Failure Is Your Friend

Season 5, Episode 17

On this week’s episode of Freakonomics Radio: there’s a huge stigma attached to failure. But should there be? Perhaps we’re not thinking clearly about failure. Maybe failure can be your friend.

Also on this week's episode: in most countries, houses get more valuable over time. But in Japan, a new buyer often bulldozes the home. Why?

Failure Is Your Friend: A Freakonomics Radio Rebroadcast

This week's Freakonomics Radio episode is a rebroadcast of the episode "Failure Is Your Friend" (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

Failure Is Your Friend: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

This week’s episode is called “Failure Is Your Friend.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

This is a natural followup to last week's episode, "The Upside of Quitting." Why are so many people so reluctant to quit projects or jobs or relationships that have soured? One reason, Stephen Dubner argues, is that we tend to equate quitting with failure, and there’s a huge stigma attached to failure. But … should there be? In their new book Think Like a Freak, Dubner and Steven Levitt  argue that perhaps we’re not thinking clearly about failure. Failure, they say, can be your friend:

LEVITT: I always tell my students -- fail quickly. The quicker you fail the more chances you have to fail at something else before you eventually maybe find the thing that you don’t fail at.

The Three Hardest Words in the English Language: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

This week’s episode is called “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

So what are the three hardest words? Conventional wisdom suggests: "I love you." Readers of this blog recently offered up their suggestions of challenging three-word phrases. In their new book Think Like a Freak, Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt tell us that the hardest three words in the English language are "I don't know," and that our inability to say these words more often can have huge consequences.

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Avocado? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

This week’s podcast is about selective outrage -- why we get so upset over some things, and then not over others. It’s called “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Avocado?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

We start with Marius the giraffe. Marius lived at a zoo in Copenhagen. Zoo officials said he was a “surplus” animal: too genetically similar to other giraffes, and therefore he couldn’t breed. It was kinder, they said, to kill him. So they fed him some rye bread (“his favorite food”), shot him in the head, and dissected him in front of a crowd of onlookers, including kids. Next they fed his corpse to the lions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the world reacted with outrage.

How to Make People Quit Smoking: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called "How to Make People Quit Smoking." (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) The gist: the war on cigarettes has been fairly successful in some places. But 1 billion humans still smoke -- so what comes next?

In the U.S., roughly 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit. But when they try, some 90 percent of them fail. So what does get people to smoke less? Something must be working: the smoking rate in the U.S. has fallen by more than half.

Kenneth Warner, an economist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has been doing tobacco-policy research since the 1970’s. One of the most powerful smoking deterrents, he says, is making cigarettes more expensive.

“It’s Fun to Smoke Marijuana”: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “It's Fun to Smoke Marijuana." (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) In it, a psychology professor argues that the brain’s greatest attribute is knowing what other people are thinking. And that a Queen song, played backwards, can improve your mind-reading skills.

In the episode, Stephen Dubner talks to Nicholas Epley. Here’s how Epley introduces himself:

EPLEY:  I’m a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago. I’m in the Booth School of Business, and I study mind-reading.

Fear Thy Nature: A Freakonomics Radio Rebroadcast

This week’s podcast is a rebroadcast of a show about human nature and circumstance, “Fear Thy Nature.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) The episode is about how profoundly human behavior is influenced not only by our inner bearings but our outer circumstances. It centers on the fascinating show Sleep No More, created by the British theater group Punchdrunk; and the famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which student volunteers were asked to play the role of inmates and prison guards. What do the SPE and SNM have in common? Give a listen to find out.

Spite Happens

Season 4, Episode 3

This episode of Freakonomics Radio explores our surprising propensity for spite. We discover the gruesome etymology of the phrase “cut off your nose to spite your face” (it involves Medieval nuns cutting off their noses to preserve their chastity). Stephen Dubner and economist Benedikt Herrmann talk about so-called “money-burning” lab experiments, in which people often choose to take money away from other participants – even when it means giving up some of their own cash. Also: why do we take pleasure in harming others? So much so that we’re willing to harm ourselves in the process? The answer may lie in our biology: Freakonomics Radio producer Katherine Wells talks with biologist E. O. Wilson about whether spite exists in nature. Later in the hour, we head to Bogota, Colombia, where the mayor used unconventional methods to bring order to the city: he hired mimes to mimic and embarrass people who were violating traffic laws -- and it worked. Then, Stephen Dubner talks to Robert Cialdini, best known for his research on the psychology of persuasion, about how peer pressure, and good old fashioned shame, can greatly affect the way people behave.  

What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The episode is about spite. As in "cutting off your nose to spite your face" spite. That's where the nuns come in. Lisi Oliver of Louisiana State University tells us about the probable origin of this phrase.

You'll also hear Bo Jackson talk about a very costly decision he once made that most people would certainly think of as spiteful -- and from Dave O’Connor, executive producer of the documentary film You Don’t Know Bo.

The economist Benedikt Herrmann tries to measure spite in the lab (papers are here, here and here), while another economist (Steve Levitt) warns that the real world is more complicated than any lab -- and wonders, therefore, if pure spite even exists.