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Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

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A new book that explores the science of productivity, and why, in today’s world, managing how you think—rather than what you think—can transform your life.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2016

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Charles Duhigg

43 books4,818 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,433 reviews
Profile Image for Kate.
250 reviews51 followers
June 30, 2016
After reading Duhigg's first book - 'The Power of Habit' - and loving it, I raced to read this one as soon as I got my hands on an advance reader's copy through NetGalley. 'The Power of Habit' had an active influence on my life and changed how I approach trying to achieve my goals, so I expected great things from 'Smarter Faster Better' as well.

Alas, it failed to deliver. At the end of reading this book, I'm actually a bit confused about what it was about: instead of having one cohesive theme, each story read like little bits of mini advice that didn't connect to a larger picture. "Smarter faster better" is not, in and of itself, a theme. (Even if it could have been, Duhigg didn't make it one.) What exactly did Duhigg want me to take away from this book? I'm left unsure. Despite numerous opportunities to draw connections between the chapters, each could have been a stand alone blog post - they don't read as anything following an overarching idea.

My biggest qualm, however, is the research is nothing new: it's old ideas from other sources, repacked to be sold yet again. Chapter 1 simply repackages Carol Dwek's idea of the growth mindset - even listing a quote by her but referring to her ideas as the concept of an "internal locus of control." It's interesting he referenced Atul Gawande, because in chapter 3, he uses an example of the airplane industry that almost perfectly mirrors one of the chapters in Gawande's book, 'The Checklist Manifesto.' Chapter 5 explores NUMI and The Toyota Way - a story told again and again and again, not only in mainstream psychology books but on mediums such as the This American Life radio show. And chapter 7 - dear god, Pixar must be tired of being interviewed for all these books about creativity and problem solving and teams. (And anyone who hasn't heard the story of the Post-It note at this point must be living under a rock.)

Missed connections, no solid idea, and basic repackaging of other "pop psychology" books without presenting anything unique or new to the reader. If you've read absolutely nothing in this genre, you'll enjoy the book; if you've read anything at all in the genre, this isn't worth your time.
Profile Image for Donna Luu.
616 reviews16 followers
March 27, 2016
Some of the anecdotes are interesting, but the book is much too long. Let me save you many hours: making choices improves your motivation; if you're a manager, make it possible for team members to participate and make suggestions; use mental models to increase focus; use both short and long term goals; use forecasting/probability to improve decision making; improve creativity by mixing things up; and if you want to learn better, use the information and make it hard to absorb (it will stick better). You're welcome.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
219 reviews36k followers
December 27, 2016
This is not a book you should read on a plane. As part of the chapter on Focus, Charles Duhigg brings his stellar storytelling skills to describing both the final minutes of Air France Flight 447 (which crashed into the Atlantic in 2009), and Qantas Flight 32 which "investigators would later deem ... the most damaged Airbus A380 ever to land safely. Multiple pilots would try to re-create [pilot] de Crespigny's recovery in simulators and would fail every time." It's gripping stuff and I was super glad to be on the bus heading home when I read it rather than flying somewhere, even if I did almost miss my stop because I was so engrossed.

Flight reading recommendations aside, this was another good book from Duhigg. I did find that it was sometimes hard to pull out easy-to-remember insights from the chapters as I was reading though. I'm very glad that Duhigg included the Appendix when he put the lessons he had learned into practice as that helped reinforce his points. Unfortunately, some of the example stories were familiar so I felt like I was crossing known territory. It was also interesting how much of this book reminded me of the Amazon Leadership Principles.

Some notes:


"The right norms [types of behavior] could raise the collective intelligence of mediocre thinkers. The wrong norms could hobble a group made up of people who, on their own, were all exceptionally bright."

Google in their two year research into what makes teams successful found that how teams work matters more than who is on them. Most importantly, teams need psychological safety. And psychological safety comes down to two things:

- by everyone feeling that they have an equal voice, that everyone feels they can speak up ("equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking"), and

- that the team has "'high average social sensitivity' - a fancy way of saying that the groups were skilled at intuiting how members felt based on their tone of voice, how people held themselves, and the expressions on their faces."

(There was also another research study mentioned by Duhigg with a brief reference to "The good teams also contained more women." Not that I'm biased or anything...)

"To create psychological safety, Brock said, team leaders needed to model the right behaviors. There were Google-designed checklists [apparently, there are dozens of tactics] they could use: Leaders should not interrupt teammates during conversations, because that will establish an interrupting norm. They should demonstrate they are listening by summarizing what people say after they said it. They should admit what they don't know. They shouldn't end a meeting until all team members have spoken at least once. They should encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in nonjudgmental ways. They should call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion."


Study by MIT researchers about a firm's most productive workers found that the superstars worked on less projects than other employees (five projects compared to 10 - 12 that others were working on). "The superstars weren't choosing tasks that leveraged existing skills. Instead, they were signing up for projects that required them to seek out new colleagues and demanded new abilities. That's why the superstars only worked on five projects at a time: Meeting new people and learning new skills takes a lot of additional hours."

Superstars also tended to work on assignments in their early stages. This is when a project is also more information rich. They were exposed to more people, ideas and information than other people.

They were also much more prone to generate mental models. "Finally, the superstars also shared a particular behavior, almost an intellectual and conversational tic: They loved to generate theories - lots and lots of theories, about all kinds of topics, such as why certain accounts were succeeding or failing, or why some clients were happy or disgruntled, or how different management styles influenced various employees. They were somewhat obsessive, in fact, about trying to explain the world to themselves and their colleagues as they went about their days."

