The4thDave Reviews: “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Charles Duhigg

The key to productivity and success in life isn’t simply “working more and sweating harder,” writes Charles Duhigg, in the introduction to his newest book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets to Being Productive in Life and Business. It’s about “making certain choices in certain ways”–which requires changing how we see ourselves and the world around us, how we approach the choices we make each day, how we function and interact with others as leaders and teammates.

In Smarter, Faster, Better, Duhigg looks at 8 key concepts that highly successful and productive people grasp–sometimes intuitively. These ideas touch on the areas of motivation (including “locus of control,” something we’ve already talked about), goal-setting, focus, predicting future outcomes, and creating cultures inside teams and workplaces. He deals with the question of how we collect and interpret information in a way that is most useful, and how creativity often requires shaking things up in unexpected ways.

Duhigg’s latest offering takes a similar approach to writers like Malcolm Gladwell: he has obviously done a great deal of research (the end-notes section is extensive), but rather than flood the reader with pages of statistics and studies, he uses specific stories and anecdotes to encapsulate these ideas. This approach makes what could be an otherwise dry and dull presentation come to life and stick in the memory. Each chapter presents a new concept or group of concepts through the use of 2-3 “nested” stories. Duhigg brings each story to a point of conflict or transition, before shifting to a different but related narrative. This is both exciting and a little frustrating (in a good way). In any case, I found it to be a compelling approach.

One of my favorite chapters was the one on innovation and creativity. Here, Duhigg talks about the rocky creative process for the Disney blockbuster Frozen, as well as the development of the Broadway classic West Side Story. Through these narratives, Duhigg reveals how creative breakthroughs can require us to mash together disparate but familiar story elements in order to create something fresh and interesting; and sometimes, that creative process forces us to draw upon our own experiences and emotions to make our art more honest and compelling. And throwing in a little creative desperation due to time-crunch doesn’t hurt, either. Duhigg also suggests, via the Frozen story, that shaking things up, changing the dynamics of a situation, creates space for creativity to flourish, even if that means “killing your darlings” and letting go of some ideas that force us into a rut.

An unexpected treat is the appendix, in which Duhigg reveals how he incorporated some of these lessons himself during and after the writing of this book. He describes how his own use of mental modeling and shifting the locus of control helped him improve as a professional. It was helpful to see a first-hand example of these principles in action.

“In the end,” Duhigg writes in his conclusion, “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.” This book provides many good ideas for how we can make small changes to improve our daily decision-making and live more intentionally and effectively.

Final Verdict: Smarter, Faster, Better won’t change your life or transform your mindset. It’s not a magic bullet (no productivity book is!). But it is an interesting and thought-provoking read, and the stories Duhigg incorporates will stick with you and give you some great ideas for ways to tweak your methods and improve your productivity.

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Please Note: I was sent an electronic copy of this book by the publisher for the purposes of review. The preceding is my honest, unbiased opinion.

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