Proven Ways to Become Smarter Faster and Better
Listen to Episode B-11:
Episode B-11 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth, on the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. And right across to me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi, Pam. As always, it’s great to join you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper®. As always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders — and their companies — to accelerate to their next level of growth and success. So, Pam, this is one of a series of special episodes that we’re featuring the summer.
Pam Harper: That’s right, Scott. From May 17th until August 23rd, we’re featuring some of our most popular book pairing episodes and interviews with best-selling business authors. We’re doing this for 2 reasons:
First, We have many, many more listeners than we had when we first featured some of these episodes. If you’re one of those people, welcome.
Second, There’s so much happening so quickly in the world. One of the things we’ve found especially helpful is to think about what has happened since the last time we read a book or listened to an interview. And it’s always sparked some type of “new” insight or idea.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened for us. During this time, we’re focusing on developing additional offerings for visionary leaders to take themselves and their companies to unprecedented levels of growth and success. These will be available later this summer.
So if you’re not a new listener, we encourage you to listen with “fresh ears.”
Scott Harper: That’s right. So, what trends are you noticing with your customers, partners, competitors, employees, technology, or other things that affect your business and your success? And, what’s a new idea from this episode that could be applied to create value? Maybe it’s a different way of thinking about your market strategy. Perhaps it’s a new way of engaging employees or other stakeholders to collaborate to create new value. Or perhaps it’s something else.
Pam Harper: The point is, when you’re focused on creating new value, it’s important to notice what’s different in the world since the last time you looked. When you do that on a regular basis, it’s much more likely that you’ll discover the new ideas that will get you there.
Scott Harper: And so with that, let’s pick up on this week’s topic, presented as it was originally released. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: So Pam, what are we exploring today?
Pam Harper: The secrets of becoming more productive in life and business.
Scott Harper: That’s a good thing.
Pam Harper: You know, so many people we speak with tell us how they constantly push themselves to be even more productive in the face of all the growing demands. However, it’s all too easy to just get busier and still not accomplish the things that we really want and need, right?
Scott Harper: Yes; absolutely.
Pam Harper: In order to break out of this paradox, we need to change the game on what it takes to be productive in every aspect of our life and business − it’s all one thing. Our guest today has taken an in-depth look at this issue. He is Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times and author of the books The Power of Habit, which we reviewed in Episode 40, and Smarter Faster Better, which has been newly released. He’s also a winner of the National Academies of Science’s National Journalism and George Polk Awards. A graduate of Harvard Business School and Yale College, he has been a frequent contributor or guest on the Colbert Report, NPR’s This American Life, Frontline, and other programs.
In addition to all of this, Charles has a personal life. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. Charles, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Charles Duhigg: Thanks for having me on.
Pam Harper: What prompted you to investigate the science of productivity and write Smarter Faster Better?
Charles Duhigg: It started about 4 years ago now. My first book, The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation had just come out. I imagined that not that many people would read it, and what happened is I got very lucky and a lot of people enjoyed it and were reading it.
At the same time, I was working at the Times as a reporter, and I was working on a series about Apple and using Apple as a lens for understanding the global economy, and looking at things like working conditions in Chinese factories. That’s the series that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Professionally, I was having this fantastic year.
However, I would come home every night to my family − you know I have two kids − and would sit down and have dinner with them and with my wife. I would say to my wife, “You know, if this is what success feels like, then sign me back up for failure because this is the worst lifestyle ever.” I felt like I was working all the time. I would come home and all I really wanted to do was hang out with my kids and put them to bed or read them stories. I would have 100 emails to deal with and all of these things that I had tried to get done at work that I hadn’t had time to do. I just felt so overwhelmed by how much there was.
