Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

  1. “Productivity is about recognizing choices that other people often overlook. It’s about making certain decisions in certain ways. The way we choose to see our own lives; the stories we tell ourselves, and the goals we push ourselves to spell out in detail; the ways we frame our choices and manage the information in our lives. Productive people and companies force themselves to make choices most other people are content to ignore. Productivity emerges when people push themselves to think differently. This is a book about how to become smarter, faster, and better at everything you do.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Productivity 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. It’s a process of learning how to succeed with less stress and struggle. It’s about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way
  2. One of goals is to reframe problems in order to notice the hidden opportunities and to open our minds to new, creative connections
  3. Motivation
    1. Motivation is a skill which can be learned and honed and the trick is realizing you have authority over your actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves we must feel like we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control
    2. To improve motivation in children, improve their internal locus of control – praise hard work over smarts or outcome
    3. Marines improved motivation of recruits by training them to have a ‘bias for action’ – leads to an internal locus of control. Praise people for doing things that are hard and make the compliment unexpected
    4. Motivation becomes easier when we transform a chore into a choice. Doing so gives us a sense of control
    5. Self-motivation becomes easier when we see our choices as affirmations of our deeper values and goals
      1. The author motivated himself by writing why it was important to him to finish the task at hand. Understanding the why makes it much easier to start and stay motivated
    6. A single-minded devotion to an idea can spur massive change (but this type of fanatical devotion can also backfire)
    7. Sometimes a misstep is the most important footfall along the path to success
  4. Teams
    1. Manage the how, not the who of teams. Psychological safety emerges when everyone feels like they can speak in roughly equal measure and when teammates show they are sensitive to how each other feel (empathy)
      1. How teams work often matters much more than who is on them. The desire for a superstar is a myth – totally average people with great group dynamics can do things superstars never could
    2. If you are leading a team, think about the message your choices reveal. Are you encouraging equality in speaking, or rewarding the loudest people? Are you showing you are listening by repeating what people say and replying to questions and thoughts? Are you demonstrating sensitivity by reacting when someone seems upset or flustered? Are you showcasing that sensitivity so other people will follow your lead?
    3. Good managers – are good coaches, empower others and do not micromanage, express interest and concern in subordinates’ success and well-being, are results oriented, listen and share information, help with career development, have a clear vision and strategy, have key technical skills
    4. Group norms play a critical role in shaping the emotional experience of participating in a team – freedom to speak up, free to expose vulnerabilities, suggest ideas without fear of retribution, no harsh judgments. All behaviors which create a sense of togetherness while also encouraging people to take a chance  (psychological safety)
      1. Allowing others to fail without repercussions, respecting divergent opinions, feeling free to question others’ choices but also trusting that people aren’t trying to undermine you
    5. Great leaders have the uncanny ability to make people feel like they are the most important people on earth
  5. Focus
    1. We aid our focus by building mental models – telling ourselves stories – about what we expect to see. Having a detailed picture in mind of how the plan is supposed to unfold helps you make choices and direct focus better
      1. The author would sit down Sunday nights and write down what he expected to happen the following day and week
        1. What will happen first? What distractions are likely to occur? How will you handle that distraction? How will you know you’ve succeeded? What is necessary for success? What will you do next?
