It’s January, so what better time to begin the process of self-improvement? I actually read this book in December with the expectation that I’d be writing my new year’s resolutions shortly, so learning new lessons on productivity seemed particularly well timed. I’m not sure I learned how to be more productive personally, but I definitely learned some new mental models to use when I have a tough decision to make. And, I now possess more concrete leadership skills to try out at my next board meeting. Let me explain…
Charles Duhigg’s second book Smarter Faster Better is a great tool for all kinds of people; worker bees, team leaders, entrepreneurs, and lovers of to-do lists. Most people would benefit from reading this book, although it does seem geared towards those who are full-time workers. Every non-fiction book makes assumptions about its readers, and this book is no different; Duhigg is writing for people who have a full plate of work on their hands, no question. But you don’t have to read every single chapter if you’re in a rush, and it’s something that you might want to come back to in a few months or years as you come across a new challenge in your work life. Although the tagline of the book claims it offers “The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” I don’t think there is much that can be applied to your personal life here. This book is firmly rooted in your work life, but a sharper focus is a good thing; it tends to improve the advice.
Some of the most useful portions of the book included tips on how to set better goals for yourself, the most productive ways of absorbing data, and how to create the best environment for teams to flourish. And, unlike many non-fiction books i’ve read lately, this actually serves us up totally new and unique ways of thinking about things. For instance, Duhigg tells us the story about how Disney’s team created the blockbuster hit Frozen. Apparently, the movie was quite different at its outset. But, as the creators hit a creative wall, they relied on their personal beliefs to craft a new and appealing storyline. Duhigg also argues that creative and successful ideas don’t have to be brand new; in fact, many creative geniuses tend to use tried and true concepts but in a new way.
Duhigg’s first book The Power of Habit used the same model he uses in this book: taking successful stories of business and appling them to our own lives to harness the lessons learned. That’s what I loved so much about this book; he cites fascinating stories from around the world to illustrate his point, so we understand it better. He also included a very helpful (and insightful) section at the very end which summarizes the learnings, and describes how he used them himself to complete this book. In a brilliant way, this technique he employs is actually a perfect example of why his last chapter in absorbing data is so important and useful. Just read the book, you’ll see what I mean!
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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.