"To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge. When you're driving to work, force yourself to envisage your day. While you're sitting in a meeting or at lunch, describe to yourself what you are seeing and what it means. Find other people to hear your theories and challenge them. Get in a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate what's next. If you are a parent, anticipate what your children will say at the dinner table. Then you'll notice what goes unmentioned or if there's a stray comment that you should see as a warning sign."


Totally agree with this. "'Creativity is just connecting things,' Apple cofounder Steve Jobs said in 1996. 'When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they've had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.'"

The creative process: "We can create the conditions that help creativity to flourish. We know, for example, that innovation becomes more likely when old ideas are mixed in new ways. We know the odds of success go up when brokers - people with fresh, different perspectives, who have seen ideas in a variety of settings - draw on the diversity within their heads. We know that, sometimes, a little disturbance can help jolt us out of the ruts that even the most creative thinkers fall into, as long as those shake-ups are the right size."

To become a broker, do 3 things:
- Pay attention to your own experiences, how they make you think and feel. "Look to your own life as creative fodder, and broker your own experiences into the wilder world."
- "Recognize that the panic and stress you feel as you try to create isn't a sign that everything is falling apart." (Adam Grant also talks about this in Originals)
- Keep some distance from what you create. Don't let the relief of a creative breakthrough blind you to looking for alternatives. "... regain that critical distance by forcing ourselves to critique what we've already done, by making ourselves look at it from a completely different perspective, by changing the power dynamics in the room or giving new authority to someone who didn't have it before."

Absorbing data:

When you have to do something in order to be able to take in information, it makes you learn more and remember more. Example of how using disfluency helps you learn more/absorb more data. - Taking notes by hand rather than typing them means you remember much more about what is said by a lecturer (or in a meeting). (Study published in 2014 by researchers from Princeton and UCLA)

"If you want to lose weight, force yourself to plot those measurements on graph paper and you'll be more likely to choose a salad over a hamburger at lunch. If you read a book filled with new ideas, force yourself to put it down and explain the concepts to someone sitting next to you and you'll be more likely to apply them in your life. When you find a new piece of information, force yourself to engage with it, to use it in an experiment or describe it to a friend - and then you will start building the mental folders that are at the core of learning."
Profile Image for John Matthews.
2 reviews6 followers
April 5, 2016
It's hard to resist a book entitled "Smarter, Faster, Better," arguably a more marketable title than "Dumber, Slower, Inferior." The latter though is a more accurate summation of how I felt after slogging through this.

If you're fond of anecdotal contradictions from which insightful lessons – let alone actionable takeaways– are scant, have at it.

Take, for instance, Mr. Duhigg's retelling of Golda Meir's Director of Military Intelligence. His clarity, decisiveness, and ability to separate intelligence signal from noise earn him heaps of praise for forestalling defense build-up. "Be decisive" seems like fairly unimpeachable, if well-trodden advice.

Until it backfires when an unprepared Israel is caught offguard in "the most traumatic event in [its] history" (the Yom Kippur War). What exactly is the lesson here? Decisiveness and clarity are the mark of a good leader... until someone becomes *too* decisive?

This is hardly practical given that the Goldilocksian appraisal of what constitutes "just right" decisiveness if only available in hindsight.

The Jack Welch era at GE gets a mini-hagiography for its "S.M.A.R.T." criteria (business goals should be "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timeline" based). Duhigg commits pages upon pages lauding S.M.A.R.T.'s benefits. Until it's revealed that SMART made the company incredibly short-sighted and performance suffered. He then advocates something different from S.M.A.R.T. called "FLEX." So are we supposed to be applying SMART or FLEX? I don't know, and I'm not sure Duhigg does either.

Aspiring business managers looking for lessons from GE's S.M.A.R.T. debacle will be hard pressed to find anything beyond Duhigg's inability to hew to a consistent management thesis.

Other reviewers have pointed out how Duhigg draws conclusions from other historical incidents that are at odds with what other researchers have concluded (notably, Air France 447 and Rosa Parks' sit-in). History appears to be ripe for molding events to fit one's pop-psych explainer du jour.

Did Air France 447 crash because the pilots were cognitively tunneling (as Duhigg asserts) or because instrumentation showed contradictory readouts (as the official investigation asserts)? The answer depends on whether you're writing a lucrative book about cognitive tunneling.

There is an appendix which, thankfully, finally, offers some valuable advice: e.g. to generate motivation, assert control and remind yourself why whatever goal you're working toward is meaningful. That this beneficial advice doesn't really surface until the end says much about the book.

To Duhigg's credit however, I channeled his motivation advice (reminding myself why doing this has meaning) – specifically, to note that this book is really dumb – appears to have worked. It made me write this review.
Profile Image for Amir Tesla.
161 reviews669 followers
September 20, 2018
This book could be written in less than 100 pages. But the way Duhig weaves the ideas into relevant stories helps a lot with the solidification of the material.
So much so that after reading the book I can recite all the key ideas easily.

This book is (supposed to be) about productivity. The first four chapters is allotted to the subject but the rest of the book is mostly about effective management, team work and how to spark innovation.

I enjoyed the book and have learned many important ideas from probabilistic thinking, and establishing psychological safety for effective team management ... to mental models, etc.

