Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

June 23, 2020

Introduction

  • “Productivity isn’t about working more or sweating harder.”
  • “…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.”

 

Chapter 1: Motivation

  • “In 1980, more than 90 percent of the American workforce reported to a boss. Today more than a third of working Americans are freelancers, contractors, or in otherwise transitory positions. The workers who have succeeded in this new economy are those who know how to decide for themselves how to spend their time and allocate their energy. They understand how to set goals, prioritize tasks, and make choices about which projects to pursue.”
  • “Scientists have found that people can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way. The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control.”
  • “When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster.”
  • “One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. ‘Each choice – no matter how small – reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy,’”
  • “Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It’s this feeling of self-determination that gets us going.”
  • “Locus of control has been a major topic of study within psychology since the 1950s. Researchers have found that people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves for success or failure, rather than assigning responsibility to things outside their influence.”
  • ‘Internal locus of control has been linked with academic success, higher self-motivation and social maturity, lower incidences of stress and depression, and longer life span,’
  • “In contrast, having an external locus of control – believing that your life is primarily influenced by events outside of your control – ‘is correlated with higher levels of stress, [often] because an individual perceives the situation as beyond his or her coping abilities.’”
  • “if you put people in situations where they can practice feeling in control, where that internal locus of control is reawakened, then people can start building habits that make them feel like they’re in charge of their own lives – and the more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves.”
  • “If you can link something hard to a choice you care about, it makes the task easier,”
  • “Make a choice into a meaningful decision, and self-motivation will emerge.”
  • “If you give people an opportunity to feel a sense of control and let them practice making better choices, they can learn to exert willpower. Once people know how to make self-directed choices into a habit, motivation becomes more automatic.”
  • “Moreover, to teach ourselves to self-motivate more easily, we need to learn to see our choices not just as expressions of control but also as affirmations of our values and goals.”
  • “The choices that are most powerful in generating motivation… are decisions that do two things: They convince us we’re in control and they endow our actions with larger meaning.”
  • “…unless we practice self-determination and give ourselves emotional rewards for subversive assertiveness, our capacity for self-motivation can fade.”
  • “What’s more, we need to prove to ourselves that our choices are meaningful.”

 

Chapter 2: Teams

  • “The People Analytics group, part of Google’s human resources division, helped examine if employees were satisfied with their bosses and coworkers, whether they felt overworked, intellectually challenged, and fairly paid, whether their work-life balance was actually balancing out, as well as hundreds of other variables. The division helped with hiring and firing decisions, and its analysts provided insights into who should be promoted and who, perhaps, had risen too fast.”
  • “Any group, over time, develops collective norms about appropriate behavior,”
  • “Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards, and unwritten rules that govern how we function.”
  • “There is strong evidence that group dorms play a critical role in shaping the emotional experience of participating in a team.”
  • “We had to manage the how of teams, not the who.”
  • “…enthusiastic norms made teams better. Loyalty norms made them less effective.”
  • “On the best teams… leaders encouraged people to speak up; teammates felt like they could expose their vulnerabilities to one another; people said they could suggest ideas without fear of retribution; the culture discouraged people from making harsh judgements.”
  • “They were all behaviors that created a sense of togetherness while also encouraging people to take a chance.”
  • “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,’”
  • “The group that created Saturday Night Live came together so successfully, this theory goes, because a communal culture replaced individual needs. There were shared experiences; common social networks; and group needs trumped individual egos.”
  • “…the SNL team clicked because, surprisingly, they all felt safe enough around one another to keep pitching new jokes and ideas. The writers and actors worked amid norms that made everyone feel like they could take risks and be honest with one another, even as they were shooting down ideas, undermining one another, and competing for airtime.”
  • “…good teams had succeeded not because of innate qualities of team members, but because of how they treated one another. Put differently, the most successful teams had norms that caused everyone to mesh particularly well.”
  • “There were, however, two behaviors that all good teams shared.”
  • “First, all the members of the good teams spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon that researchers referred to as ‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’”
  • “But if only one person or a small group of people spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.”
  • “Second, the good teams tested as having ‘high average social sensitivity’ – a fancy way of saying that the groups were skilled at intuiting how members felt based on their tone of voice, how people held themselves, and the expressions on their faces.”
  • “For psychological safety to emerge among a group, teammates don’t have to be friends. They do, however, need to be socially sensitive and ensure everyone feels heard. ‘The best tactic for establishing psychological safety is demonstration by a team leader,’”
  • “‘There’s a myth we all carry inside our heads,’ Bock said. ‘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.”
  • “What matters is having a voice and social sensitivity.”
  • “Teams need to believe that 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 one another.”
  • “But, most important, teams need psychological safety.”
  • “So, if you are leading a team – be it a group of coworkers or a sports team, a church gathering, or your family dinner table – think about what message your choices send. Are you encouraging equality in speaking, or rewarding the loudest people? Are you modeling listening? Are you demonstrating a sensitivity to what people think and feel, or are you letting decisive leadership be an excuse for not paying as close attention as you should?”

