTIC and I mean it ;-)

    For your guests I hope iTunes gives you number of ALL your subscribers in all countries iTunes accounts and no underestimate how many listen to your podcasts.
    For example a quick tour of some iTunes countries on number of 5 stars comments on your “The Tim Ferriss Show” gives:
    474 comments USA
    67 Canada
    43 UK
    12 Germany
    6 France
    2 Ireland
    etc…
    After only 1 month start.

    Elon Musk is my dream guest, he’s a maker, so Tim asking his 80/20 questions to Elon Musk… If that episode happens, after I can die with a smile ;-)

    Like

  12. Any interviews with people looking to improve education would be amazing. I know for a few years you have mentioned really wanting to get into the process of improving the educational system.

    Like

  13. There’s no non-rude way to say this but is it possible to remove or at least shorten the theme song? It seems that every podcast good or bad has a really bad theme song: marc maron, the sound of young america, bret easton ellis. radiolab’s theme song is 4 seconds and they are a professional radio show that specializes in sound production, and their podcast song is still bad! This may be a sub-freakonomics topic but I bet there is some weird unseen evolutionary advantage to having a terrible theme song for the podcast, but I can’t see it. If others could politely chime in whether the theme song also bothers them or not, I think that would make the case more convincing. Thanks!

    Like

    • Hearing Arnold’s voice right before the show always cracks me up, so if this is a vote, I’ll opt for “keep the theme song”, or at the very least: “keep the Terminator quote”…

      “I’m a cybernetic organism – living tissue over a metal endoskeleton.”

      Priceless. :)

      While we’re at it, I love the theme song from the 4-Hour Chef Audiobook (which is free, by the way)

      Finally -and then I gotta get back to chasing other distractions-, check out The 4-Hour Chef Soundtrack

      So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye!
      Hasta la vista, baby!

      Like

      • Arnold soundboard drops are hilarious, agreed, but coupled with the Bourne clip it makes it sound like a scientologist morning zoo. I will say that I’ve never heard of anyone refusing to hear a podcast because the theme song was bad, so that means there is likely no real incentive to remove them, just like no one has ever refused to work a fast food job just because of having to wear a funny hat, and so funny fast food hats and bad theme songs proliferate. (In TV, bad theme songs take up valuable commercial time and so largely have been eliminated.)

        Like

  14. Tim, You’ve done a book on business, fitness, eating…. You’ve looked at the means to succeed and create financial freedom and health and body. The means to learn. Covered body and mind.

    Seems like spirit would be next, so…

    Your Challenge should you wish to accept: write another best selling book, this time, on spirit.

    Title: “4 hour soul?” “4 hour spirit?”, “4 hour prayer?” Or perhaps a play on words on the expression of coming through in the last moment, the “11th hour miracle?” Collecting information on people who have gone into spontaneous remission and miracle like cures, healing, and spirituality and such?

    Just some ideas to plant the seed for you to run with.

    You could include some of the healing the body rapidly from exercise and injury that might briefly rehash things you already covered, and then continue (ice baths, running form, proper rest, Potassium&Magnesium, etc) new concepts. Massage, light biking (lactic acid release) Cherry Juice, blood sugar regulation, various anti-inflammatory from ibuprofen to arnica plant and natural and herbal cures. And then you can refer to the Recovery from serious injury in 4HB too. The article for potential tactics for defeating cancer could be included.

    Then explore healing the mind and cover the different ways to create mental clarity and boost creativity. (Your bonus chapters in 4HB briefly go into mental supplements).

    Then enter the new realm of developing spiritual clarity and “oneness” consciousness. Throw in some matrix metaphors while you’re at it.

    My primary suggestion is to investigate the most interesting channel on YouTube I’ve seen.

    http://youtube.com/user/jonathanlives

    And I think maybe exploring some Buddhism practices and others as well. Not sure if you could really be objective and scientific as to the result you get from different spiritual quests and practices.

    I’m sure you have many more ideas, and are plenty busy, just getting the ball rolling!

    Looking forward to whatever project you have up next!
    -Mike

    Like

  15. Loving the podcasts, Tim. Also love that you’re giving the guests time to speak. There are too many podcasts (including some you’ve been on) where the hosts are too content to talk about themselves.

    If I could suggest a guest, I’d say Tom Bissell. A great, underrated writer, a good interview, interested in creativity, the craft of writing, and travel.

    Like

  16. Tim,

    Your interviews are great. A couple suggestions:

    You say “mm hmm” a lot in the background while your guest is talking. I do the same when I’m in conversation. However, when you are interviewing on a podcast, it can be very distracting. It is best to stay quiet while the guest talks so there is no distraction for the listener.

    Also, I like when you wrap in practical recommendations. Maybe ending each interview with a series of questions like “what are the three best things to do for X.” is great.

    Keep up the good work. Also, get Christopher Nolan on there. He is a true innovator in his field and I really think you could dig into some cool things.

    All the best,
    -Chris
    Engineer, IP Attorney, 4 hour fan.

    Like

  17. I found his insights into religion and parenting to be very interesting. I always like to hear about someone’s story who chose a different path than their family. And not just in terms of career. It’s hard for many people to chose a different religion than what they were brought up with. Some chose to change for understandable reasons, and some do it because they just want to be different for the sake of being different. I like it when I hear it’s because of conviction.

    I also loved the way he described his relationships with his children and how much they differed from each other. Raising children is like a lifetime balancing act, and you never know what the outcome will be.

    Like

  18. Great interview, and yes, it really hit a rhythm towards the middle. Learning how to interview, is a learning too.

    An avid listener to the freakonomics podcast, so fascinated to learn:

    – Two co-authors do a lot of their work remotely, with exception of brainstorm

    – Complete willingness to re-think the question. For example, what lesson to teach your children (answer: 2 different ones, because son and daughter are so different) Another example, what was the best idea that just barely did not make the books (answer: the moral compass went from 30 pages to 1/2 page, but still made the book)

    – Great research on guest to know that he re-adopted his faith, that completely turned the interview into a verbal jam session

    – Yes, freakonomics is a complete platform. My highest blog visit day was with a small mention on the topic of management consultants.

    Like

  19. Stephen’s point about your moral compass reminds me of something Bertrand Russell said in a Face to Face interview in 1959, in response to the question, “What would you think it’s worth telling future generations about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned from it?”:

    “When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts.”

    Like

  20. Tim, Stephen – thanks guys. Tim – the Podcast series is fantastic and just great, unusual questioning – getting to know Stephen and his thinking, and you and your philosophies through this hour together. It’s an honour listening – a highlight of my week tuning in. Thank you! Kevin

    Like

  21. Dear Tim, really love your blogs! 2 general comments (not only relating to this blog) – feel free to completely ignore them of course: 1) sometimes your questions can be quite long which makes the shows less “snappy” and 2) sometimes your reply to a response is not really acknowledging the answer but just a way to move on to your next question (e.g. “yes that’s true” in a monotonous way). Just wanted to provide my feedback. Keep up the great work! JM

    Like