Extensive review to come.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 30 books80 followers
February 13, 2016
Kudos for using great stories to get across key concepts. If you want to be productive, you'll need to make some key choices that other people don't seem to know are possible. Those choices include how you choose to exercise control, connecting even the most mundane tasks with bigger purposes, learning to build mental models of the future and analyze whether they came into being, and more. But don't take my word for it. Instead, make these concepts concrete and part of your repertoire by reading Duhigg's examples of plane crashes, assembly line miracles, kidnappings, and more.

Thanks, NetGalley, for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Leah.
647 reviews87 followers
July 16, 2019
Wow. This book was actually amazingly interesting to me. I will forever go through my life with what I have found in this book. A must read!!!

It's similar to Malcolm Gladwell style books where the author makes a point and walks you through studies that prove that point. In this case, this book is all about how improving your productivity levels and becoming smarter thinkers.

My expectations were high because I enjoyed the Power of Habit but at the same time my expectations were skeptical because of the reviews.

Even though I took a bunch of notes, these are only notes on the first half of the book lol One day when I re-read I'll add more to the notes.

- Productivity, put simply, is the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least
wasted effort. Itʼs a process of learning how to succeed with less stress and struggle. Itʼs about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way.
- Krulak began reviewing studies on how to teach selfmotivation, and became particularly intrigued by research, conducted by the Corps years earlier, showing that the most
successful marines were those with a strong “internal locus of control”̶a belief they could influence their destiny through the choices they made.
Locus of control has been a major topic of study within psychology since the 1950s. Researchers have found that people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame
themselves for success or failure, rather than assigning responsibility to things outside their influence. A student with a strong internal locus of control, for instance, will attribute good
grades to hard work, rather than natural smarts. A salesman with an internal locus of control will blame a lost sale on his own lack of hustle, rather than bad fortune.
“Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success, higher self-motivation and social maturity, lower incidences of stress and depression, and longer life span,” a
team of psychologists wrote in the journal Problems and Perspectives in Management in 2012. People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends,
stay married longer, and report greater professional success and satisfaction.
In contrast, having an external locus of control - believing that your life is primarily influenced by events outside your control - “is correlated with higher levels of stress, [often]
because an individual perceives the situation as beyond his or her coping abilities,” the team of psychologists wrote.
- It wasn't that wards with strong teams were making more mistakes. Rather, it was that nurses who belonged to strong teams felt more comfortable reporting their mistakes. The data indicated that one particular norm - whether people were punished for missteps - influenced if they were honest after they screwed up.
- As her research continued, Edmondson found a handful of good norms that seemed to be consistently associated with higher productivity. On the best teams, for instance, leaders
encouraged people to speak up; teammates felt like they could expose their vulnerabilities to one another; people said they could suggest ideas without fear of retribution; the culture
discouraged people from making harsh judgments. As Edmondsonʼs list of good norms grew, she began to notice that everything shared a common attribute: They were all behaviors that created a sense of togetherness while also encouraging people to take a chance.
“We call it ʻpsychological safety,ʼ ” she said. Psychological safety is a “shared belief, held by members of a team, that the group is a safe place for taking risks.” It is “a sense of
confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up,”
Edmondson wrote in a 1999 paper. “It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal
trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”
- The researchers eventually concluded that the good teams had succeeded not because of innate qualities of team members, but because of how they treated one another. Put
differently, the most successful teams had norms that caused everyone to mesh particularly well.
“We find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a groupʼs performance on a wide variety of tasks,” the researchers wrote in their Science
article. “This kind of collective intelligence is a property of the group itself, not just the individuals in it.” It was the norms, not the people, that made teams so smart. The right norms could
raise the collective intelligence of mediocre thinkers. The wrong norms could hobble a group made up of people who, on their own, were all exceptionally bright.
- Reactive thinking is at the core of how we allocate our attention, and in many settings, itʼs a tremendous asset. Athletes, for example, practice certain moves again and again
so that, during a game, they can think reactively and execute plays faster than their opponents can respond. Reactive thinking is how we build habits, and itʼs why to-do lists and
calendar alerts are so helpful: Rather than needing to decide what to do next, we can take advantage of our reactive instincts and automatically proceed. Reactive thinking, in a
sense, outsources the choices and control that, in other settings, create motivation.
But the downside of reactive thinking is that habits and reactions can become so automatic they overpower our judgment. Once our motivation is outsourced, we simply react.
- People who know how to manage their attention and who habitually build robust mental models tend to earn more money and get better grades. Moreover, experiments show
that anyone can learn to habitually construct mental models. By developing a habit of telling ourselves stories about whatʼs going on around us, we learn to sharpen where our attention
goes. These storytelling moments can be as small as trying to envision a coming meeting while driving to work̶forcing yourself to imagine how the meeting will start, what points you
will raise if the boss asks for comments, what objections your coworkers are likely to bring up̶or they can be as big as a nurse telling herself stories about what infants ought to look
like as she walks through a NICU.
- If you want to do a better job of paying attention to what really matters, of not getting
overwhelmed and distracted by the constant flow of emails and conversations and interruptions that are part of every day, of knowing where to focus and what to ignore, get into the habit of telling yourself stories. Narrate your life as itʼs occurring, and then when your boss suddenly asks a question or an urgent note arrives and you have only minutes to reply,
the spotlight inside your head will be ready to shine the right way.
To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge. When youʼre driving to work, force yourself to envision your day. While youʼre sitting in a meeting or at lunch, describe to yourself what youʼre seeing and what it means. Find other people to hear your theories and challenge them. Get in a pattern of forcing yourself to anticipate whatʼs next. If you are a parent, anticipate what your children will say at the dinner table. Then youʼll notice what goes unmentioned or if
thereʼs a stray comment that you should see as a warning sign.
- However, if our urge for closure is too strong, we “freeze” on our goals and yearn to grab that feeling of productivity at the expense of common sense. “Individuals with a high need for
cognitive closure may deny, reinterpret or suppress information inconsistent with the preconceptions on which they are ʻfrozen,ʼ ” the Political Psychology researchers wrote.
When weʼre overly focused on feeling productive, we become blind to details that should give us pause.
It feels good to achieve closure. Sometimes, though, we become unwilling to sacrifice that sensation even when itʼs clear weʼre making a mistake.
- By the 1980s, this system had evolved into a system of socalled SMART goals that every division and manager were expected to describe each quarter. These objectives had to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and based on a timeline. In other words, they had to be provably within reach and described in a way that suggested a concrete plan.
- Such systems, though useful, can sometimes trigger our need for closure in counterproductive ways. Aims such as SMART goals “can cause [a] person to have tunnel vision, to focus more on expanding effort to get immediate results,” Locke and Latham wrote in 1990. Experiments have shown that people with SMART goals are more likely to seize on the easiest tasks, to become obsessed with finishing projects, and to freeze on priorities once a goal has been set. “You get into this mindset where crossing things off your to-do list becomes more important than asking yourself if youʼre doing the right things,” said Latham.
- Numerous academic studies have examined the impact of stretch goals, and have consistently found that forcing people to commit to ambitious, seemingly out-of-reach objectives can
spark outsized jumps in innovation and productivity.
- Stretch goals “serve as jolting events that disrupt complacency and promote new ways of thinking,” a group of researchers wrote in Academy of Management Review business journal in 2011. “By forcing a substantial elevation in collective aspirations, stretch goals can shift attention to possible new futures and perhaps spark increased energy in the organization. They thus can prompt exploratory learning through experimentation, innovation, broad search, or playfulness.”
There is an important caveat to the power of stretch goals, however. Studies show that if a stretch goal is audacious, it can spark innovation. It can also cause panic and convince
people that success is impossible because the goal is too big. There is a fine line between an ambition that helps people achieve something amazing and one that crushes morale. For
a stretch goal to inspire, it often needs to be paired with something like the SMART system.
- This lesson can extend to even the most mundane aspects of life. Take, for instance, to-do lists. “To-do lists are great if you use them correctly,” Timothy Pychyl, a psychologist at
Carleton University, told me. “But when people say things like ʻI sometimes write down easy items I can cross off right away, because it makes me feel good,ʼ thatʼs exactly the wrong way
to create a to-do list. That signals youʼre using it for mood repair, rather than to become productive.”
The problem with many to-do lists is that when we write down a series of short-term objectives, we are, in effect, allowing our brains to seize on the sense of satisfaction that
each task will deliver. We are encouraging our need for closure and our tendency to freeze on a goal without asking if itʼs the right aim. The result is that we spend hours answering
unimportant emails instead of writing a big, thoughtful memo because it feels so satisfying to clean out our in-box.
- So one solution is writing to-do lists that pair stretch goals and SMART goals. Come up with a menu of your biggest ambitions. Dream big and stretch. Describe the goals that, at
first glance, seem impossible, such as starting a company or running a marathon.
Then choose one aim and start breaking it into short-term, concrete steps. Ask yourself: What realistic progress can you make in the next day, week, month?