Scott Harper: “The busier I am, the behinder I get…”
Charles Duhigg: That’s exactly right. I was running harder and harder, and felt like I was falling farther and farther behind. I started looking around, and I felt like there were these other people I could point to who were much more successful than I am and seemed much more productive than I did. They also only have 24 hours in each day, but they always seemed kind of relaxed and not stressed out. I thought, “I want to start talking to researchers and talking to those people themselves to try and figure out why are they so much more productive than I am.” What I found is that there are reasons why some people are more productive than others, so that became the book.
Scott Harper: Okay. We have all kinds of tools for communication, technology, and management techniques, and yet you’re saying that all these things are not necessarily the real answer to being truly productive.
Charles Duhigg: Well that’s exactly right. What we know … I mean productivity − personal productivity and why some companies are more productive than others − has been studied by literally thousands of researchers. What they found is that consistently, it’s not because of this one hack. It’s not because someone uses the right scheduling software. It’s because the most productive people and companies teach themselves to think slightly differently. They teach themselves to think more deeply about the choices that they’re making. As a result, they see these insights, like “This is how I remain focused on my priorities. Instead of simply being busy, I want to be productive. This is how I get my teams to work together better. This is how I can become innovative on demand.” It’s that act of thinking differently that really changes everything.
Pam Harper: At the core of your book are 8 key concepts about influencing productivity. What would you say is the underlying principle that ties all these concepts together?
Charles Duhigg: The underlying principle is this act of thinking more deeply. When we talk about thinking, it’s kind of an interesting thing, because when I say to folks, “You should think more deeply,” everyone will say, “Yes, I totally agree.” But what we know is that telling ourselves to think more deeply actually does not usually result in us actually thinking more deeply.
Pam Harper: You don’t know what to think about…
Charles Duhigg: In order to actually push ourselves to think more deeply, we need what psychologists refer to as “contemplative routines.” These are habits and practices that allow us to think more deeply. For some people, that means, for instance, engaging in some type of meditative practice, right? Maybe you take a bath in the morning and you think about everything you’ve got coming up, or every Sunday you sit down and you work on your schedule for a little bit.
But for many other people, and for most other people frankly, contemplative routines are much more active rather than passive. They’re types of things − like I’m in the habit of having a conversation, maybe almost an argument, with folks at my work about what we ought to be doing next; that practice, that habit of challenging each other about what our priorities ought to be — pushes us to think more deeply about it.
Or perhaps it’s something like I tell myself stories about my day as my day occurs, which psychologists refer to as constructing mental models. That pushes me to think about what I expect to have happen, and how I want to react to it.
Scott Harper: But in the end, it really comes down to choice. It’s I’m thinking about things, maybe in a new way, but where I choose to put my attention, where I choose to put my time, what are the choices I make in interacting with others − that really is the bottom line, yes?
Charles Duhigg: That’s right. And not just choice, but taking control, because there is so much about contemporary life that can be purely reactive. You could sit down at your computer and you could spend the entire day replying to emails, and feel like you’ve been productive but get nothing important done. Pushing yourself to not only make a choice but to say I’m going to choose to be in control of how I spend my time, of what my priorities are, of how I’m going to think about managing my team, those are all at the core of why some people are more productive than others.
Pam Harper: It’s thinking differently, and making new choices that are more effective, as well as efficient.
We’re going to take a quick break right now and when we come back, we’ll speak more with Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better, and dig deeper into some of the principles he’s found that elevate our levels of personal and business productivity. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: Thanks for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at businessadvance.com. We enable successful leaders and their companies to accelerate to the next level of growth and success by changing the game. And if you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word. Go to growthignitersradio.com, select Episode 86 and use the share links for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter on the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us. And while you’re there, sign up for our weekly alert of upcoming episodes so you’ll always be up to date.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Scott and I are speaking with Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times and author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better. Charles, how can people find out more about you and your books?
Charles Duhigg: If they just Google Smarter Faster Better or The Power of Habit or Charles Duhigg, I’ll come up. Both the books are also sold at Amazon and at all the booksellers that you normally go to.
Pam Harper: Those are good places for people to get in the habit of going.
Charles Duhigg: That’s exactly right.
