Smarter Faster Better

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“…….there were Google-designed checklists [apparently, there are dozens of tactics] they could use: Leaders should not interrupt teammates during conversations, because that will establish an interrupting norm. They should demonstrate they are listening by summarizing what people say after they said it. They should admit what they don’t know. They shouldn’t end a meeting until all team members have spoken at least once. They should encourage people who are upset to express their frustrations, and encourage teammates to respond in nonjudgmental ways. They should call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion.” – Excerpt.

Charles Duhigg’s Smarter Faster Better is a long read for the ground it covers including excruiating last minutes inside the cockpit of a doomed aircraft and an aircraft that miraculously survives. The reason I mention this upfront is because Duhigg’s book is a tad more edge of the seat than usual productivity/business books, and relies more on stories than insight than say Sumantra Goshal’s classic “A Bias for Action – How Effective Managers Harness Their Willpower, Achieve Results, and Stop Wasting Time”. Some people believe world is made of atoms, some believe world is made of stories, Charles Duhigg is the latter. Then some of the stories Duhigg mention are pop culture staples and going over them again with the author may get boring for some readers.

The book talks about productivity and motivation for both the individual and the team, and about how to make the best use of your energy, time and skills. While this may not be collectively exhaustive, Charles touches upon these key themes (my top 3) – motivating yourself and the team, smart goals and big goals, and improving focus and thinking better.

Motivation: individuals and teams need autonomy and self-determination, in that they need to feel they are masters of their destiny. If work that individuals and teams do develop from the choices they make, they feel their energy and skills are well spent and feel more rewarded. The cool part here is author suggests rewarding self-determination even when someone is breaking the norm because it shows the person is not comfortably numb with status quo. Remember Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, and childhood friend of Robert Baratheon cheering Arya Stark when she broke the rules and practiced archery. Our actions get to a larger meaning when

“People who believe they have authority over themselves often live longer than their peers. This instinct for control is so central to how our brains develop that infants, once they learn to feed themselves, will resist adults’ attempts at control even if submission is more likely to get food into their mouths.” – excerpt

BHAG, Smart goals and Commitment culture: When winning becomes getting more things checked off the to-do list, the to-do list becomes a jungle of bonsai plants, an exercise in daily mediocrity and you end up not destroying the world, which ofcourse was the original long-term goal. Charles writes about the need for Smart (breaking down your long term outcome goals into specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) behavior goals.) and big hairy audacious goals while citing examples where small goals failed. While one cannot be sure if goaling was at fault, the author clearly drives home the importance of stretch goals.

On the organizational side, the author cites this amazing research study to tout benefits of commitment culture. Commitment based companies have audaciuous long term goals and makes meaningful investments to make employees stay. These companies realize from the start that ‘built to flip’ model is not sustainable and it takes more than mercantilist profits to make employees stay and keep them motivated beyond an IPO.

Visualizing, focus, probability and experiments:

“If you want to make yourself more sensitive to the small details in your work, cultivate a habit of imagining, as specifically as possible, what you expect to see and do when you get to your desk. Then you’ll be prone to notice the tiny ways in which real life deviates from the narrative inside your head. If you want to become better at listening to your children, tell yourself stories about what they said to you at dinnertime last night. Narrate your life, as you are living it, and you’ll encode those experiences deeper in your brain. If you need to improve your focus and learn to avoid distractions, take a moment to visualize, with as much detail as possible, what you are about to do. It is easier to know what’s ahead when there’s a well-rounded script inside your head.” – Excerpt

in short, visualize to get to deep focus and avoid reactive thinking and working, combat excessive optimism, mull over failure scenarios and use probabilistic thinking for better decision making, and in a world of so much data and information get to deep insights with experiments.

Recommendation: Overall the book comes off as a set of anecdotes and stories which are enjoyable making the book a good read. That said the author often comes off as s story teller struggling hard to come up with a moral at the end of every anecdote often at the expense of scientific and logical reasoning. The stories are good but you may need to take notes as you read the book since there is no capstone exercise at the end of the book. This is not business school. Then some people believe the world is made of atoms, some believe its made of stories. Whats your type?

About the author

p m

is a generalist. very lazily believes specialization is for insects.

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