Profile Image for Michael Payne.
63 reviews68 followers
March 22, 2016
“Be the change” was Gandhi’s enduring advice to realize our ideas through action. In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg gives us a roadmap for just that.

Duhigg spells out why we should all have a “bias toward action” as a precursor to creative results. He gives compelling data of how visualizing our results, in fact help us achieve the desired outcomes.

Every team and every manager should read with particular note the Google insights from their People Operations’ studies. If your manager talks too much, or listens too little, you should send them a copy. If your hiring practices skew toward A-list schools over A-rated results, you should question if your company is valuing pedigree or performance?

If you would like to change the future, a best practice is charting your course by writing down measurable steps along the way. This book is a must read for every team and manager that would like a data-based foundation of actionable steps to improve your job satisfaction and your results.
Profile Image for Howard.
1,178 reviews73 followers
February 28, 2022
4.5 Stars for Smarter Faster Better (audiobook) by Charles Duhigg read by Mike Chamberlain.

This was a wonderful study in being more productive. There are lots of great examples of productivity on a individual basis all the way up to large corporations. I really found this fascinating.
Profile Image for Aman Mittal.
Author 1 book66 followers
February 13, 2016
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explained why a person does what he does. He is out with a new book this time, entitled— Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive and applies same relentless level of details, with numerous research studies and interviews, makes this one too, highly informative.

Unlike The Power of Habit, Smarter Faster Better offers a variety of chapters, each different from the other in terms conceptual illustration and every chapter’s locus is on the key ideas of expanding productivity. Some elements related to productivity discussed in this book are the mental state of a person’s mind in a particular situation. Then comes decision making part. Duhigg explains the importance of creating mental models to take control of a situation through various interviews including Marine Corps, Google, the original team that created Saturday Night Live, General Electric.

