Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity (2016). Charles DuHigg. New York. Random House. $17.00, ISBN 9780812983593. 

Review by Amber Kargol, Iowa State University, [email protected] 

Motivation, working in teams, decision-making, and goal setting are foundational in the work as Academic Advisors. We often are involved in teaching them to our students as well as using them on a daily basis ourselves. In Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity (2016), Charles Duhigg weaves real-life stories and research to give definitions to our thought processes and actions enabling Academic Advisors to improve the quality of our work.

Duhigg illustrates his topics using 3 main story lines: marine corps training, strategies in poker playing, and the trials behind the creation of Disney’s “Let It Go” song from the movie Frozen. These story lines give context to the concepts the author is trying to convey. The basic structure of each chapter involves highlighting a story, applying it to the respectable scientific theory, and providing a summary.  Duhigg includes an appendix to illustrate his thought processes in using these themes to write this book.

As Academic Advisers, we frequently manage students with whom we work, student leaders, or collaborate with others on special projects.  I found the area of teamwork and managing others of particular interest. Duhigg discusses the concept of group norms and the elements of a productive group. Google initiated this research and they created a list of the top five norms for groups, which include believing their work is important, feeling their work is personally meaningful, establishing clear goals and defined roles, depending upon one another, and incorporating psychological safety.  The author made clear to point out that it was not the ability level or personality type which created a productive group, but a group with the aforementioned elements. Creating focused groups and researching all possibilities of the problem, we are trying to solve, will bring the desired results.

The most thought-provoking concept in this book was about absorbing data. Recruitment and retention has come to the forefront on many college campuses. We have so many technological resources readily available in which to research the characteristics of our students and how it relates to student success. The big idea is the need to interact with the data to make it meaningful. The author defines the concept of information blindness as our inability to take advantage of data, as it becomes more plentiful (p. 243). He encourages us find ways to make the data meaningful in our lives, interact with it, ask questions, and use a process in which to organize, interpret, and apply it.

Overall, this book is easy to read if you embrace story telling. Each chapter delves deeper into the individual stories highlighted while applying scientific theories. It would be very difficult to jump into your chapter of interest without having the context of the stories discussed. Smarter, Faster, Better is a wonderful tool to use personally or professionally to investigate your own motivation, decision-making, and teamwork. It may not provide you with a comprehensive model to solve these issues, but it will give you an excellent starting point to reflect on your experiences.

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