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Stephen J. Dubner
Co-Author, "Freakonomics"
01:28

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Stephen J. Dubner

Stephen J. Dubner 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) and SuperFreakonomics (2009), which have sold more than 5 million copies in 35 languages. Their latest books are When to Rob a Bank... and Think Like a Freak (2014).

Dubner is also the author of Turbulent Souls/Choosing My Religion (1998), Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper (2003), and the children's book The Boy With Two Belly Buttons (2007). His journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Writing, and others.

Freakonomics, published in April 2005, was an instant international best-seller and cultural phenomenon. It made numerous "books of the year" lists, a few "books of the decade" lists, and won a variety of awards, including the inaugural Quill Award, a BookSense Book of the Year Award, and a Visionary Award from the National Council on Economic Education. It was also named a Notable Book by the New York Times. SuperFreakonomics, published in 2009, was published to similar acclaim, and also became an international best-seller.

The Freakonomics enterprise also includes an award-winning blog, a high-profile documentary film, and a public-radio project called Freakonomics Radio, which Dubner hosts. He has also appeared widely on television, including a three-year stint on ABC News as a Freakonomics contributor. He also appeared on the reality show Beauty and the Geek. Alas, he played neither beauty nor geek.

Dubner's first book, Turbulent Souls, was also named a Notable Book, and was a finalist for the Koret National Jewish Book Award. It was republished in 2006 under a new title, Choosing My Religion, and is currently being developed as a film.

The eighth and last child of an upstate New York newspaperman, Dubner has been writing since he was a child. (His first published work appeared in Highlights magazine.) As an undergraduate at Appalachian State University, he started a rock band that was signed to Arista Records, which landed him in New York City. He ultimately quit playing music to earn an M.F.A. in writing at Columbia University, where he also taught in the English Department. He was an editor and writer at New York magazine and The New York Times before quitting to write books. He is happy he did so.

He lives in New York with his wife, the documentary photographer Ellen Binder, and their two delicious children.

Transcript

Stephen Dubner: There’s an irony in trying to get people to do their best work — but particularly to try new things and to innovate — in that very often the kind of characteristics that are common to someone who will have a good new idea have no overlap with the characteristics that are common to someone who’s really good at presenting in meetings. So it’s kind of like the difference between like sales and R&D, right? So the people that are in your sales or marketing division in a company are very different kinds of person than the people you have in R&D or something else like that.

The problem is if you do the traditional route of trying to encourage innovation by having meetings and, let’s say, let’s brainstorm and talk about what you think a good idea might be, the problem is that the people who might be very best at innovating are often the people who are very worst at presenting in a meeting like that or selling their ideas. One piece of evidence in that argument is the fact that so many true innovators don’t work in groups. You have to fail a lot when you innovate. And failure in a public setting can really hurt your self-esteem and your self-confidence. So you need to create an environment where people really can be empowered to fail.

 


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