Pam Harper: You can also find links and other information by going to growthignitersradio.com, Episode 86 and scrolling down to Resources.
Now back to our conversation. In the first segment, we discussed some of the overarching principles underlying peak productivity. We’re going to dig deeper into some of the foundational ideas that you lay out in your book. You make the point that the right kind of focus is critical to performance in any situation. How do we determine what to focus on and what to ignore, especially when so many of us are overwhelmed with distractions of the urgent and important?
Charles Duhigg: What we know about how our brain works and our brain focuses is that we tend to choose within milliseconds of a potential distraction coming up whether to pay attention to it by relying on what are known as “mental models.” The best way to think about mental models is that they’re kind of like the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves as our day goes along.
A lot of what we know about mental models comes from studying people like firefighters. There’s this question, like why are some firefighters so good at predicting where a danger might lie in a building that’s on fire. What researchers found is that the best firefighters walk into a burning building and they immediately start telling themselves a story about what they’re seeing. They say to themselves, “Okay, I expect that walking into this room, to see the right corner is going to be on fire and in the left corner, there’s probably going to be a staircase and that staircase is going to be burning faster than anything else because staircases tend to burn hotter.” Then when they walk into that room, they look at the right corner − it matches up with expectations. They look at the left corner, and there are fewer flames than they expect on the stairway. Something in their brain says, “Okay, pay attention to that stairway. Something is wrong with that stairway. Don’t go walk up it because it’s not what you expected.” They tell themselves these stories to build mental models.
Now contrast that with say walking into your office first thing in the morning. You walk into your office. Nothing’s on fire, hopefully, unless something’s really wrong. But your phone is buzzing in your pocket. You’ve got 100 emails waiting for you. The phone on your desk is ringing. There’s someone stopping by your desk asking if you can come to this emergency meeting. There are so many potentially overwhelming inputs that it can be really, really distracting.
What we’ve found is that the best executives tend to tell themselves a story. They tend to visualize the coming day with just like half an inch more specificity than everyone else. Most of us, we look at our schedule and we say. “Oh okay, I’ve got a meeting from 10-11, so I need to be ready for that.” But the best executives say something like, “Oh I’ve got a meeting from 10-11. Actually, I think the way that meeting’s going to start is Paul is going to bring up that stupid idea he always brings up. Then Susie, Susie is going to disagree with him because she always disagrees with him. If I jump in with my idea at that moment, I’m going to win the meeting, right?”
It doesn’t take much effort to tell yourself this story about what you expect to occur, but by doing so, you essentially program your brain to decide ahead of time what to pay attention to and what you can safely ignore in ways that allow you to maintain your focus.
Scott Harper: Does focusing on or imagining the outcomes you desire − is that part of this mental model?
Charles Duhigg: Yeah, I think so, because the act of visualizing how you want things to go allows you to work backwards a little bit and say, “Okay, if I want to get to this place, what are the intermediate steps that I need to pay attention to, right? What my boss says to me at that meeting, that probably matters a lot, but what some coworker thinks about some random idea, I don’t need to get distracted by that. I don’t have to respond to that.”
Basically, our brain has only so much bandwidth for actually processing information. If you have to make decisions in the moment, it uses up some of your brain’s bandwidth. It tires out your brain. The act of telling yourself a story ahead of time or building a mental model allows you to make some of those decisions when you’re not in the heat of the moment. As a result, you have more brainpower to focus on the things that really matter to you, so you avoid getting distracted.
Scott Harper: Okay. This really dovetails into decision making, and deciding what the right thing to do is on a larger scale, not just “do I answer my phone or do I respond to email.” Sometimes we have so much ambiguity; we live in a world of paradox and ambiguity. Trying to figure out the right thing to do is a real issue, and we see this all the time in our work. People in business say “we should be doing this product or we should be paying attention to this customer or this problem is happening,” and they might actually be paying attention to the wrong thing, or using the wrong kind of inputs to make their decisions.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: How can people be more productive and get higher quality decisions, especially when stakes are really high?
