Sunday 7 January 2018

Smarter Faster Better

Finished January 4
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

I loved this book just as much as his previous The Power of Habit. Here, Duhigg looks at productivity. As Duhigg describes in his introduction, this book began with him asking a prolific author he admired, Atul Gawande, about his productivity. When he learned that Atul was busy with his family, Duhigg realized that he hadn't taken time off in months, and that there was a lot he could learn about productivity. Thus came the germ of the idea for this book. As usual, Duhigg interviewed people in many professions and successful project teams. He was looking for concepts that repeated across these diverse groups. He found eight ideas and a powerful principle that connected them.
That principle is one of making choices in certain ways. He shows how many of us have spent too much time looking at the tools of productivity, gadgets and apps and systems, rather than drawing lessons from these tools.
The chapters here examine each of those eight ideas in succession, starting with motivation. Duhigg looked a medical cases of people who had lost their motivation, at behavioural studies looking at the role of having choice, and at the way our society has changed from one where the majority of people reported to a supervisor to one where more people have the ability to make their own choices about setting goals, prioritizing activities, and choosing projects. This led him to look at the skill of self-motivation, something the military refers to as a bias to action.
The second chapter looks at teams, from study teams at universities to more goal oriented school teams such as case competition teams and work teams at organizations like Google. One study showed the importance of group norms in a team's success. Another found a correlation between psychological safety in a team and the team's success. Productivity is about how teams work rather than who is one them.
The third chapter looks at focus. Duhigg looks at instances where failure to pay attention, to remain focused while still being aware of the larger situation, caused larger failures, including fatal ones. He shows how reliance on technology, such as automated functions, GPS navigation, and . He points out the dangers of cognitive tunneling, where one becomes overly focused on one thing, even as other things are going on around them. Another study looked at why some people stay calm and focused in a tense situation and others don't. Another looked at the role of mental models, and the way some people tell stories to themselves about the way the world around us works. Both these things help when something is out of place or doesn't look right. The dangers of information overload can cause confusion and irrational actions. Too much information coming at once can make one unsure what to focus on.
The fourth chapter looks at goal setting. In one example Duhigg looks at the need for cognitive closure, and how a high need for closure can create negative situations. It creates a need to be decisive and act in a confident manner, and can lead to premature decision-making. He looks at the rise in the use of SMART goals in the workplace. The use of this type of goal setting is useful, but if those setting goals get too focused on the tool and lose sight of whether the goal described was meaningful, meeting goals isn't productive. He looks at stretch goals and how they can lead to new ways of thinking about problems and processes. Combining SMART goals and stretch goals can take the positives of both.
The fifth chapter looks at managing others. Duhigg looks at a number of factors: respect, trust, listening, and acknowledging expertise. One study looked at corporate culture in companies. They found five types of corporate culture: star model; engineering model, bureaucratic model, autocratic model, and commitment model. They found commitment model firms were the most successful overall. This was due to the sense of trust that developed. Distribution of authority means that more people feel they can make a difference, and thus they care more. Empowerment leads to commitment.
The sixth chapter looks at decision making, from analyzing the decisions of a tournament winning poker player to looking at a study that aimed to make everyday people better at forecasting the future. Duhigg looks at how experience makes us better at forecasting, and how varied experiences increase our success. He describes how experiencing and knowing about failure increases our success as well.
The seventh chapter looks at innovation, from the team creating the Disney movie Frozen to the making of West Side Story. Duhigg looks at a study of the tactic of taking proven ideas from other settings and combining them in new ways. It's about making the creative process welcome in your environment.
The last of the eight ideas is that of absorbing data. In our world today, there is a plethora of information, but to turn that information into useful knowledge is the key. Because of the vast amounts of data available to us now, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the data and not take it and use it to our advantage. Duhigg looks at information blindness, a study of debt collection teams' success rates, a school that started thinking about the data they collected and putting it together in different ways, and the teaching of a engineering decision process to struggling students. He also looked at a study showing the importance of frames as context, and thus the importance of being able to reframe a question to look at it differently.
I loved the use of real life situations to show these ideas and how they are important for success. I also loved the appendix provided that showed how to use these ideas in my own life to increase my productivity. A great read.

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