 

Chapter 3: Focus

  • “…errors are particularly likely when people are forced to toggle between automaticity and focus, and are unusually dangerous as automatic systems infiltrate airplanes, cars, and other environments where a misstep can be tragic. In the age of automation, knowing how to manage your focus is more critical than ever before.”
  • “Cognitive tunneling can cause people to become overly focused on whatever is directly in front of their eyes or become preoccupied with immediate tasks.”
  • “…once in a cognitive tunnel, we lose our ability to direct our focus. Instead, we latch on to the easiest and most obvious stimulus, often at the cost of common sense.”
  • “Reactive thinking is how we build habits, and its why to-do lists and calendar alerts are so helpful: Rather than needing to decide what to do next, we can take advantage of our reactive instincts and automatically proceed. Reactive thinking, in a sense, outsources the choices and control that, in other settings, create motivation.”
  • “But the downside of reactive thinking is that habits and reactions can become so automatic they overpower our judgement. Once our motivation is outsourced, we simply react.”
  • “People like Darlene who are particularly good at managing their attention tend to share certain characteristics. One is a propensity to create pictures in their minds of what they expect to see. These people tell themselves stories about what’s going on as it occurs. They narrate their own experiences within their heads. They are more likely to answer questions with anecdotes rather than simple responses. They say when they daydream, they’re often imagining future conversations.”
  • “Psychologists have a phrase for this kind of habitual forecasting: ‘creating mental models.’”
  • “Cognitive tunneling and reactive thinking occur when our mental spotlights go from dim to bright in a split second. But if we are constantly telling ourselves stories and creating mental pictures, that beam never fully powers down.”
  • “The first thing the researchers noticed, as they began crawling through all that data, was that the firms most productive workers, its superstars, shared a number of traits. The first was they tended to work on only five projects at once”
  • “The superstars weren’t choosing tasks that leveraged existing skills. Instead, they were signing up for projects that required them to seek out new colleagues and demand new abilities.”
  • “Something else the superstars had in common is they were disproportionately drawn to assignments that were in their early stages.”
  • “Finally, the superstars also shared a particular behavior, almost an intellectual and conversational tic: They loved to generate theories – lots and lots of theories, about all kinds of topics,”
  • “They were somewhat obsessive, in fact, about trying to explain the world to themselves and their colleagues as they went about their days.”
  • “They’re constantly trying to figure out how information fits together.”
  • “People who know how to manage their attention and who habitually build robust mental models tend to earn more money and get better grades.”
  • “Narrate your life, as you are living is, and you’ll encode those experiences deeper into 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.”
  • “If you want to do a better job of paying attention to what really matters, of not getting overwhelmed and distracted by the constant flow of emails and conversations and interruptions that are part of every day, of knowing where to focus and what to ignore, get into the habit of telling yourself stories.”

