Smarter, Faster, Better

Charles Duhigg’s Smarter, Better, Faster offers 2 topics of substantial, precise, and actionable value-add. Those topics are:

  1. The value of “disfluency”
  2. The importance of building “psychological safety” within teams

1) The value of “disfluency”

What is disfluency? How do we learn?

One way to overcome information blindness is to force ourselves to grapple with the data in front of us, to manipulate information by transforming it into a sequence of questions to be answered or choices to be made.

This is sometimes referred to as “creating disfluency”

…Regardless of the intensity of the effort, the underlying cognitive activity is the same: We are taking a mass of information and forcing it through a procedure that makes it easier to digest

The purpose behind me writing this summary is to cause disfluency. By summarizing, I am internalizing, I am warding off the default path that starts with learning and ends in forgetting.

The important step seems to be performing some kind of operation… If you make people use a new word in a sentence, they’ll remember it longer. If you make them write down a sentence with the word, they’ll start using it in conversations.

More examples of “applied” disfluency

  • No matter what constraints were placed on the groups, the students who forced themselves to use a more cumbersome note-taking method — who forced disfluency into how they processed information — learned more.
  • It is not enough for your bathroom scale to send daily updates to an app on your phone. If you want to lose weight, force yourself to plot those measurements on graph paper and you’ll be more likely to choose a salad over a hamburger at lunch.
  • If you read a book filled with new ideas, force yourself to put it down and explain the concepts to someone sitting next to you and you’ll be more likely to apply them in your life.
  • When you find a new piece of information, force yourself to engage with it, to use it in an experiment or describe it to a friend — and then you will start building the mental folders that are at the core of learning.

Here’s a startling example of disfluency that drives ownership and internalizes the accomplishment:

At the graduation ceremony, as Dante walked across the makeshift stage, his family cheered. Like all diplomas handed out that day, his contained a blank space. There was one last thing, the principal told him. No one was allowed to finish elementary school without doing a final bit of work. Dante had to transform this diploma and make it his own. She handed Dante a pen. He filled in the space with his name.

In our own lives, the same lesson applies; When we encounter new information and want to learn form it, we should force ourselves to do something with the data.

2) The importance of building “psychological safety” within teams

What is the main thing that matters for team productivity?

We call it ‘psychological safety’. Psychological safety is a “shared belief, held by members of a team, that the group is a safe place for taking risks.” It is a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.

Project Aristotle at Google sought to find what mattered most in building successful teams: The presence of super-stars? Strong consensus? Just the right volume of work to pose a strong challenge? No.

What matters most are five key norms:

  • Teams need to believe their work is important
  • Teams need to feel their work is personally meaningful
  • Teams need clear goals and defined roles
  • Team members need to know they can depend on each other
  • Most importantly, teams need psychological safety

Borrowing from Kim Scott & Sheryl Sandberg

First Round Capital wrote up an interview with Kim Scott on the topic of Radical Candor, an approach to management that involves two simple criteria:

  1. Care personally
  2. Challenge Directly

Kim’s insights, drawn in part from her relationship with former manager and current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg are to “Care Personally”, “Challenge Directly” and then use this foundation of engaged trust to build bi-lateral and team-based communities of radically-open-trust. This is psychological safety.

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