By Charles Duhigg
Reviewer: Bob Moore
This was a challenging book for me since I tend to be a scanner. SMARTER FASTER BETTER is basically a narrative of the author’s discoveries from scores of interviews with neurologists, business people, government leaders, and psychologists. I realized very quickly I had to establish the reason I was reading this book, as a reviewer, a learner, thought leader, coach or teacher. I decided it was for all of those reasons.
SMARTER FASTER BETTER is an intense 285-page book, plus 75 pages of Notes in which the author identifies a series of key ideas that help expand on his in-depth research without cluttering the narrative. Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for The New York Times is skillful at his craft and periodically injects himself into the case studies as an example of what he had just learned about the subject—why some people are more productive than others.
The brief answer is that successful people make the right choices necessary to succeed with less effort. After the first pass skimming the book with a highlighter in hand, it was easier to become absorbed by the stories which came from every corner of life. Each chapter has a unique combination of anecdotes and science illustrating concepts that clearly have much to offer individuals and companies striving for greater productivity.
I was particularly pleased to find the book well organized into eight key productivity concepts:
4. Goal Setting
5. Managing Others
6. Decision Making
8. Absorbing Data
Duhigg draws from the latest findings in neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics—as well as the experiences of CEOs, educational reformers, four-star generals, FBI agents, airplane pilots, and Broadway songwriters. He goes on to explain that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently. They view the world, and arrive at their choices, in profoundly different ways.
I found some of the most valuable information in the “Appendix: A Readers Guide to Using These Ideas” which begins on page 269. Each of the eight concepts is presented in a linear (no-narrative) format within gray boxes [I really like books that have gray boxes to highlight the most relevant lessons]. Then, on page 282 (nearing the end), I found this succinct summary of the essence of the subtitle of the book—The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business:
“If you can become more motivated, more focused, better at setting goals and making better decisions, then you’re a long way down the path to becoming more productive. There are, of course, other ideas in this book that also help when we are managing other people, when we are trying to learn faster, when we need to innovate faster.”
Then, Duhigg presents the following concepts each with an easily applied nugget (within a gray box): To Make Teams More Effective, To Manage Others Productively, To Encourage Innovation, and To Absorb Data Better.
Lessons Learned on Productivity and Success
Another choice nugget appeared on page 284:
“What’s most important, throughout all these concepts, is the foundational idea undergirding these lessons, the tissue that connects the eight insights at the heart of this book: Productivity is about recognizing choices that other people often overlook. Productivity emerges when people push themselves to think differently . . . if you learn how to recognize certain choices that, to many, might not be obvious, then you can become smarter, faster, and better over time.” Duhigg closes the book with a comment, “We can all become more productive. Now you know where to start.”
I know where I will start—by reading the book again or at least scanning all the sections I highlighted. If you consider yourself a thought leader, I recommend getting your personal copy of SMARTER FASTER BETTER. Then, commit to working your way through the first 267 pages which I took a bite at a time in about a week.
You will not only have a sincere feeling of accomplishment, you will also understand the basis for what you discover in the “Appendix: A Readers Guide to Using These Ideas”. You will likely find, just as I did, at least one of “The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.”
About the Author
Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and the author of The Power of Habit. He is a winner of the National Academies of Sciences, National Journalism, and George Polk awards. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale College, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.