8 Keys to be Smarter, Faster, Better
Who wouldn’t want to become Smarter, Faster and Better? Considering the number of time management books published every year it seems like the biggest preoccupation with people is how to get control of their lives by managing their time better. As Peter Drucker said a long time back don’t manage your time. Instead manage yourself.
Charles Duhigg is obviously an excellent writer and his journalist background shines through in this book titled "Smarter Faster Better." When you pick up a book like this you want concrete steps to become smarter, faster, better. This book may not be for those who want straightforward point by point tips for higher productivity. However if you want to learn something and at the same time be entertained with stories then this book does work big time. His earlier book “The Power of Habit” was a massive best seller and was also very well written.
Here are the 8 principles with a brief summary.
Motivation –The author mentions Atul Gawande as a paragon of productivity and was determined to find what was his secret was. The first finding was people who learn how to be self-motivated earn more than others. Motivation is like a skill that can be learned. The first thing is to aware of is you have authority over actions. The people who have authority have been found to live longer based on their own perceived control. Find a choice that allows you to exert control. If you are tackling a tough assignment write the conclusion first as this helps you to begin with end in mind. Decide what question to ask first before a sales call. Kids who are praised for effort perform much better than kids who are praised for their intelligence. People with an internal locus of control will attribute good grades to effort. It has been linked with higher self-motivation and success. They tend to earn more money. Having an external locus of control relates to higher stress. An internal locus of control gives us control over our lives.
Teams – The whole point of this chapter can be summarized into psychological safety which means people should be safe to air contrary opinions. For example Google studied workers happiness. They had something called Project Aristotle which was a sweeping review of academic literature. They did 150 hours for study on what they thought made teams effective. They established criteria on external and internal variables. It was impossible to find patterns. 180 teams were looked at and allowing others to fail, welcoming divergent norms were found to promote psychological safety. How do you convince people to be safe? Here the example of how it worked in SNL was dissected. SNL is a model of team dynamics which had intensely shared experiences.
Focus – Here the flight disaster of Air France is mentioned along with a contrast with Qantas Airways which averted a disaster. The main thesis is in the age of automation ability to focus is important. Cognitive tunneling is defined here which is an in attentional blindness phenomenon in which the observer is too focused on instrumentation, task at hand, internal thought, etc. and not on the present environment. This is what led to the flight disaster. Reactive thinking is at the core of how we allocate our thinking. It is how we build habits. The action item for us is to visualize our days with more specificity creating mental models. All people rely on mental models. The Air France disaster showed none of the pilots had good mental models. How do most productive people build mental models? They tended to work only on 5 projects at once. They joined projects at the early stages. Cultivate what you expect to see. Tell yourself stories which can help your decision making ability. Visualize in as much detail what you are about to do. Qantas airways pilots went through every different drilling building mental models and deciding which is first thing they will do when something happens like engine failure. If you want to do a better job of where to focus narrate your life with stories, take control of attention, envision your day, force yourself to anticipate what is next, and finally remember you can’t delegate thinking. Force yourself to think. I think having long term thinking will always help us to make better decisions.
Goal setting – Here the importance of Smart goals is discussed. Nothing earth shattering but basically make your goals simple, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound. The example of GE is provided and they were well known for setting smart goals. However in addition to this they also had a stretch goal. The key insight here is to have a big stretch goal and then break it down to Smart goals. For example a stretch goal for me could be to run a marathon (No I am not planning to run now) and then have smart goals like run daily 5 miles, run 15 miles in 3 weeks and so on. Every division in GE had a stretch goal. Stretch goals can help only when they are broken into concrete plans. We need both stretch and smart goals.
Managing others – This basically involves pushing decision making all the way down the line. Toyota manufacturing system is discussed as it hates waste. Culture matters as much as strategy. Employees have to trust one another. Good employees are always the hardest to find. Employees should be committed to each other success. Workers were empowered to take ownership. Lean manufacturing principles have infiltrated everywhere. Daily stand up meetings help in this regard clearly understanding the responsibilities for each and every member. Determine how much potential can be unlocked by giving people authority. A sense of control can fuel motivation. Finally allow employees to make mistakes.
Decision making – Forecasting the future is always difficult and basic premise is to be flexible and prepared for any outcome. Here an example from poker is discussed. Future isn’t one thing futures can be combined with multiple conflicting outcomes. Engage in probabilistic thinking by turning hunches to probabilities and always question your assumptions. Losers are always looking for certainty whereas winners admit what they don’t know. The hard part of poker was to make choice based on probability.
Innovation - Here the details of the movie Frozen is discussed in detail. The main take away is you can take an old idea and do it in new ways, be sensitive to your own experiences, and stress is good.
Data - Use data for better understanding and when you get new information use the data for increasing understanding resulting in better actions eventually leading to desired results.
Overall it was an interesting read with great stories. It is slightly different from the other productivity books which don’t provide this many examples.