Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity (2016). Charles DuHigg. New York. Random House. $17.00, ISBN 9780812983593. Review by Barry Tolchin, The Ohio State Univeristy.

Motivation, goal setting, decision-making, and creativity. Each year, college students - and their academic advisors - spend thousands of hours trying to develop or hone these skills for increased productivity, academic and personal success. In Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, Charles DuHigg uses actual stories of problem-solving and ingenuity to provide a model to address these and other struggles that many students and professionals experience every day. 

DuHigg uses a professional poker player to model sound decision-making, U.S. Marine corps asking its recruits why they enlisted to increase motivation, and the song-writing team behind the Oscar-Winning song “Let It Go” to illustrate how we can create an environment in which creativity and innovation can thrive. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular skill, then multiple stories are used to illustrate how these skills can be developed and honed. DuHigg synthesizes the lessons to be learned at the end of each chapter, similar to summaries found at the end of many textbooks.

One particularly impactful discussion involves SMART and stretch goals. Many of us are familiar with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timeline) goals, and have discussed their benefit with students. DuHigg states that these are very important to help with achieving small victories and building confidence, but they can also lead to complacency, and goals so easy to accomplish that true potential is never achieved. Stretch goals are those that are so ambitious, they seem impossible to accomplish. While these can lead to incredible feats, they can also cause significant stress and loss of motivation over time. DuHigg argues that is important to develop stretch goals to foster innovation and inspire performance, and necessary to incorporate SMART goals to create momentum and sustain motivation. 

Perhaps the most beneficial content is this book is actually contained in the appendix, where DuHigg provides a guidebook for how to use the ideas and lessons gathered from the various anecdotes. He recounts occasions where his own to-do list was so long, he would procrastinate, and decide to something else - a pattern to which many of our students can relate. By taking a very small step, possibly as simple as typing one sentence of an email, DuHigg significantly increased his productivity, and reduced the level of stress over what had begun as a very lengthy to-do list. 

There are stories which have a much bigger impact and connection with the theme than others, and some readers will not appreciate the way that DuHigg weaves from one anecdote to another, saving the conclusion and relevance for the end of the chapter. Overall, Smarter, Faster, Better provides a personal, relevant, and comprehensive manual for self-improvement and perseverance. Whether it is a student attempting a lofty goal, an advisor looking to spark creativity and imagination, or an administrator seeking to improve team cohesion and morale, Smarter, Faster, Better may not provide every answer, but it is an excellent place to start.

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