Charles Duhigg: In the book, there’s a whole chapter on decision making. I explore the ideas behind this, particularly the neurology of decision-making, through the story of Annie Duke, who is one of the most well-known professional poker players on Earth. What’s interesting about Annie is that she was actually in a PhD program to study neurosciences before she dropped out, with just months to go before getting her PhD, to become a professional poker player. One of the things that she loved about professional poker players is that she understood that the way that you win at poker is by becoming more comfortable with ambiguity.
Mediocre poker players look for certainty at the poker table. They know what cards they have; they try and guess with absolute certainty what cards other people have. Then they bet on that. The best poker players − what they do is they say, “what do I know and what do I not know?” One of the best ways to use this to make decisions, a way to operationalize this, is to make decisions by trying to imagine multiple contradictory futures and then asking yourself, “what do I think is more or less likely to come true?”
One of the best examples of thinking about this is when people decide to get married. When most people are deciding should I propose to this person that I’ve been dating− they think of the future as having a binary possibility. Either you’re in love and you get married and you live happily ever after, or you’re not perfect for each other, you get married, you get divorced, and it was a terrible mistake. But we all know that’s not actually how life works, right?
Pam Harper: Right.
Charles Duhigg: The truth of the matter is that the person that you’re dating − are they the one right person for you? Well, they’re probably a pretty good person for you. There might be 3 or 4 people in this world who are better for you, and there’s probably 200 or 300 who are worse for you. You don’t know exactly if this person is perfect, but you can probably start figuring out how close to perfect are they. If I have to spend another 20 years looking for someone who’s better than this person, then clearly I should marry this person who’s right for me right now. Now, that’s less romantic than the storybook, but that’s the right way of making decisions. That’s how the most productive people make decisions.
Pam Harper: So, a kind of risk-benefit analysis…
Charles Duhigg: But it’s more than risk-benefit analysis, because what it’s really saying is there are multiple possible futures that we might inhabit. The only way that we really become in touch with them, that we get close to them, is by admitting to ourselves there’s 10 possible things that might happen tomorrow. Which of them are more or less likely, and how should I change my choices, based on that?
Pam Harper: Ambiguity is where it’s at. We have to believe that and really see all the possibilities that there are, or at least as many as we can imagine.
Charles Duhigg: Or at least acknowledge that they exist, because they might give us a clue as to what matters more and what matters less.
Scott Harper: Yeah. Certainty sometimes can be our worst enemy.
Charles Duhigg: Absolutely, because our brain craves certainty, right? It feels good to be able to say, “I made exactly the right choice. It could not have turned out better,” but actually in terms of making good decisions, what we should say is, “I think I made the best choice, but you know what? There’s a lot that I don’t know, so I made the best choice that I could with the information that I had.”
Pam Harper: Okay. That’s another interesting aspect to it. Now in the book, you also talk about innovation. What does it take to increase the productivity and the impact of our creative process?
Charles Duhigg: In the book, I tell the story of Frozen, the massive blockbuster movie that Disney made. Most people know Frozen as this big blockbuster, but what they don’t realize was that Frozen was on the brink of catastrophe until just months before it appeared in theaters.
Pam Harper: Amazing.
Charles Duhigg: The reason why Disney was able to make that movie work was that Disney does not believe people that some people are more creative or innovative than others. Instead, they believe that there is a process for creativity. If you commit to that process, you will find a creative answer. You will achieve innovation.
What’s that process? Well, at the core of this process is this basic idea known as being an “innovation broker.” This is the concept that our most creative ideas tend to come from taking ideas that are almost clichéd, ideas that all of us are exposed to every day, and combining them in novel ways. It’s not the idea itself that’s so new and innovative. It’s the combination of old ideas.
