With his latest book, New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg joins the likes of Malcolm Gladwell in helping us better understand our world and ourselves.
“Smarter Faster Better” seeks to uncover the secrets to being productive, creative, focused, perceptive and motivated — and it mostly succeeds. Duhigg takes readers behind the scenes at Disney, where writers are floundering with the script of “Frozen” and a breakthrough illustrates how creativity works; in the cockpit of an Airbus on the verge of crashing, where the pilot’s steely focus hones in on what most needs his attention; into Cincinnati public schools, where teachers are forced to physically interact with data, subsequently the number of students meeting benchmarks quadruples.
Rebellious nursing home residents illustrate the significance of feeling a sense of control in sparking motivation. Duhigg highlights a series of studies that showed that seniors who flourished in nursing homes were the ones who pushed back in the face of strict rules. They would rearrange furniture or trade food. These small acts of defiance “were psychologically powerful because the subversives saw the rebellions as evidence that they were still in control of their own lives,” Duhigg writes. “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.”
“Smarter Faster Better” is full of revealing anecdotes like these, in settings as varied as a hospital NICU, a Toyota plant in Japan and the studios of “Saturday Night Live.” As much as Duhigg tries to imbue the book with actionable takeaways for readers, some of the sub-topics do not have universal appeal so it doesn’t manage to do that as effectively as Duhigg’s brilliant first book, “The Power of Habit.” Still, it’s engagingly written, solidly reported, thought-provoking and worth a read.