Review: Smarter Faster Better – The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

smarter faster betterThis review first ran in the April 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

By Charles Duhigg

Doubleday Canada


Your dream team gives you nightmares.

You recruited your best and brightest employees to work on a mission critical project.

You assumed the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts.

But the parts aren’t fitting together and you’re running out of runway.

Google searched and found the key to building better teams. The company spent two years surveying employees, studying 180 teams, collecting tens of thousands of pieces of data and building dozens of software programs to run the numbers and analyze trends.

“The biggest thing you should take away from this work is that how teams work matters, in a lot of ways, more than who is on them,” says Laszlo Bock, head of Google’s People Operations department. “We think we need superstars. But that’s not what our research found. You can take a team of average performers, and if you teach them to interact the right way, they’ll do things no superstar could ever accomplish.”

Teams interact the right way when they feel psychologically safe. When they feel safe, teams don’t shy away from having the honest conversations and tough debates that lead to better decisions. There’s no fear of reprisals or retribution and team members can be counted on to look out for one another.

“Teams succeed when everyone feels like they can speak up and when members show they are sensitive to how one another feels,” says Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with the New York Times and author of Smarter Faster Better.

Team leaders set the tone. If you want a productive team, resist the urge to interrupt and interject. Summarize what’s being said to prove you’re listening.  Be good at reading emotions and knowing when someone feels frustrated, upset or left out. Be quick to resolve team conflicts. And make sure everyone speaks at least once before bringing a meeting to a close.

“There are always good reasons for choosing behaviors that undermine psychological safety,” says Duhigg. “It is often more efficient to cut off debate, to make a quick decision, to listen to whoever knows the most and ask others to hold their tongues. But a team will become an amplification of its internal culture, for better or worse. Study after study shows that while psychological safety might be less efficient in the short run, it’s more productive over time.”

Along with showing how to build better teams, Duhigg looks at how we can be smarter and more productive when it comes to motivation, innovation, focus, goal setting, managing others, making decisions and absorbing data.

“Connecting these eight ideas is a powerful underlying principle,” says Duhigg, who tells dozens of stories that explain the latest in neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics. “Productivity isn’t about working more or sweating harder. It’s not simply a product of spending longer hours at your desk or making bigger sacrifices.

“Productivity is about making certain choices in certain ways. The way we choose to see ourselves and frame daily decisions; the stories we tell ourselves, and the easy goals we ignore; the sense of community we build among teammates; the creative cultures we establish as leaders. These are the things that separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive.”

If you’re bringing people together to work on a project, save yourself some nightmares. Have everyone read and discuss Duhigg’s chapter on teamwork as their first assignment.

@jayrobb lives in Hamilton and serves as the Director of Communications for Mohawk College.


Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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