For enhancing decision making, Duhigg suggests one should involve probabilistic possibilities of a significant outcome in terms of both negative or positive. That’s the fundamental of calculating odds. Along with that, the author has also enhanced on how data is important to us and how an organisation of any form can learn something from it by its implementation.

When I saw the book, I liked the overall idea of the book as I was impressed by Duhigg’s previous book. In conceptual terms this book doesn’t fail to offer. The writing is good, the research studies and interviews are well in-depth. The suggested examples for a particular element related to productivity are informative and situational.

The book failed to appeal on the concept of productivity as whole to me. It started well but then I felt some dragging of related elements. The concept of productivity is a vast feature and I don’t think that there can be limited formulative options to a person when implementing it in his daily work. Due to this reason, every chapter is left as a chapter in itself and fails to connect to the whole concept the book is related to. In other terms, there cannot be a definitive conclusion to this book and author fails to show that too.

2 out of 5!
Profile Image for Arjun Subramanian.
4 reviews26 followers
December 25, 2016
A compilation of old ideas and insights recycled into a book. Charles Duhigg did not deliver. Every chapter was longer than it needed to be and filled with feel good filler material and stories. The book was saved from a 1 or 2 star rating by chapter 6 on decision making which touched on the very important and less often covered topic of forecasting. I was surprised to see an insightful introduction to thinking about the future as probability streams. There is a whole book there that I wish had been written.

The Book in Three Sentences

Productivity isn’t about being efficient or sweating harder but skillfully making choices. Psychological safety (freedom to fail/recover, be heard) and social sensitivity are extremely important when working on creative endeavors. Thinking about the future as a stream of probabilities that all exist until one comes true will maximize your odds of favorable outcomes over time - learn to think in bayesian fashion and practice playing poker.
Profile Image for Bibliovoracious.
339 reviews28 followers
February 8, 2019
I'm always wary of second books. You can hear the publisher "this book is blowing off the shelves, have you got a followup?", and feel the the effort and speed "you gotta get this out while you're hot!". The writer is doing a book tour for the first book and trying to get chapter drafts done from the hotel room.
However, this follow-up to the fantastic The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business is also excellent. High impact stories are the real world examples (literally high impact-plane crashes both horrific and narrowly averted) to illustrate brain phenomena (cognitive tunneling and mental modeling, etc), the understanding of which can help the reader become more directed, effective, and successful.
It's an excellent co-volume to The Power of Habit, with more science and techniques for personal productivity, and a fair bit on group dynamics and leadership, that I found especially useful.
Profile Image for Liza Fireman.
839 reviews144 followers
November 27, 2016
I read this after loving The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. A book that I loved and gave 5 stars to. This one was as far as day and night.

This book was not as well written, and did not wrap the topics well, but that is the least of the problems. Even the story about Frozen wasn't engaging (and I have read about Pixar in so many other books already). I think the main thing about this book that it feels like the advice you get for your diet. You already know what you need to do, so the advice is pretty useless. And the number of people that can live up to this advice (especially if they need it) is so small. And as the diet advice, it brings nothing knew. Nothing at all!

But moreover, I had a huge problem with the book. The book mostly went around two topics that I personally know well: Google's culture and Yom Kipur war. I found so many wrong examples and stories there, that I couldn't stand the book at all. How much time did Duhigg actually spend with the relevant people before writing this book? I am not sure, except not enough. And I don't feel that I will read his next book with the trust I had on the first one.

Personally, I would say that the leader role in the open team collaboration and developing people is a strong one, more than most books empathize (and here there is no exception). We need to work on better leadership, that will groom the people, and coach them upwards. And we need to work on self leadership, that will allow people to take the empowerment and do something good with it. (And this is all outside this book, there are many others that explain that more clearly and simply and a great example is Ken Blanchard).

For better book about Google's culture, you should read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (it is also wrong, but at least very funny and doesn't try to be right). For better books about teams read Patrick Lencioni's books (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable and The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Management Fable About Helping Employees Find Fulfillment in Their Work). And for good management read Kenneth H. Blanchard (he is too simplistic, but the best that I found. and they are concise and give the right message. e.g. Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute and The One Minute Manager). And of course Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't, the book about better (that does talk about leadership and successors) and makes an amazing work related to research (unlike the above).
2 stars, and I feel so super generous.
Profile Image for Ryan.
527 reviews
May 22, 2016
Following his previous book, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg (New York Times) has written an interesting book on productivity and success at home and at the workplace. Taking real life case studies, Duhigg examines what it means to be productive and common trends in smart, productive, successful people. To this end, Duhigg gives eight common trends that promote productivity. For motivation, he explains that having an internal locus of control (believing control comes from the inside, not the outside) tends to increase productivity. Teams should have a sense of psychological security to succeed. Productive individuals tend to focus quickly on the problems before them and set both smart and stretch goals. Other productive individuals are able to manage others and make decisions using Bayesian psychology. Innovation is crucial to success and can be achieved through a few different means. Finally, manipulating and working with data engages individuals and promotes success.

