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On productivity: Smarter Faster Better

In a recent strategic facilitation for an old MBA buddy’s team, he introduced me as someone who reads more than most people.

I suppose that’s true. I think it’s true again, at some point I might have slipped out of reading and into Youtube/Netflix. But Audiobooks have been a pretty big game changer for the distractable, especially if you can “read” your books while stuck in traffic or walking the dog.


I recently re-“read” Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. What a great book, a well-constructed deep dive into 8 tools on how to be more productive. I particularly remembered, and like re-listening to, the part on “locus of control” and innovation as it pertains to the way Frozen was made. Yep, Frozen, that runaway train of a Pixar success story. And how it was really bad before it was good, and how they got there.

I consider myself a pretty productive guy. I run a business and I do school runs, I find time to work out, write and teach. Yet I, like most people, often feel overwhelmed, under-resourced and just simply tapped out.

So Duhigg’s 8-chapter themes were a great reminder of what makes for great productivity, and how we can apply the principles in our own lives. Here are the headlines:


1. Motivation

It’s all about fostering an internal locus of control. You can’t motivate people – they need to motivate themselves. How do you get them to do that? Love the story about the school kids' feedback, and this actually helped me set up my “Managing Millennials” lesson in the Key Exec course, as it speaks directly to the challenges we now face in motivating and maintaining a younger workforce.


2. Teams

The hypothesis, backed by some great case studies, is that great teams have high trust and feel a high degree of psychological safety. People are tuned into each other and have a high degree of social sensitivity. Makes sense.

3. Focus

This speaks directly to the work we do around zeroing in on Priorities. And, equally, not letting your tunnel vision prevent you from spotting the peripherals. It’s a gift and a curse. Be laser focused but be aware of key indicators on the periphery. It’s tough stuff, and what great leaders are made of.

4. Goal Setting

SMART and STRETCH goals. Or, as we like to call them in my world, your BHAG and your… well S.M.A.R.T. goals. Knowing what winning looks like is a strong motivator, it turns out. Duh. And reach pretty high but keep your shorter-term goals nice and achievable.

5. Managing Others

He’s got a few leadership models, but the one that wins is the “Commitment Model”. Where you hire the right people slowly and give them space to make their own decisions. Systems+values+right people. It’s not complicated, but as we know it’s pretty hard to do consistently.

6. Decision Making

I found this pretty novel. Decision-making as a bet, i.e. leaders will take more risks with less certainty because they bet on a certain outcome, and are more comfortable with getting it wrong. A lot of successful people pay an outsize amount of attention to other people’s past failures so they can learn from them.

7. Innovation

Tension, creative brokers and building on mistakes. Some great tips here on how to rethink the problem, maybe burning down the house so you can rebuild in a better way. Both the Frozen and West Side Story examples really showcase these elements.

8. Absorbing Data

The key note here is there’s a lot of info out there, but our ability to absorb and use it has not evolved equally. The suggestion is that we need to foster a habit of quick action on new data. Or, as my speaking coach Rich Mulholland once said: “Read less books, take more action.”

There are a lot of interesting and new data and stories in this book. But I’ll take three things from it that I might play with in the near future:

  1. Being intentional about psychological safety

  2. Embracing tension as a gateway to creative innovation

  3. Take action on new data


What will you do?



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