Review: Smarter Faster Better

I recently decided to take a break from heavier academic reading and indulge in one of my favorite genres: pop science. The bright orange cover of Charles Duhigg’s Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business caught my eye on the iBooks shelf, ironically destroying my own productivity as its lessons drew me in.

Duhigg devotes one chapter to each piece of the productivity puzzle, concluding with an appendix of quick tips for applying these lessons to one’s life day-to-day routine.  At first glance, the keys to productivity – motivation, teamwork, goal-setting, the management of others, decision-making, innovation, and data absorption – may appear obvious and overbroad. After all, how does one force creativity out of themselves? Well, Duhigg tells you how in Chapter 7, using Disney’s Frozen and the Broadway hit West Side Story to explain the innovative process.

My favorite part of the book was the chapter on goals, in which Duhigg cleverly melds anecdotes about the Yom Kippur War and General Electric to describe a phenomenon known as “cognitive closure.” For years, ex-love interests have complained about my need to always label relationships and know exactly where I stand within them. Of course,  this penchant for decisiveness carries over into other aspects of my life, pulling me away from the indecisive and willy-nilly. Finally, I’m able to put a label on my certain brand of neurosis: cognitive closure. Duhigg explains that approximately 20% of the population similarly craves finality  and conclusion. While this characteristic is helpful in many situations, it can also be detrimental when one refuses to consider other possibilities or change their mind in the face of impending alternate truths.

Less interesting was the chapter on data absorption, which uses the example of inter-city Cincinnati schools to show that hands-on data manipulation better enables people to understand the data available. While the chapter’s conclusions are doubtlessly sound,  they are also incredibly intuitive. This created a bit of an anticlimactic ending.

Nevertheless, anyone with a few hours to kill will be entertained by Duhigg’s latest book – and perhaps have the necessary toolkit moving forward to avoid wasted, motivation-less chunks of time.

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