For instance, with Frozen, they were basically having this big problem. They just couldn’t get the script right. They couldn’t figure out how to tell the story. In some of the early drafts of Frozen, one of the characters was an ice queen, and she lived up in the mountains and she was a terrible human being. Then they tried another one when these 2 girls were strangers and they were competing for the throne.
Eventually, they sat everyone down at a meeting and they said, “Look, this just isn’t working. We need to figure out what ideas do we know that we can combine in new ways.” Some of the people at the table said, “Well look − one of the ideas that Disney knows is princesses, right? We know princesses better than anyone else.” They said, “Okay, princesses is one of those ideas.” The second idea is they went around and they asked people what matters to you. What story do you really want to tell? There were an unusually large number of women working on the Frozen project. In fact, the co-director of Frozen is the first female director in Disney’s history.
As they’re going around the table and they’re talking about these ideas, a number of the women kept on saying, “You know, I really want to tell this story about sisters because the thing about sisters is that it’s a cliché about sisters. There’s many novels written about sisters, but sisters are interesting and they’re complicated. It’s usually not that one sister is good and one is bad. It’s that they come together, then they fall apart, then they come together again. It’s just a complicated, interesting relationship.”
Someone said, “Look, what if we took these 2 ideas of sisters and princesses, and what if we combined them?” Once they did that, it opened up all these creative possibilities because now, instead of having the prince save the princess, now you can have 2 princesses, 2 sisters that save each other. That means that you can make the prince the bad guy, but you don’t have to reveal that until the very end of the movie.
They took these 2 clichéd ideas and they combined them in a new way, and that’s what made Frozen feel so creative and innovative, and made it so popular. Innovation brokerage is really about taking 2 ideas that you might not even know are related to each other and bringing them together in a way that’s kind of unexpected.
The reason why this is so empowering is because anyone can do this. You don’t have to be some artist who has these visions to be creative. You just need to be someone who thinks about your own experiences and says something like, “I like to build mobiles and I like to cook. What if I made an artistic mobile out of kitchen implements?”
Scott Harper: What also helps a lot − and came out in your book and in your story − is getting multiple perspectives, and really encouraging conversation in a trusting environment so that all these ideas come out so you can really mix things up. Otherwise, you’ve just got one thing or the clichéd thing over and over.
Charles Duhigg: That’s exactly right. What’s really interesting about this is that when we look at entrepreneurs in particular, one of the characteristics that most successful entrepreneurs tend to share is that they’re very, very interested in failure. Why other people failed, because it’s very natural for us to pay a lot of attention to success. In fact, relying on marriage, when a friend says that they’re going to get engaged or they’re going to get married, we have all these questions. We say, you know, how did you decide that you were in love with her? How did you pop the question? Where are you going to get married? We celebrate it. It’s a successful thing, but when someone says that they’re going to get divorced, we never ask those questions. We never say tell me the moment when you decided to get divorced. Did you ask for the ring back? Who’s the lawyer? But the point is that if you really want to understand how the world works, you need to expose yourself to both success and to failure because understanding how failure happens is as important as understanding how success occurs.
Pam Harper: Absolutely. Well, we’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back, Scott and I will talk more with Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better, about some immediately actionable ideas for becoming even more productive in our job, in business, and in personal life. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: Thanks for joining us at Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at businessadvance.com.
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And now, we have a special limited-time offer. The first 10 people who submit reviews between September 14 and October 14, 2016, will receive a complimentary autographed copy of my book, Preventing Strategic Gridlock. Reviewers have said this book is “a timeless resource” and “a great book for overcoming stalls that derail strategic progress, regardless of the economy.” To look inside, visit the Preventing Strategic Gridlock page on Amazon.com.
Scott Harper: Just be one of the first 10 people to contact us by October 14, 2016 on growthignitersradio.com. Let us know about your new review, and we’ll get your autographed copy to you right away.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last 2 segments, Scott and I have been talking with Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the New York Times and author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better about the secrets of increasing productivity in all aspects of our lives. Charles, can you tell us again how more people can find out about you and your book?
