Smarter, Faster, Better

By David Tucker March 24, 2017

I’ve been a fan of Charles Duhigg since hearing him on the Entreleadership podcast talking about his book, The Power of Habit, which I thoroughly enjoyed. With my interest in personal productivity, I was excited to see his work on the topic with his new book, Smarter, Faster, Better.

I gave this book a solid four stars. I found each of the topics to be extremely insightful. My only complaint is that these individual topics aren’t brought together until the appendix. I would have been interested to see Charles spend more time expounding on examples of how they all can be tightly integrated together. However, I still would highly recommend this book.

“… 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.” (p. 7)

Detailed Review

The book covers several core topics which are tied to productivity: motivation, teams, focus, goals, managing others, decision making, innovation, and absorbing data. Duhigg devotes one of these per chapter, and then he has an appendix which pulls the pieces together with examples from his life (and a few others).

I could spend a good deal of time discussing each of these topics because of both the interest I have in them as well as how well Duhigg discusses each one with relevant examples in each chapter. It is clear that his experience as a journalist with the New York Times gives him superior skills to investigate and describe extremely relevant and compelling examples for each topics.


  1. The chapter on motivation brought up some great insights that explain some of the success around self-organizing teams and motivation:

“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.” (p. 19)

  1. I found the concept of group norms and psychological safety fascinating topics in chapter 2. As Duhigg unpacks information from Google about team structure and success, he revealed how the individuals and structure of the team mattered less than how the team grew comfortable functioning on a daily basis.

“It was the norms, not the people, that made teams so smart. The right norms could raise the collective intelligence of mediocre thinkers. The wrong norms could hobble a group made up of people who, on their own, were all exceptionally bright.” (p. 60)

  1. The chapter on managing others had an amazing story of the development of Sentinel, a data connections tool used by the FBI, with agile and lean development techniques at a time when those concepts were still relatively new to many. It is a great anecdote for those of us who work in the industry as Duhigg describes how huge teams of people with unbounded budgets could not accomplish as much as a small team with a refined process.

“The software’s development had been overseen by a young man from Wall Street who had convinced the FBI to hire him by arguing that the bureau needed to draw on lessons from companies such as Toyota, and methods such as lean manufacturing and agile programming. He had promised he could get Sentinel working in less than two years with a handful of software engineers — and then he had delivered.” (p. 138)

Closing Thoughts

I think anyone who is interested in maximizing their own productivity will find this book a valuable resource. As I said earlier, I think that the author could have pieced some of these techniques together a bit more, but it has allowed me to spend some time in deep thought on how I would do just that. With that being said, I’m not sure if it is a deficiency of the book or an intended approach.

You will certainly find things in this book that will change your personal and team productivity approach for the better.