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

If you are looking to be more productive, want to set better goals, and achieve those goals, then Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business* may be the book for you. Charles Duhigg wrote this book and it covers 8 principles to increase productivity and be more efficiency.

Duhigg has put together a book that focuses on eight principles to increase productivity. He covers each of these principles in eight chapters, which span 380 pages. These elements are:

  • Motivation
  • Teams
  • Focus
  • Goal setting
  • Managing others
  • Decision making
  • Innovation
  • Absorbing data

As Duhigg outlined each of these elements, he used storytelling as a key tool to get his message acrossed. Each chapter was a collection of interrelated stories that honed in on the essence of the topic.

In each of these stories, Duhigg did a tremendous amount of research and dove into the science of the specific topic. In the case of motivation, he looked at how the brain affected individuals and tie this to a different story about how employees are treated in the workplace which affects motivation. If an individual has control of elements of their life then there is increased motivation. The stories vary from individuals who lack motivation due to an injury or a change in their life to a story about training Marine recruits, who were built up by increasing the ability to make decisions. Stories and specific examples supported each story.

When looking at teams, Duhigg highlighted the research that Google had done. Through Project Oxygen, Google discovered  8 elements that made a good manager. Through Project Artistole, Google explored what made a good team. The results show that the success of teams is based on how they treat one another. It did not matter how smart they were, how successful they were, it all came down to how much they listen to each other and how much they interacted with each other. The result was a stronger team. In this chapter, he highlighted the Saturday Night Live group where everybody shares ideas and improves upon ideas. Duhigg summarized two general principles relating to teams to “Teams succeed when everyone feels like they can speak up and when members show they are sensitive to how one another feels” (Duhigg, 2016, p. 67).

In each of these chapters, I found the stories to be quite fascinating. I was really intrigued with the stories on focus. For example, one story dealt with the Air France flight that went down even though the problem was very minor. Another story dealt with an Australian flight that had catastrophic issues and landed successfully. Why did focus issues cause one accident and prevented the other? The stories about goal setting focused around the Yom Kippur War. What were the goals setting events that led to that war? Duhigg also talked about SMART goals and how they were developed. He explained why they have been mostly successful but also needed to have stretch goals for more success. Dream for something bigger and tie them to SMART goals; otherwise, people don’t reach high enough. I believe Google’s objectives and key results (OKRs) were developed from this observation.

Smarter Faster Better is packed full of wonderful stories that highlight key elements of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. At the end of the book, there is an appendix which outlines how Duhigg put these elements into practice.  The appendix summarized the lessons learned, but more importantly, provided a path to implement these ideas in an organization.

“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” (Duhigg, 2016, p. 284).

Nearly 70 pages are dedicated to notes. Duhigg references these very detailed notes throughout the book. The notes are definitely worth reading. They provide some insight that Duhigg doesn’t necessarily share in the individual chapters.

When I started reading this book, I was looking for very quick answers. I was looking for a how-to step-by-step guide. I was initially disappointed that I didn’t find this. However, as I continued to read, I become more immersed in the chapters and what the stories were sharing. In the end, I was very happy with this book. There is a lot of lessons to be learned and great takeaways. If you are looking for a book on productivity and efficient goal setting then I would definitely recommend Smarter Faster Better but understand that you’re not going to find quick answers. As you read, you will really gain in-depth knowledge why you would want to implement these principles. Definitely a recommended read.


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