The book is well written and broken out by chapter and section in a logical way. As with his previous bestseller, Duhigg gives real anecdotes and case studies that proves the importance of the topic at hand. Typical chapters start with the beginning of a story or study, and he ends the chapter with the resolution to the story. This highlights the research in the middle sections and drives home the point of the chapter. Even if you’re not looking for lessons on productivity, the research and anecdotes about IBM, commercial airlines, Disney’s Frozen, public schools, Saturday Night Live and predicting the future in poker is extremely interesting. This isn’t a self-help book; you won’t be more productive by reading this, but you will gain insight into individuals who are productive or successful with a fun, well-researched read.
Profile Image for Mario Tomic.
159 reviews309 followers
September 19, 2016
If you're a big fan of the book "The Power of Habit" you're going to love Smarter Faster Better. It's a very practical summary of ideas on productivity and how to organize your life to manage your time and energy more efficiently. My favorite part of the book is the one covering self-determination theory from the science of motivation. The 2 sentences that I would like to point out are: "The trick to motivation, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control." and "Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control." This one really hit home, as well the other big ideas on productive innovation through creative combinations of proven ideas from different areas. Lastly, the final chapter covering the importance of data, and how to use the scientific method to be more productive is something a lot of us forget. Smarter Faster Better didn't disappoint, it's a great book and it will make you more productive.
Profile Image for Joshua.
56 reviews1 follower
December 1, 2016
Do you enjoy reading disjointed out-of-sequence storylines?

Do you enjoy reading anecdotes about tragedies and phenomena that have a tenuous connection to whichever point the author is trying to convey?

Do you enjoy asking yourself questions such as "what exactly is this book about", "what is the overall narrative here", and "that is interesting, I didn't know that about Air France 447 but could everything that happened really be attributable to the failure of the pilots to create a mental model"?

If you enjoy the above...then, my friends, this is the book for you. Kind of like a Quentin Tarantino film where you're still struggling to paste together a plot from utter discombobulation, this book will pull you in different directions with little more than 10 minutes at the end to try and tie it all together.

Don't get me wrong, the storytelling is great and sheds light on past events that were blurry, but don't expect anything actionable as was the case with "The Power of Habit".
Profile Image for Brandon Forsyth.
891 reviews146 followers
March 22, 2016
A totally great book that does nothing for me personally. I can see people loving this, but it's just not my cup of hot cocoa. There's lots of fascinating stories that drive home the points Duhigg is trying to express, but there's almost too many - I found myself getting lost in multiple narratives, and the book sometimes feels like a thrilling rollercoaster that stops to examine some interesting studies and pore over analytics before getting you back to saving that hostage or finding out how to save FROZEN (spoiler: it's by putting a woman who actually has a sister in charge of a movie about sister relationships).
Profile Image for Melania 🍒.
540 reviews86 followers
August 19, 2019

I appreciated the examples in here a lot. The presented cases are super interesting and the way the author linked them all together was super cool. I flew through it, once started I didn’t want to put down the book.
But thinking back on it I realize that the life changing advises aren’t so life changing after all and I didn’t got much to apply on my day to day life. But maybe that’s just a me thing. I’m still happy I got a change to read it.
Profile Image for Jacob.
407 reviews115 followers
May 15, 2021
Unedited notes and quotes:
You know when you're stuck in traffic on the freeway and you see an exit approaching and you want to take it even though you know it will take longer to get home? That's our brains getting excited about taking control. It feels better because you feel like you're in charge. A useful method for triggering motivation: Find a choice, almost any choice that allows you to exert control... Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice matters less than deciding that we are in control.

Internal locus of control (believing that your life is within your control) vs external locus of control (believing that things mostly just happen to you). "Telling 5th graders they have worked hard has been shown to activate their internal locus of control, because hard work is something we decide to do. Complementing students for hard work reinforces their belief that they have control over their surroundings. The other half were told, you must be really smart at these problems. Complementing students at their intelligence activates an external locus of control. Most 5th graders don't believe they can choose how smart they are. So telling young people they are smart reinforces their belief that success or failure is based on something outside of their control."

We can help ourselves and others strengthen our internal locus of control by rewarding initiative, congratulate people for self-motivation, celebrate when an infant wants to feed herself. We should applaud a child that shows defiant self-righteous stubbornness and reward a student who finds a way to get things down by working around the rules... Our mind can learn and remember how good it feels to be in control. Unless we practice self-determination and give ourselves rewards for subversive assertiveness our capacity for self motivation can fade... We need to prove to ourselves that our choices are meaningful. When we start a new task or unpleasant chore we should take a moment to ask ourselves, "Why?". Why are we forcing ourselves to climb this hill? Once we start asking ourselves why, those small tasks become a constellation of meaningful projects, goals and values. We start to recognize that we are genuinely in control of our own lives.

Self motivation is a choice we make because it is part of something bigger and more rewarding than the immediate task that needs doing.

Mental models. Habitually building mental models by telling ourselves stories about what's going on around us. Envisioning interactions or imagining what you expect. Narrate your life as you are living it and you encode those experiences deeper in your brain. Practice visualizing what you're about to do.

"Companies look for people who describe their experiences as some kind of a narrative. It's a tip off that someone has an instinct for connecting the dots and understanding the world at a deeper level." - I actually don't think this is the correct analysis of what telling your narrative is, but I do think it's still what people want to hear... Oftentimes "your narrative" is subject to a radical oversimplification or a reduction of important elements in order to allow others to more easily get a grasp of things (referred to as the narrative fallacy). "The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding."
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

To increase the productivity of your creative process:
Be sensitive to your experiences. How do things make you think and feel. Steve Jobs put it: "The best designers are those who have thought more about their experiences than other people."

