Smarter Faster Better: A book review by Bob Morris

Smarter Fasrter Better

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business
Charles Duhigg
Random House (2016)

Mastering what separates “the merely busy from the genuinely productive”

Duhigg sets the table: Various advances in communications and technology are supposed to make our lives easier. “Instead, they often seem to fill o0ur days with more work and stress. In part, that’s because we’ve been paying attention to the wrong innovations. We’ve been staring at the tools of productivity — the gadgets and apps and complicated filing systems for keeping track of various to-do lists — rather than the lessons those technologies are trying to teach us…This book is about how to recognize the choices that fuel true productivity…This is a book about how to become smarter, faster, and better at everything you do.”

He focuses on — and devotes a separate chapter to — “a handful of key insights” shared by hundreds of poker players, airline pilots, military generals, executives, and cognitive scientists who kept mentioning the same concepts again and again and again. In this book, he explores “the eight ideas that seem most important to expanding productivity.” Here they are:

1. Motivation: Make choices that place you in control of a situation. If empowered, you will speak and act more decisively.

2. Teams: Manage the how, not the who of teams. Send messages that empower others. Keep in mind this passage from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

3. Focus: Envision what will probably happen. What will happen first? Obstacles? How to avoid, pre-empt, or overcome them?

4. Goal Setting: Choose a stretch goal (a BHAG), then break that into sub-goals and develop SMART objectives.

5. Managing Others: Employees work smarter and better when they feel they have the power (see #1) to help make the right decisions about what to be done and how best to do it. They will be more motivated if convinced that others recognize and appreciated what they think, feel, and do.

6. Decision Making: Envision multiple futures as well as their potential implications and possible consequences. Obtain a variety of different (and differing) perspectives from those closest to the situation. Although this 360º process is helpful, you must be prepared to make the given decision.

7. Innovation: Combine new ideas in old ways and old ideas in new ways. Constantly challenge assumptions and premises. If they are sound, they will survive. Incremental innovation makes disruptive innovation even better.

8. Absorbing Data: When encountering new information, do something with it. Write it down. Read it aloud. Formulate Qs that it evokes. Put it to a small test. Ask others “Did you know that…?” Most new information is really unfamiliar information.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Duhigg’s coverage:

o Motivation (Pages 13-21 and 33-47)
o U.S. Marine Corps boot camp (22-31)
o Teamwork at Google (41-46, 50-51, and 65-68)
o Mental Models (88-93, 97-98, 101-102, and 277-279)
o Qantas Airways flight 32 and mental models (93-101 and 277-278)
o Prelude to Yom Kippur War (103-106 and 109-112)
o Stretch goals (125-128)
o Frank Janssen (134-139 and 161-165)
o Rick Madrid (139-144, 150-151, and 154-155)
o James Baron (145-150)
o Categories of culture (146-148)
o Productivity and control (153-155)
o Bayesian psychology (192-193)
o How Idea Brokers and Creative Desperation Saved Disney’s Frozen (205-215)
o West Sde Story (210-212, 216-220, and 223-224)
o Information blindness (243-247)
o Debt collection (247-252)
o Stretch goals paired with SMART goals (274-279)

In addition to his lively as well as eloquent narrative, I commend Duhigg on his provision of the most informative annotated notes that I have as yet encountered. I urge everyone who reads this brief commentary to check them out (Pages 293-368). They enliven and enrich his narrative in ways and got an extent that must be experienced to be believed.

The best journalists as well as the best leaders are terrific storytellers and that is certainly true of Duhigg. He anchors his reader in hundreds of real-world situations to illustrate key points. Dozens of poker players, airline pilots, military generals, executives, and cognitive scientists that he interviewed learned valuable lessons with regard to the dos and don’ts of being productive in life and business, especially when under severe duress.

I highly recommend Smarter Faster Better as well as Charles Duhigg’s previously published book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, also published by Random House.

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