Chapter 4: Goal Setting

  • “Decisive people have an instinct to ‘seize’ on a choice when it meets a minimum threshold of acceptability. This is a useful impulse, because it helps us commit to projects rather than endlessly debating questions or second guessing ourselves into a state of paralysis.”
  • ‘Some 400 laboratory and field studies [show] that specific, high goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to ‘do one’s best’’
  • “The process of making a goal specific and proving it is achievable involves figuring out the steps it requires – or shifting that goal slightly, if your initial aims turn out to be unrealistic.”
  • “Aims such as SMART goals ‘can cause [a] person to have tunnel vision, to focus more on expanding effort to get immediate results’”
  • “Experiments have shown that people with smart goals are more likely to seize on the easiest tasks, to become obsessed with finishing projects, and to freeze on priorities once a goal has been set. ‘You get into this mindset where crossing things off your to-do list becomes more important than asking yourself if you’re doing the right things.’”
  • “Work-outs were successful because they balanced the psychological influence of immediate goals with the freedom to think about bigger things.”
  • “People respond to the conditions around them. If you’re being constantly told to focus on achievable results, you’re only going to think of achievable goals. You’re not going to dream big.”
  • “Numerous academic studies have examined the impact of stretch goals and have consistently found that forcing people to commit to ambitious, seemingly out-of-reach objectives can spark outsized jumps in innovation and productivity.”
  • “Stretch goals ‘serve as jolting events that disrupt complacency and promote new ways of thinking.’”
  • “There is a fine line between an ambition that helps people achieve something amazing and one that crushes morale. For a stretch goal to inspire, it often needs to be paired with something like the SMART system.”
  • “Stretch goals, paired with SMART thinking, can help put the impossible within reach.”
  • “What matters is having a large ambition and a system for figuring out how to make it into a concrete and realistic plan. Then, as you check the little things off your to-do list, you’ll move even closer to what really matters.”
  • “In addition to having audacious ambitions and plans that are thorough, we still need, occasionally, to step outside the day-to-day and consider if we’re moving towards goals that make sense. We still need to think.”

 

Chapter 5: Managing Others

  • “…within most companies – no matter how great the product or loyal the customers – things would eventually fall apart unless employees trusted one another.”
  • “…most companies had cultures that fell into one of five categories. One was a culture they referred to as the ‘star’ model. At these firms, executives hired from elite universities or other successful companies and gave employees huge amounts of autonomy.”
  • “The second category was the ‘engineering’ model. Inside firms with engineering cultures, there weren’t many individual stars, but engineers, as a group, held the most sway. An engineering mindset prevailed in solving problems or approaching hiring decisions.”
  • “The third and fourth categories of companies included those firms built around ‘bureaucracies’ and those constructed as ‘autocracies.’ In the bureaucratic model, cultures emerged through thick ranks of middle managers.”
  • “An autocratic culture is similar, except that all the rules, job descriptions, and organizational charts ultimately point to the desires and goals of one person, usually the founder or CEO.”
  • “The final category was known as the ‘commitment’ model, and it is was a throwback to an age where people happily worked for one company their entire life.”
  • ‘Commitment CEOs believe that getting the culture right is more important at first than designing the best product.’
  • “…a commitment culture outperformed every other type of management style in almost every meaningful way. ‘Not one of the commitment firms we studied failed,’ said Baron. ‘None of them, which is amazing in its own right. But they were also the fastest companies to go public, had the highest profitability ratios, and tended to be leaner, with fewer middle managers, because when you choose employees slowly, you have time to find people who excel at self-direction.’”
  • “One of the reasons commitment cultures were successful, it seemed, was because a sense of trust emerged among workers, managers, and customers that enticed everyone to work harder and stick together through setbacks that are inevitable in any industry. Most commitment companies avoided layoffs unless there was no other alternative. They invested heavily in training. There were higher levels of teamwork and psychological safety.”
  • “…commitment firms valued making employees happy over quick profits – and as a result, workers tended to turn down higher paying jobs at rival firms. And customers stayed loyal because they had relationships that stretched over years.”
  • “The Agile methodology, as it came to be known, emphasized collaboration, frequent testing, rapid iteration, and pushing decision making to whoever was closest to a problem. It quickly revolutionized software development and now is the standard methodology among many tech firms.”
  • “What is the point of hiring smart people, we asked, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?”
  • “…dedicated to devolving decision-making to the person closest to a problem. They all encouraged collaboration by allowing teams to self-manage and self-organize. They emphatically insisted on a culture of commitment and trust.”
  • “There has to be a system in place that makes you trust that you can choose the solution you think is best and that your bosses are committed to supporting you if you take a chance that might not pay off.”
  • “Employees work smarter and better when they believe they have more decision-making authority and when they believe their colleagues are committed to their success.”
  • “A culture of commitment and trust isn’t a magic bullet. It doesn’t guarantee that a product will sell, or an idea will bear fruit. But it’s the best bet for making sure the right conditions are in place when a great idea comes along.”