Critique what you've already done or let others that wouldn't normally critique have the power and authority to critique. As long as the disturbance is the right size for the stage of the creative process it is a positive thing.

Disfluency helps you to internalize and remember information (the handwritten notes vs typed notes study). Force yourself to put a book down and explain the concepts to someone else and you will be much more likely to apply it in your life. When you find a new piece of information force yourself to engage with it, to use it in an experiment or describe it to a friend.

A study asked volunteers to list reasons why to buy a VCR. After they come up with a bunch they asked them to come up with reasons why NOT to buy a VCR. They couldn't come up with as many and many said they were likely to buy a VCR soon. They flipped it and the same thing happened the other way around. The people said they were unlikely to buy a VCR and couldn't come up with reasons to buy one after first listing reasons against it. Once establishing an initial frame for making a decision people struggle to come up with arguments against it. The frame of questions makes a huge difference. If we force ourselves to disrupt our existing assumed frames we can start to see things from fresh vantage points. Our brain wants to find a simple frame and stick with it, the same way it wants to make a binary decision. That's why when you're buying a car you start thinking 'do I want the power windows or the gps?' instead of thinking 'am I sure I can afford this car?'

One of the best ways to deny our brains the easy options we crave is to use some sort of system to reframe the decisions. Making information more disfluent paradoxically makes it easier to understand. Stop and do something with new data. Talk through decisions with others. Take an opposing viewpoint to the one you have assumed.

Smart plans and stretch goals combined help us to best accomplish big things. Stretch goals are bigger goals that you want to accomplish like, "Write and illustrate my graphic novel". A smart plan is a more bite-sized chunk that I can measure and complete with a certain timeframe. Like "By tomorrow I will storyboard the second scene" or "Over the next week I will collect reference photos for each the next chapter. If I can't find a particular photo I will pose for one myself."

Bayesian Instincts are something he talks about as a way to better understand the likelihood of certain outcomes as you make a decision. You can hone your Bayesian instincts by seeking other's experience and ideas. He talks about deciding whether or not to work on a show and basically creates a matrix of possible outcomes (put in a lot of work and not much comes of it, put in a little work and it is a hit, etc.). Then he assigned basic percentages to those outcomes and then talked to friends to better understand and refine those percentages. He also realized that there were pieces he hadn't factored in like how enjoyable the experience would be for him. This was a pretty good case study for making a decision about something in a systematic way.

The Appendix to this book is a pretty great little read. It sums up most of the book in a spark notes style way.
Profile Image for Robert.
1,490 reviews102 followers
April 17, 2023
I was a big fan of The Power of Habit so I was quite happy to give this one a listen but ultimately I didn't find it as impactful- either I already knew what to expect from his writing style, or I'm just that much older and more cynical. There are some interesting stories that kept my attention throughout, though, so I can recommend though 10+ hours is maybe a little more than was needed to get the various points across.
Profile Image for Yesenia Cash.
227 reviews18 followers
May 11, 2020
I enjoyed the power of habit much much much more than this.
Profile Image for Joshua Guest.
291 reviews62 followers
May 19, 2021
It’s not easy to write a good business book. That’s why so many business books are so bad. The best ones tend to be written by scholars who have enough crossover writing skills to engage the layperson. The second best group (and it pains me a bit to admit this) tends to be journalists (see Gladwell, Brooks, Colvin, and now Duhigg). This particular cohort has the capacity and the curiosity to read lots and lots of scientific journal articles, find the gems, find good illustrative stories to demonstrate the gems, and then writing about them in a way that’s readable for the rest of us. It’s not a perfect method. But I find it preferable to those who simply take stories from their career and generalize them into unreadable tripe.
Profile Image for Deago.
208 reviews21 followers
February 7, 2017
3.5 dari 5 Bintang.

Awalnya cukup sulit mencerna buku ini, dengan bahasa yang berat dan cukup sulit diterapkan, apakah saya benar-benar ingin mencobanya? kalau tidak, apa gunanya?

"Produktivitas adalah perkara membuat keputusan-keputusan tertentu dengan cara-cara tertentu" Hal. 282

Tapi buku ini ditulis oleh Charles Duhigg!

Ada hal yang menarik ketika Charles Duhigg menulis buku dan mencoba memengaruhi kita. Ia akan membukanya dengan sebuah kasus yang amat menarik. Contohnya:
1. Kecelakaan pesawat A330 di Paris
2. Film "Frozen" yang terasa sangat hambar saat dilakukan tes oleh pihak disney 18 bulan sebelum penayangan.
3. Bagaimana Annie seorang prof. memenangkan kejuaraan poker.. dan masih banyak lagi

Charles Duhigg kemudian menjaga atensi pembaca dengan memberikan informasi-informasi psikologis atau hasil penelitian mengenai kasus tersebut dan akan memberikan kasus yang baru sebagai perbandingan.

Perlahan-lahan Duhigg akan menempatkan ide-idenya dan memberikan kesimpulan bahwa akar masalahnya sebenarnya sama dan ide tersebut adalah solusinya. Sampai akhirnya kau akan berkata "wahh benar juga ya :)"

Ada 8 topik yang dibahas Charles Duhigg dibuku ini. Mulai dari bagaimana membangun motivasi, menentukan pilihan, fokus dan lain lain. Salah satu ide yang saya suka ialah tentang narasi dalam diri kita akan membantu kita mengambil keputusan.

