Who wouldn’t want to do things smarter, faster and better? I think we all would, so in that spirit I read Charles Duhigg’s new book by that name.

Duhigg sets out to help readers understand how to be more productive in life and business, and categorizes these lessons in eight categories: Motivation, Teams, Focus, Goal Setting, Managing Others, Decision Making, Innovation, and — the one that surprised me — Absorbing Data.

“Data can be transformative,” Duhigg writes, “but only if people know how to use it.” He advocates spending time and energy with new data that we encounter, and actually doing something with it. This may involve teaching it to others, creating an experiment or linking it to something we already know.

An example he cites is the Cincinnati School District where selected schools all had data rooms and the teachers were mandated to spend time there engaging with the data. They district was producing numerous reports and measures about student achievement, but results did not improve until the teachers started working with the data themselves. By requiring teachers to record certain data elements by hand, to manually create graphs and charts and keeping track of select indicators on an index card for each student, it increased the meaning of the data to where it was actually used to influence teacher behavior. 

It reminded me of my dissertation, where we were required to enter our research results ourselves into the statistical models because it was through this process that we could identify nuances and truly internalize what was a trend and what was an outlier in the data.

Duhigg acknowledges the “disfluency” in this approach — that it is harder and more time consuming to manipulate data manually at first — but he believes then the data becomes “stickier” (i.e. meaningful) and can shape our subsequent actions in more productive ways.

Productivity is not about efficiency and no waste,” says Duhigg. “It is about recognizing choices that other people often overlook.” What data do you have that could help drive your decisions — if you only spent time truly absorbing it? Doing so may make you smarter, faster, better in the long run.

beth triplett

Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg, Random House 2016

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