The Critic: Smarter Faster Bet­ter may make you all of those things

Smarter Faster Bet­ter of­fers tips to avoid be­ing dumber, slower, and worse. By Joel Stein

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents -

READ THIS—THEN EX­PLAIN WHAT YOU READ TO SOME­ONE

Not only will Smarter Faster Bet­ter: The Se­crets of Be­ing Pro­duc­tive in Life and Busi­ness make you more ef­fi­cient if you heed its tips, it will also save you the ef­fort of read­ing many pro­duc­tiv­ity books ded­i­cated to the ideas in­side. You needn’td ’t read ds Su­per-fore­cast­ing—f ti that’sth t’ cov­ered in Smarter Faster’s Chap­ter 6: De­ci­sion Mak­ing— Orig­i­nals (Chap­ter 7: In­no­va­tion), The 4- Hour Work­week (Chap­ter 4: Goal Set­ting), Work Rules! (Chap­ter 2: Teams), Sources of Power (Chap­ter 3: Fo­cus), and prob­a­bly a bunch of other books I don’t even know about. Plus a lot of Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view case stud­ies I think I’ve heard about on NPR. That’s, like, 30 hours saved right there.

Charles Duhigg, the au­thor, el­e­vates the life- hack­ing genre. The Pulitzer Prize-win­ning New York Times busi­ness writer had a hit in 2012 with The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Busi­ness. His writ­ing is smart, mea­sured, and fun. In Smarter Faster there are even lit­tle car­toons to il­lus­trate some of his ideas. He uses the Mal­colm Glad­well model of shap­ing aca­demic stud­ies into hacks but ap­plies a less ex­citable tone and a more cin­e­matic style. He’s a rea­son­able man try­ing to fig­ure out how we all can do a lit­tle bet­ter by ad­just­ing our life a bit. He even starts and ends his book by show­ing how he strug­gled to use his own tips to write it with­out flip­ping out on his wife and kids.

Al Al­most t all ll theth chap­tersh t be­gin by throw­ing the reader into the middle of a catas­tro­phe: the Yom Kip­pur War, the kid­nap­ping of a na­tional se­cu­rity con­sul­tant by the Bloods, the fi­nal ta­ble in a huge poker tour­na­ment, be­ing as­signed a re­ally lame study group at Yale’s B-school. Then Duhigg stops the nar­ra­tive to in­tro­duce some un­likely per­son who un­der­took some un­likely ex­per­i­ment to dis­cover some un­likely psy­cho­log­i­cal quirk that led to some un­likely im­prove­ment in her work. He re­frains from that an­noy­ing busi­ness book thing when he tells you ex­actly how you can use this in your middle-man­ager job. He as­sumes you can fig­ure that out your­self.

Even if you’ve al­ready read a lot of his pro­duc­tiv­ity tips else­where (se­ri­ously, stop ch check­ing your e-mail), the sto­ries Duhigg chooses to il­lus­trate th­ese tac­tics are com com­pelling. He com­pares a 2009 plane crash,c in which pi­lots tried to right the c craft by fo­cus­ing too in­tently on ind in­di­vid­ual in­struc­tions from the fl flight com­puter, with an­other flight in which the en­gine de­stroyed a wing but the pi­lot saved the day by pic­tur­ing his enor­mous jet as a sim­ple Cessna. In do­ing so, Duhigg shows that train­ing your­self with men­tal mod­els and not mind­lessly re­act­ing to data can make you smarter.

He talks about how the Satur­day Night­Nigh Live work cul­ture might be ha harsh and com­pet­i­tive and have h hor­ri­fy­ing hours, but by en­sur­ing t that ev­ery­one is heard at ev­ery meet­ing, pro­ducer Lorne Michaels creates psy­cho­log­i­cal safety, m mak­ing the group bet­ter. Duhigg un­earths an anec­dote from 1955, when the head of Ja­pan’s railr roads de­manded his en­gi­neers d de­sign a train that wouldn’t top ou out at 65 miles per hour, the fastest at the time, but rather hit 120 mph, l lead­ing to the rad­i­cal in­no­va­tions that cre­ated the bul­let train. His in­ter­views with a fac­tory worker at a plant jointly run by Toy­ota a and Gen­eral Mo­tors show that em em­pow­er­ing work­ers clos­est to a pr prob­lem is the best way to solve it. A And he shares how the writ­ers of FrozenFroz had a cre­ative break­through and saved a fail­ing script by draw­ing on their per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences with hav­ing a sis­ter. I don’t know if that’s smarter, faster, or bet­ter, but I do know it’s good mar­ket­ing to have some­thing about Frozen in your book.

Duhigg’s fi­nal tip is to avoid swim­ming in data by do­ing some­thing with the use­ful parts— just like we’re taught to use a new word in a sen­tence im­me­di­ately. “If you read a book filled with new ideas, force your­self to put it down and ex­plain the con­cept,” he writes. Do­ing that here, I wasn’t only able to get through Smarter Faster Bet­ter in three days, de­spite be­ing a slow reader, but I also fin­ished this re­view in a few hours. I be­lieve Duhigg could turn my ac­com­plish­ment into a swash­buck­ling tale of hero­ism. <BW>

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