Stephen Dubner — The Art of Storytelling and Facing Malcolm Gladwell in a Fist Fight (#199)

stephen j dubner

“Storytelling has a power that goes well beyond the sum of its parts.”

– Stephen Dubner

Stephen J. Dubner (@Freakonomics) returns to the show. He 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 five million copies in 35 languages. He is the creator of the top-ranked Freakonomics Radio podcast.

His brand-new podcast, produced in collaboration with The New York Times, is Tell Me Something I Don’t Know It is equal parts game show, talk show, and brain-tease. I had a chance to experiment with this format as a “panelist” alongside Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a blast.

In this episode, we cover such diverse topics as:

  • Why cats wiggle their butts before they pounce
  • How to grow a podcast
  • If he thinks he could take Malcolm Gladwell in a fist fight
  • Economics and the President’s actual influence over the economy
  • How virtual reality might affect education
  • And much, much more

Please enjoy this round two with Stephen J. Dubner!

#199: Stephen Dubner -- The Art of Storytelling and Facing Malcolm Gladwell in a Fist Fight

Want to hear another podcast featuring Stephen J. Dubner? — Listen to this early episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. In this episode, we discuss the craft of brainstorming, narrative storytelling, and how to avoid wasting mental energy on meaningless nonsense (stream below or right-click here to download):

Episode 7: Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics

This podcast is brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service led by technologists from places like Apple. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years and now has more than $2.5B under management. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.

Check out, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2-5 minutes, and they’ll show you for free the exact portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Well worth a few minutes to explore:

This podcast is also brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. I have used them for years to create some amazing designs. When your business needs a logo, website design, business card, or anything you can imagine, check out 99Designs.

I used them to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body, and I’ve also had them help with display advertising and illustrations. If you want a more personalized approach, I recommend their 1-on-1 service. You get original designs from designers around the world. The best part? You provide your feedback, and then you end up with a product that you’re happy with or your money back. Click this link and get a free $99 upgrade. Give it a test run.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Stephen Dubner:

Twitter | Freakonomics Radio | Tell Me Something I Don’t Know | Facebook | Freakonomics website

Show Notes

  • Why do cats wiggle their butts before they pounce? [08:48]
  • How might storytelling improve the way lessons of hard sciences and other traditionally “boring” subjects are conveyed? [09:28]
  • Top tips for editing your podcasts to make them shorter without losing too much valuable information. [19:33]
  • Suggestions for growing the reach of a podcast. [23:15]
  • The origin of Stephen’s last name. [26:07]
  • What’s happening with the golf book Stephen and Steven were working on? [28:57]
  • What are the three books that had the biggest impact on Stephen? [31:26]
  • Stephen talks about why he chose a career in writing over one in sports or music (his other two passions). [33:07]
  • How did Stephen meet James Altucher and what makes James a good interviewer? [40:50]
  • Does Stephen think he could take Malcolm Gladwell in a fist fight? [42:24]
  • How will South Korea’s entry into the cryptocurrency game affect the dynamic of the market? [43:17]
  • What actual influence does a US president have on the economy? [46:13]
  • How will technology such as VR (virtual reality) affect education? [51:48]
  • What’s the best way to teach kids how to develop critical thinking and ask unusual questions? [56:55]
  • What Stephen learned from stamp collecting. [1:01:32]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

10 Replies to “Stephen Dubner — The Art of Storytelling and Facing Malcolm Gladwell in a Fist Fight (#199)”

  1. Stephen Dubner has a lot of interesting things to say but high pitch voices are neither soothing nor attractive. Listening to a podcast is a multi-sensorial experience that goes beyond great content and people’s voices matter.

    Thank you for having a calming low pitch voice Tim. You are not a perfect podcaster but you have redeeming qualities. I’m glad I refrained from listening to CBCnews live instead of the podcast : Stephan’s ideas about education were worth it and I don’t like listening to the news.

  2. Un mar de fuegos. Eduardo Galeano

    “Un hombre del pueblo de Neguá, en la costa de Colombia, pudo subir al alto cielo.

    A la vuelta contó. Dijo que había contemplado desde arriba, la vida humana.

    Y dijo que somos un mar de fueguitos.

    -El mundo es eso -reveló- un montón de gente, un mar de fueguitos.

    Cada persona brilla con luz propia entre todas las demás.

    No hay dos fuegos iguales. Hay fuegos grandes y fuegos chicos y fuegos de todos los colores. Hay gente de fuego sereno, que ni se entera del viento, y gente de fuego loco que llena el aire de chispas. Algunos fuegos, fuegos bobos, no alumbran ni queman; pero otros arden la vida con tanta pasión que no se puede mirarlos sin parpadear, y quien se acerca se enciende”.

    You are a fire.

  3. The fundamental problem with storytelling science is that truth should never get in the way of a good story, whereas the opposite is true of good science.

    Let a quote from Steven Pinker – regarding the Freak ‘theory’ of crime reduction – explain

    “Any hypothesis that comes out of left field to explain a massive social trend with a single overlooked event will almost certainly turn out to be wrong, even if it has some data supporting it at the time.”

    Much of what Gladwell, Dubner and Co. promote is not science, and is unfortunately labelled as such. With that being said, they tell damn good stories, and I read them religiously!

  4. Stamp collecting is a great hobby for young people. My dad who was the VP of BP Oil NA said he learned more from his stamps and that knowledge helped him in his job more than anything. It is all encompassing, politlcs,art ect.

  5. Tim, I have been a listener for a while and now I am in school again. I find myself actively sending and recommending your podcasts to classmates, teachers and friends. It’s been a whirlwind adventure given that I am an adoptive son of San Francisco just as you are. I am preaching your message daily, and trying to deconstruct a problem in sports management. I would really appreciate a signal for a better way to contact you, to ask you some questions as I think it would be fruitful for both of us. I am just asking for a short dialogue, nothing that will take up brain calories.

    As to this podcast, Dubner really opened my eyes to how to got his feet wet in New York, just after being a musician. And an athlete. I can relate. I will find myself reading his recommended reading and surely become a better follower.

    As Maija says, “Stephan’s ideas about education were worth it”. Truly fun way to cook my steak and eggs. Thanks Tim.

    Hope to hear back from you soon!

  6. Sick and tired of people describing schools as an industry! Yes load load up those children up as cannon fodder for industry! Oh and thanks for telling us about the way schools should be run…wait they tried what is being suggested here back in the 1970s in the U.K. It failed badly. Maybe it was because they didn’t have the internet back then!!!! Or virtual reality goggles?

    I was looking forward to this episode and now I just think If he is this ill informed about education what value do his other comments have?

  7. Really like this episode, big fan of Freakonomics as well as Tim. So it was good to hear Stephen answering questions instead of just asking them. Would be really interested in you interviewing the other half of the Freakonomics duo, Steven Levitt.