Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

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Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Florence Holmes
Reviewed by Florence Holmes
Summary: A self-improvement book which teaches productivity principles through gripping case studies
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 380 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Random House
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1847947437

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Smarter Faster Better is ideal book for someone who loves both stories and career-related self-improvement. Readers looking for quick answers, bullet points or sound bites may be disappointed as Duhigg's approach is to focus on case studies, told with the flair of a short story, and then extrapolate from these rather than listing tips and exercises. However, if you have the time and patience to get to the point of each chapter slowly (and surely this is a subject matter worth devoting time to), you will doubtless find that Duhigg is an excellent storyteller and cleverly articulates the key message from each story so that they stick.

Duhigg splits the book into fairly broad themes, from teams to goal setting to absorbing data. He uses an extraordinary array of case studies, employing several overlapping stories in each chapter, and finding out what will happen in these – whether a kidnapped man will be found or a poker plan win - are what keep the reader engaged. In Focus, Duhigg gives a blow by blow account of two contrasting aviation stories – the Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris, which crashed in the Atlantic, and the Qantas Flight 32 from Singapore to Sydney which was the most damaged Airbus 380 ever to land safely. The description of these flights, using the real conversations of the pilots in each plane, is as dramatic as any fictional page turner, and Duhigg adeptly ties the stories to concepts like cognitive tunnelling and mental models.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the Appendix, in which Duhigg explains his application of his own principles, and the difficulty in doing so, to the writing of the book. He even includes photographs of his handwritten notes to self. This avoids the too common problem of self-improvement books in which the author comes across as preachy and patronising or as a superhuman who has never experienced the problems of mere mortals. It also serves to make the book as a whole more practical, especially for writers.

My only criticism of this otherwise brilliant book is its treatment of gender. Duhigg uses several examples from very male dominated environments (a car manufacturing plant, the marines, the FBI) and one very female one (the nurses in a special care baby unit). For 2017, it's rather disappointing to read such gender stereotypes. Duhigg features a female prime minister but in a negative light, the only positive portrayals of women being a poker player and a director at Disney who is, in fact, the first female director in Disney's history. It would be encouraging if Duhigg had used some examples of successful people pursuing careers not usually associated with their gender and a more equal male, female balance.

Aside from this, however, Smarter Faster Better is an enjoyable and potentially very useful read.

Further reading suggestions: Get Things Done: What Stops Smart People Achieving More and How You Can Change by Robert Kelsey.

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Buy Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg at


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