    2. In the age of automation, knowing how to manage your focus is more critical than ever before (deep work – chunks of time where you focus on one task without interruption)
    3. Cognitive tunneling – mental glitch that sometimes happens when our brains have to quickly transition from relaxed automation to panicked attention. Brain focuses on the most obvious stimuli, even if it’s not the best choice
    4. Our attention span is guided by our intentions
    5. Superstars focus on fewer things at once (typically less than 5) – proactively seeking out new opportunities to work with new colleagues and hone new skills and take the ‘risk’ of joining projects in their infancy stage. They also tended to come up with a large amount of theories to try to explain why things were happening, trying to figure out how information fits together
    6. When we’re overly focused on being productive, we become blind to details that should give us pause
  6. Goal Setting
    1. You need a stretch goal, something to spark big ambitions and you need a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, (reasonable) timeline), to help you form a concrete plan
      1. At the top of to-do lists, write the overarching ambition, what you are working toward in the long-term and underneath describe a subgoal and all its SMART components, forcing self to come up with a plan and be more likely to achieve your goal
      2. Stretch goals are jolting events that disrupt complacency and promote new ways of thinking – fine line between a goal which is too big and crushes morale and one which inspires
  7. Managing Others
    1. Employees work smarter and better when they believe they have more decision making authority and when they believe their colleagues are committed to their success
    2. By pushing decision making to whoever is closest to a problem, managers take advantage of everyone’s expertise and unlock innovation – decentralize decision making
    3. People need to know their suggestions won’t be ignored and that their mistakes won’t be held against them
    4. A commitment culture, one which is totally committed to its employees, customers and other stakeholders outperformed every other type of management style in pretty much every meaningful way. This mindset establishes a sense of trust between workers, managers, customers and other stakeholders. They avoided layoffs. They invest heavily in training with higher levels of teamwork and psychological safety. Valued making employees happy over quick profits. Long-term thinking and decision making
  8. Decision Making
    1. Envision multiple futures and then force yourself to figure out which ones are most likely and why (probabilistic thinking). By anticipating futures, you are much better prepared to make wiser decisions
      1. At the heart of this is the importance of making decisions in a deliberate fashion
    2. Can hone our Bayesian instincts by seeking out different experiences, perspectives and other people’s ideas. By finding information and then letting ourselves sit with it, options become clearer
    3. Think of losses as experiments – experiences to be learned from
    4. Learning how to make better decisions via probabilistic thinking requires our developing a comfort with doubt
    5. Probabilistic thinking is the ability to hold multiple, conflicting outcomes in your mind and estimate their relative likelihoods. The most successful are most comfortable admitting to themselves what they don’t know
    6. Probabilities are the closest thing to fortune-telling but you have to be strong enough to live with what they tell you might occur
    7. One of the biggest secrets to learning to make better decisions is accurate forecasts and this means exposing yourself to as many successes and disappointments as possible
    8. The people who make the best choices are the ones who work the hardest to envision various futures, to write them down and think them through and then ask themselves, which ones do I think are most likely and why?
  9. Innovation
    1. Creativity often emerges by combining old ideas in new ways and “innovation brokers” are key. To become a broker yourself and encourage brokerage within your organization:
      1. Be sensitive to your own experiences. Paying attention to how things make you think and feel is how we distinguish cliches from real insights. Study your own emotional reactions
      2. Recognize that the stress that emerges amid the creative process isn’t a sign everything is falling apart. Rather, creative desperation is often critical – anxiety can be what often pushes us to see old ideas in new ways
      3. Remember that the relief accompanying a creative breakthrough, while sweet, can also blind us to alternatives. By forcing ourselves to critique what we’ve already done, by making ourselves look at it from different perspectives, by giving new authority to someone who didn’t have it before, we retain clear eyes
    2. Creativity is simply connecting things – taking old ideas but combining them in ways never thought of before
    3. So much of the creative process relies on achieving distance and not becoming overly attached to your creation
    4. When strong ideas take root, they can sometimes crowd out competing ideas so the best way to spark creativity is by disturbing things just enough to spur new ways of thinking
    5. The creative pain should be embraced. Feeling scared is a good sign and must learn how to trust yourself enough to let the creativity out
    6. Creativity is simply problem solving. Once it is viewed through this lens, people stop seeing it like magic
  10. Absorbing Data
    1. When we encounter new information, we should force ourselves to do something with it. Write yourself a note explaining what you just learned, or figure out a small way to test an idea, or graph a series of data points onto a piece of paper, or force yourself to explain an idea to a friend.
    2. Every choice we make in life is an experiment – the trick is getting ourselves to see the data embedded in those decisions and then to use it somehow so we learn from it
    3. There is a huge difference between finding an answer and understanding what it means
    4. Information blindness – inability to take advantage of data because it is so plentiful
    5. Ability to digest large amounts of information by breaking it into smaller pieces is how our brains turn information into knowledge
    6. Experimenting, although most of it will fail, forces you to think more, become more sensitive to patterns and more likely to pick up on valuable insights
    7. Creating mental, or even physical, “folders” in which to put information in helps people organize and absorb information
    8. Once a frame is established, it is very hard to see the other side and gain fresh vantage points. One of the best ways to solve this problem is to provide a formal decision-making system that denies our brains the easy answers it craves. It forces ourselves to make questions look unfamiliar
    9. By making information more disfluent, we paradoxically make it easier to understand because we force ourselves to truly think about it and understand it. Information easily obtained and read is easily forgotten
What I got out of it
  1. A good read on 8 key pillars to become more productive. By being more deliberate in your choices, in how you approach and think about problems, in how you interact with team members, in how you take notes, over time you can become a better and more productive thinker and decision maker