Smarter Faster Better: Reviewed

Written By: Charles Duhigg

This book starts with why motivating yourself is important, as well as becoming ‘smarter, better, and faster’. It seems to be a mix of psychology, good story telling, and motivation. I like the book though I have a few qualms about it I’ll detail below.

“Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed.”

Much of the motivational information is not new, it is however told in a new way using the multiple story format where several stories are told simultaneously that all emphasize a main point or two. It’s creative, it’s interesting. I didn’t see anything under motivation that you wouldn’t find in any other popular ‘success’ book.

“Self-motivation, in other words, is a choice we make because it is part of something bigger and more emotionally rewarding than the immediate task that needs doing.”

I’m conflicted as to whether this is a better book for an individual looking to improve their performance at work or, better for a manager looking to improve their team. There are sections that relate better to one distinct demographic more than the other. Because of this it ends up coming off as neither, which is a weakness in this book. If you’re looking to improve yourself there will be sections, you must slog through about management that may not pertain to you. If you’re looking to be a better manager there’s a good chance you already know the personal development aspects. This was one of my disappointments with the book.

There were a few gems that were worded in a way I liked, even if heard before, such as:

“The paradox of learning how to make better decisions is that it requires developing a comfort with doubt.”

The chapters on creativity and data were some of the most interesting. The book thoroughly goes through the concept that new ideas aren’t necessarily best but in fact combinations of current ideas in new ways often have the greatest results. This is similar to how Apple was often successful. It’s not that they had brand new ideas as much as they took current ideas and combined them with exceptional marketing to dominate their space. You don’t always need a good idea, just a good new way to use it.

“A lot of the people we think of as exceptionally creative are essentially intellectual middlemen, they’ve learned how to transfer knowledge between different industries or groups.”

There’s also a lot of detail on how good an idea needs to be to succeed. After many studies, it’s been determined the most important variable to create success is action. Create an idea, try it out, and adjust. It’s often impossible to know if an idea will work without trying so, create the idea and act. This is more thoroughly covered in the engineering design process section, which is a method for solving a problem, any problem.

It runs as: define the dilemma, collect data, brainstorm solutions, debate approaches, experiment.

It’s quite simple but most people don’t take the time to think about a problem very thoroughly. They either define the problem and immediately act or, they define the problem and avoid it. Both are very inefficient, neither are very effective.

The final concept that stood out to me was on basic learning. Out of all the ways to absorb information and retain it, the methods with highest ‘friction’ lead to the greatest retention. For example, if you’re listening to an audio book and paying attention, you will not retain nearly as much as if you do the same while taking notes on a computer. To go a step further, if you take the time and effort to write notes on paper you’ll retain even more because it creates the most friction or, engagement.

I would say overall it was a good book. I didn’t like how it was mixed between personal and team based perspectives. If the author wanted to do both in a single book I would split the book in 2. Going back and forth made it annoying and tuned me out a little bit. I felt it was a good read, and worth the time. I would have liked it more if it was put together more coherently. Perhaps it was done on purpose to create more engagement and therefor more retention? It’s also best read this one chapter at a time to reduce confusion. Sometimes I read half a chapter and came back days later, with all the jumping around it lost some of the message.

“Productivity is about recognizing choices that other people often overlook. It’s about making certain decisions in certain ways.”