 

Chapter 6: Decision Making

  • “Many of our most important decisions are, in fact, attempts to forecast the future.”
  • “Good decision making is contingent on a basic ability to envision what happens next.”
  • “The paradox of learning how to make better decisions is that it requires developing a comfort with doubt.”
  • “The lessons on probabilistic thinking offered by the GJP had instructed participants to think of the future not as what’s going to happen, but rather as a series of possibilities that might occur. It taught them to envision tomorrow as an array of potential outcomes, all of which had different odds of coming true.”
  • “The future isn’t one thing. Rather, it is a multitude of possibilities that often contradict one another until one of them comes true. And those futures can be combined in order for someone to predict which one is more likely to occur.”
  • “To become better at predicting the future – at making good decisions – we need to know the difference between what we hope will happen and what is more and less likely to occur.”
  • ‘Probabilities are the closest thing to fortune telling, but you have to be strong enough to live with what they tell you might occur.”
  • “At the core of Bayes’ rule is a principle: Even if we have very little data, we can still forecast the future by making assumptions and then skewing them based on what we observe about the world.”
  • “we are much more likely to pay attention or to remember successes and forget about failures.”
  • “Many successful people, in contrast, spend an enormous amount of time seeking out information on failures.”
  • “We all have a natural proclivity to be optimistic, to ignore our mistakes and forget others tiny errors. But making good predictions relies on realistic assumptions, and those are based on our experiences. If we pay attention to only good news, were handicapping ourselves.”
  • “How do we learn to make better decisions? In part, by training ourselves to think probabilistically. To do that, we must force ourselves to envision various futures – to hold contradictory scenarios in our minds simultaneously – and then expose ourselves to a wide spectrum of successes and failures to develop an intuition about which forecasts are more or less likely to come true.”

 