"Bayangkan apa yang akan terjadi. bayangkan banyak kemungkinan masa depan. Dengan mendorong diri membayangkan berbagai kemungkinan -sebagian diantaranya mungkin saling bertolak belakang - anda lebih siap untuk mengambil keputusan yang bijak." Hal. 279

Meskipun cukup berat tapi percayalah buku ini berguna, provokatif dan sangat membuka pikiran.
Profile Image for Vicki.
677 reviews16 followers
July 29, 2016
I'm always surprised by how much I like these kinds of books -- they're not easy to write, not easy to make compelling. And Duhigg does another good job with this one. What does it take for a person to be productive, for a team to be productive?

These are questions I think about a lot and I think he offers some good insights through a lot of good narratives. If you're looking for a list of bullet points, you may not find something so neat and pat. But there are some ideas in here about what one individual can do (Smart and Stretch goals are particularly interesting), and all in all, I found this a good meditation on how to improve oneself.
Profile Image for Sarah.
351 reviews156 followers
May 21, 2016
Ugh, this book is so good, though it's been one long reminder of everything I'm doing wrong at work and in my personal life (but mostly at work). I'm reading through it again and taking copious notes, but there's a nice appendix at the back that does it for you. I also now know what Frozen is about so that's another plus.
Profile Image for Artak Aleksanyan.
244 reviews82 followers
July 31, 2017
Չգիտեմ ոնց ստացվեց, բայց գիրքը կարդացի մեծ ընդմիջումներով: Բայց շատ տպավորիչ գիրք է, շատ հետաքրքիր օրինակներով, լավ անգլերենով ու շատ մարդկային տոնոբ:
Profile Image for Antti Värtö.
415 reviews32 followers
April 22, 2020
I'm a pretty productive person, all told, but I have the usual problems everyone else has: sometimes I just don't find the motivation to do something I know should be done, but doesn't come with a deadline attached; I procrastinate if the task seems too nebulous and/or large; I have ideas for projects but I can't decide where to begin - and if I'm uncertain whether the project will ever even be completed, I'm not sure how to decide if I should use my precious time on that, given that the time could very well be wasted.

Smarter, Faster, Better addresses all these problems, and more. Lots of the content was familiar to me from other books and blog posts on psychology of motivation, education or rationality: Good Judgment Project and the importance of probabilistic thinking; Toyota's empowerment of workers and the Lean method; SMART goals.

The book is mostly anecdotes told in an entertaining, journalistic style. I had a great time learning of the trials of Disney's Frozen team (did you know that in the first version Elsa was bitter and evil and Olaf was wise-cracking and cynical?). There is a problem with this method, mainly that the lessons can often be hard to implement in your own life, if you're working in a completely different industry. I mean, yeah, it's interesting to hear how a pilot can freeze in a dangerous situation - but I'm pretty sure I never have to encounter a situation like that.

Still, there was loads of things I hadn't heard before and which could be useful in my own life. The section on teams was good, for instance. It's not very important who are in a team: it's extremely important what the team's norms are. With good norms, the team members feel psychologically safe, and then they can work better. You can create that safety by making sure every member speaks in meetings roughly the same amount, and by showing consideration on team members' emotions. A team leader should model this behaviour: they should never speak on top of anyone else; they should make a short summary after people have spoken to show they listened; they should make sure everyone has had a chance to say something during a meeting; they should stop and react if someone is distraught or experiencing strong emotions.

The book includes an appendix, where Duhigg describes how he personally put the lessons of the book to good use when writing that very same book. If you're in a hurry, probably just reading the appendix will get you about 40% of the book's value, in just a dozen pages or so.
Profile Image for Goan Booij.
163 reviews16 followers
November 11, 2019

Je kent het wel, je wekker gaat om 7:00 omdat je school het een erg puik plan vond om een hoorcollege over zelf-ontwikkeling in te plannen om 9:00 's ochtends. Je wil eigenlijk niet gaan, maar je sleept jezelf moe je bed uit om tóch nog iets uit je dag te halen. Je komt aan op school en je begint aan de lecture van 2 uur. En al vrij snel kom je erachter dat je eigenlijk niet veel nieuws leert en dat je alles wat ze vertellen al eens eerder hebt gehoord. Open deuren worden ingegooid, vanzelfsprekendheden worden aangehaald en het wordt een beetje langdradig. Ja, oké, de anekdotes die ze tussendoor vertellen zijn wel leuk, maar kan je de content van deze lecture ook niet in een kwartiertje vertellen?

Nou, dat is dit boek maar dan in lesvorm. Bijna 300 bladzijden, maar in 50 had je hetzelfde kunnen vertellen. Ja, de anekdotes waren leuk, maar niet erg memorabel of toepasbaar. Vandaar de 2 sterren.

Oja, het enige dat wel handig is om te weten is dat je veel meer dingen onthoudt als je het echt opschrijft met je hand en je laptop links laat liggen als je notes maakt. Maar ik geloof dat iedere student dit al door hun strot geduwd krijgt, dus dan heeft dit feitje ook geen meerwaarde.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,154 reviews30 followers
November 3, 2019
I really enjoyed Duhigg's The Power of Habits so this book has been on my list for a while. I was not disappointed. A great book of stories that illustrate how to become more productive. My favorite part was the Appendix that gives practical tips on how to implement the ideas in the book. Looking forward to his next project.
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