Charles Duhigg: Sure. You can just Smarter Faster Better or The Power of Habit, or you can go to my website, www.charlesduhigg.com. Or just Google me. I’m the only Charles Duhigg on Earth. Then you’ll learn all about me.
Pam Harper: Okay. Again, you can find links and other information by going to growthignitersradio.com, Episode 86 and scroll down to Resources.
This is the part of Growth Igniters Radio where we talk about immediately useful tips for people to really accelerate to that next level of success. Let’s talk about some of the things that we’ve been discussing in the previous segments. Specifically, what are some immediately useful tips to help people stay focused?
Charles Duhigg: Well, we were talking before about mental models, right? The role that mental models play in helping us remain focused. That’s really the key − to build those mental models. In the book, we tell the story through the context of a story about Qantas Flight 32, which is actually the worst mid-air mechanical disaster in modern aviation.
What’s interesting about that is that it was a plane that essentially had this huge hole appear in one of the wings. It was able to land safely, because the pilots on board, particularly the captain of the flight, was very, very focused on telling himself a story about how his plane operates, and always coming back to that story and finding a story that made sense to him.
One of the things that happened was that de Crespigny, the captain of the flight, started saying to himself, “I need to think of this plane not as an Airbus, which is what it is. But instead, I’m going to envision it as a Cessna.” A Cessna is one of the simplest planes on Earth. It’s almost a laughable comparison to think of this Airbus A380, which is a hugely complicated plane, as a Cessna, which is a small little hobbyist plane. But he said, “If I think of this plane as a Cessna, it’s going to help me decide which alarms to pay attention to and which ones I can ignore. By doing that, I’ll be able to focus on the right things.”
That’s also how people can succeed at work. As I mentioned earlier, when you walk into your office, there’s all these things competing for your attention. If you have kind of a story in your head, you know how to pay attention to the ones that matter and which ones you can safely ignore.
Pam Harper: So if somebody listening right now wants to immediately do something useful about this, the thing they can do right now is chart out a story about what your day is going to be like today.
Charles Duhigg: Yeah. Just spend 5 minutes just sort of thinking about what’s going to happen between 9 and 10 o’clock, what’s going to happen between 10 and 11 o’clock. What is my goal before noon? If you just have a little bit of a story about what you expect to occur, then you’re in a much better position.
Scott Harper: Good. So now let’s talk about taking this idea of focus, and apply it to more effective decision making. How can we do something very practical to increase the quality of the decisions we make?
Charles Duhigg: Well similarly, if you’re trying to make a choice, sit down with a piece of paper, and write all the possible outcomes that might occur, including outcomes that contradict each other. This takes like 10 minutes. Think about your choices − Maybe I make this choice and things turn out well. Maybe they turn out badly. Maybe I get promoted. Maybe I get fired. Maybe part of it turns out well and part of it turns out badly. Maybe something completely unexpected happens. Just brainstorm. Try and think as big as you can, what might occur.
Then look at that list and ask yourself, which of these seems more or less likely to happen. Now you’re not going to be able to say with precision what the odds of any outcome are, but there are some that you’re going to be able to dismiss right away. You’re going to say “nobody ever gets fired for making this kind of choice, so I don’t need to worry about that. Actually, nobody actually gets promoted for making this kind of choice either. This is a tough choice and it’s just part of my job. Nothing ever turns out exactly right, although I think this is going to be pretty alright. The parts that are going to go wrong, I’ll bet you those are going to be things I can handle.”
Just forcing yourself to think through all the possibilities and then asking yourself which is more or less likely, it’ll give you a sense of how to make that decision better by figuring out what are the things that you should actually be worried about and what are the things that might be causing you anxiety, but once you think about them, they’re not really that big a deal. They’re nothing you have to spend that much time worrying about.
Pam Harper: We’ve become more focused. We’ve been able to have something that we can immediately make a decision about. What about encouraging innovation? What could they immediately do to become more innovative?
