Sept. 13, 2020

Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg: Why you need to embrace control but relinquish certainty

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About the Book 

From the author of the New York Times bestselling phenomenon The Power of Habit comes a fascinating 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.

A young woman drops out of a PhD program and starts playing poker, a group of data scientists at Google embark on a four-year study of how the best teams function, a Marine Corps general, faced with low morale among recruits, reimagines boot camp and the filmmakers behind Disney’s Frozen are nearly out of time and on the brink of catastrophe.

What do these people have in common?

They know that productivity relies on making certain choices. The way we frame our daily decisions; the big ambitions we embrace and the easy goals we ignore; the cultures we establish as leaders to drive innovation; the way we interact with data: These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.

Drawing on 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—this painstakingly researched book explains that the most productive people, companies, and organizations don’t merely act differently.

They view the world, and their choices, in profoundly different ways.

About the Author

Charles Duhigg is a reporter for The New York Times. He’s also the author of The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation, as well as Smarter Faster Better.

He has worked at the Times since 2006. In 2013, he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for a series about Apple named “The iEconomy”. Before that, he contributed to the NYT series about the 2008 financial crisis, how companies take advantage of the elderly and national violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

He’s also a native of New Mexico. He studied history at Yale and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. He now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and, before becoming a journalist, he was a bike messenger in San Francisco for one terrifying day.


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BIG IDEA 1 (5:08) – Doing more with less.

This book was inspired by Charles Duhigg not getting a hold of Atul Gawande, the author of Checklist Manifesto as he happened to be enjoying time with family. Charles wondered how such a busy and popular man (Atul) was able to have leisure time.

This inspired Charles to write this book about the fundamental principle of doing more with less. What we need to do is to be able to bring this to life is recognise that choices fuel productivity.

Motivation, working effectively with teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision-making, innovation, and absorbing data are the chapters in the book that have stories that help you do more with less.

BIG IDEA 2 (7:53) – Embrace control, relinquish certainty.

There were studies mentioned in the book that those who have an ability to take control of their lives live longer, live happier, are more confident, and resilient. 

The best way to embrace control is by making decisions or taking actions, this might include small acts of defiance. The good news is that being able to take control can be learnt.

You can teach this to both children and adults through feedback. Studies have found that kids who were given feedback “you worked very hard, well done” after being given a maths challenge versus “you are really good at maths” were more resilient when faced with harder challenges.

An important thing about taking control is knowing the odds. If you’re after certainty in your decisions, you’ll never make a good decision. You have to think of the future as numerous possibilities of outcomes while still being able to make decisions as a result.

Knowing your odds, embracing control and relinquishing your need for too much certainty.

BIG IDEA 3 (12:39) – Building a productive culture.

The book shared a fascinating story about the General Motors plant in Fremont, California who had a terrible working culture before Toyota took over. When Toyota did take over, they invited the employees to submit ideas and more importantly, created the environment where the workers could take pride in their work.

Build the trust in action and not just with what’s written in a contract or on a wall is imperative. Empowering people to make decisions and take pride in their work rather than doing things for the sake of just doing it.

There was another example in the book about bag checks from a company with problems about theft. The unintended consequence was productivity dropped because people would leave earlier to get through the bag check line and get home a decent time.

The fundamental part of building a productive culture is building trust and pushing things down to the lowest level of decision making possible. You’ll start to see new ways of doing things emerge.


Music By: Digital Life by Loops Lab (via Envato)

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