Chapter 7: Innovation

  • “’Combinations of existing material are centerpieces in theories of creativity,’ And yet most original ideas grow out of old concepts, and ‘the building blocks of new ideas are often embodied in existing knowledge.’”
  • ’A lot of the people we think of as exceptionally creative are essentially intellectual middlemen… They’ve seen a lot of different people attack the same problems in different settings, and so they know which kinds of ideas are most likely to work’
  • West Side Story went on to become one of the most popular and influential musicals in history. It succeeded by mixing originality and convention to create something new. It took old ideas and put them in novel settings so gracefully that many people never realized they were watching the familiar become unique.”
  • “We all have a natural instinct to overlook our emotions as creative material. But a key part of learning how to broker insights from one setting to another, to separate the real from the cliched, is paying more attention to how things make us feel. ‘Creativity is just connecting things,’”
  • “People become creative brokers, in other words, when they learn to pay attention to how things make them react and feel.”
  • “Were more likely to recognize discoveries hidden in our own experiences when necessity pushes us, when panic or frustrations cause us to throw old ideas into new settings. Psychologists call this ‘creative desperation.’”
  • “Effective brokers aren’t cool and collected. They’re often worried and afraid.”
  • “As innovation brokers bring together different perspectives, a creative energy is often released that is heightened by a small amount of tension – such as the pressure that comes from deadlines, or clashes that result when people from different backgrounds meld ideas, or the stresses of collaborators’ pushing us to do more. And these ‘tensions can lead to greater creativity, because all those differences trigger divergent thinking, the ability to see something new when you are forced to look at an idea from someone else’s point of view… But when that tension disappears, when you solve the big problem, and everyone starts seeing things the same way, people also sometimes start thinking alike and forgetting all the options they have.’”
  • “Intermediate disturbances are critical,”
  • “If there are no disturbances to the environment, then the strongest species become so entrenched that nothing else can compete. Similarly, if there are massive, frequent disturbances, only the hardiest species grow back. But if there are intermediate disturbances, then numerous species bloom, and natures creative capacities flourish.”
  • “When strong ideas take root, they can sometimes crowd out competitors so thoroughly that alternatives can’t prosper. So sometimes the best way to spark creativity is by disturbing things just enough to let some light through.”
  • “Creativity can’t be reduced to a formula. At its core, it needs novelty, surprise, and other elements that cannot be planned in advance to seem fresh and new.”
  • “But the creative process is different. We can create the conditions that help creativity flourish. We know, for example, that innovation becomes more likely when old ideas are mixed in new ways. We know the odds of success go up when brokers – people with fresh, different perspectives, who have seen ideas in a variety of settings – draw on the diversity within their heads. We know that, sometimes, a little disturbance can help jolt us out of the ruts that even the most creative thinkers fall into, as long as those shake-ups are the right size.”
  • “First, be sensitive to your own experiences.”
  • “Look to your own life as creative fodder and broker your own experiences into the wider world.”
  • “Second, recognize that the panic and stress you feel as you try to create isn’t a sign that everything is falling apart. Rather, it’s the condition that helps make us flexible enough to seize something new. Creative desperation can be critical; anxiety is often what pushes us to see old ideas in new ways.”
  • “The creative pain should be embraced.”
  • “Finally, remember that the relief accompanying a creative break-through, while sweet, can also blind us to seeing alternatives. It is critical to maintain some distance from what we create.”
  • “…we can regain that critical distance by forcing ourselves to critique what we’ve already done, by making ourselves look at it from a completely different perspective, by changing the power dynamics in the room or giving new authority to someone who didn’t have it before.”
  • “Creativity is just problem solving.”
  • “People what are most creative are the ones who have learned that feeling scared is a good sign. We just have to learn how to trust ourselves enough to let the creativity out.”

 

Chapter 8: Absorbing Data

  • “…data can be transformative, but only if people know how to use it.”
  • “With Google and the internet and all the information we have now, you can find answers to almost anything in seconds, [but] there’s a difference between finding an answer and understanding what it means.”
  • “In theory, the ongoing explosion in information should make the right answers more obvious. In practice, though, being surrounded by data often makes it harder to decide.”
  • “information blindness refers to our minds tendency to stop absorbing data when there’s too much to take in.”
  • “The quality of peoples decisions generally gets better as they receive more relevant information. But then their brain reaches a breaking point when the data becomes too much.”
  • “Our brains crave reducing things to two or three options,”
  • “So, when were faced with a lot of information, we start automatically arranging it into mental folders and subfolders and sub-subfolders.”
  • “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’ because it relies on doing a little bit of work.”
  • “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.”
  • “’the engineering design process,’ which forced students to define their dilemmas, collect data, brainstorm solutions, debate alternative approaches, and conduct iterative experiments.”
  • “The engineering design process was built around the idea that many problems that seem overwhelming at first can be broken into smaller pieces, and then solutions tested, again and again, until an insight emerges. The process asked students to define precisely the dilemma they wanted to solve, then to conduct research and come up with multiple solutions, and then conduct tests, measure results, and repeat the procedure until an answer was found.”
  • “if you have a system for making choices, you can afford to slow down and think.”
  • “We all have a natural tendency to ignore the information contained in our previous decisions, to forget that we’ve already conducted thousands of experiments each time we made a choice.”
  • “The people who are most successful at learning – those who are able to digest the data surrounding them, who absorb insights embedded in their experiences and take advantage of information flowing past – are the ones who know how to use disfluency to their advantage. They transform what life throws at them, rather than just taking it as it comes.”
  • “When we encounter new information and want to learn from it, we should force ourselves to do something with the data.”
  • “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.”