Charles Duhigg: Well first of all, we have to figure out what we want to be innovative about, right? Let’s say somebody has given you a specific assignment. They’ve said, “Come up with a new marketing campaign, or go figure out how to solve this problem.” The first thing you should do is just sit down and instead of trying to come up with some brand new artistic out-of-nowhere idea, just start asking yourself what are the most clichéd concepts I can come up with that are related to this question I’m trying to answer. What are the old, worn over ideas or innovations that everyone knows? Just make a list of them.
Then start asking yourself, “can I combine those in ways that seem new and interesting? If I’m trying to come up with a new marketing campaign, let’s say for some new type of cola, a drink, well there’s lots of old tired ideas. There’s having a drink with your family, there’s Christmas time, there’s a cold drink on a hot day. Let’s just write a whole bunch of those. Now which of those have never been seen together before? Maybe it’s a family on a hot day and there’s some kind of joke I can make about that.” Once you admit to yourself that it’s okay to look at clichéd ideas and that innovation comes from putting old ideas together in new ways, it takes a lot of pressure off you, and you can start mixing and matching ideas to see which of them spark something interesting.
Scott Harper: Okay, yeah. Sometimes looking for the ridiculous or looking to something that is completely outside of what you’re thinking about, that can really spark that “click.”
Charles Duhigg: That’s right.
Scott Harper: Okay. Actually, I used to work in the oral care industry and the idea for tartar control toothpaste came from the water waste treatment industry where they used chemicals to prevent rocks from building up inside the pipes.
Charles Duhigg: Oh, interesting.
Scott Harper: Yeah. People were sitting around thinking about this hard stuff on the teeth. “Well how can we stop it without poisoning ourselves? Ah, this stuff in the water treatment industry is not toxic and it works.”
Charles Duhigg: What’s interesting about that is that if you’re looking for practical applications, one of the things that it suggests is that what we should do is we should also be intellectually curious. We should expose ourselves to ideas that might not be run of the mill ideas that we would necessarily see all the time. There’s always this instinct, in keeping with focus, to be on task, to be focused on the things that matter to us. But part of being an intellectual broker is also about allowing yourself to learn and be exposed to ideas that might not otherwise come across your desk on a regular basis.
Scott Harper: That’s right. That’s why we love talking to people who don’t know anything about what we do. We don’t know anything about what they do, and boom − it comes together and oh, there’s that light bulb.
Pam Harper: That’s true. This has been great. There are so many more things in your book I wish we could talk about today, but if you could sum it up for right now, what would you say would be a final thought on the secrets of being more productive in life and business?
Charles Duhigg: Well I would say that what’s most important is that anyone can become more productive. Anyone can become more successful. It’s not that there are some people out there who went to the right schools or they’re sufficiently smart or they have enough money or a fancy company hires them. That’s not why productivity happens. The reason why productivity happens is because people decide to take control of the choices that they’re making, and they decide to start cultivating habits that allow them to think more deeply.
They say in the morning, “Instead of just trying to plow through emails on the subway or when I’m waiting for my bus, I’m going to take 5 minutes and I’m going to try and visualize my day. I’m going to build a mental model about what I want to accomplish today. Or when someone asks for someone to solve some problem, to come up with some new and innovative idea, instead of saying I’m not an artist, I can’t do that, they say I’m just going to go and I’m just going to play around with ideas. I’m going to see if I can come up with 2 ideas that are both on their own kind of clichés but together, together they seem interesting in a new way.” That is how anyone can become more productive and anyone can do that.
Pam Harper: Charles, thanks again for being our guest on Growth Igniters Radio.
Charles Duhigg: Thanks for having me.
Scott Harper: Thanks so much Charles, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To get show notes and resource links for this week’s episode, go to growthignitersradio.com and select Episode 86.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to consider:
Scott Harper: What’s one thing I’ve learned today that can help me make the biggest difference in my life and business, and what am I going to do about it?