Book Review: Inner Locus – Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

My first year of university was stressful. First of all, no one was there to ask why I did not do my  homework. Second was learning Quantum Mechanics! More than anything, though, was everyone complaining how difficult second year’s Organic Chemistry would be. When the time came to prepare for an exam, I would spend most of my time reviewing lecture material, solving textbook exercises and discussing with friends how funny our organic chemistry professor was lecturing in his bare feet. As the end of second year edged closer, my prof did the unthinkable and told all students that if we got a higher grade on the exam, he would scratch all grades below that and give the mark we received for the exam. As my marks were on a steady decline from the start of the year, I had to seize that opportunity to finish the hardest class of the second year with an appropriate grade. Because of that I had to change my learning strategy. I lobbied my friends to get my hands on all possible copies of previous tests and exams from that course. I closed myself in a room and diligently attempted to solve all exercises on the given exams, frequently checking the actual solutions. To my delight I felt pretty good about my submission. As the grades were announced a month later, I came to realize that I achieved the very first part of the book, “Smarter Faster Better” by Charles Duhigg.

Charles Duhigg, in “Smarter Faster Better”, starts by explaining what inner locus of control is. Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their control), have control of the outcome of events in their lives.1 He brings examples of how trauma to striatum, reward and motor center of the brain2, is shown to incapacitate people of rewarding themselves for making meaningful choices. This results in otherwise completely healthy people losing their desire to pursue.

Why is any of this important? The Agile process inherently depends on people making choices. What story do I take in a given sprint? How should I build a given feature? How do we know we are done? Questions like these have shown to transform people with previous trauma to striatum where they display no desire to engage back to their normal, desireful, selves. Putting ourselves in circumstances where we make choices enhances our inner locus. Through making choices we teach ourselves that we are in control of the outcomes of our sprints, the success of our business and fundamentally of our lives.

I recommend this book to anyone who wonders what drives them or others to do things that they would not describe as mundane, anyone who wonders how others achieve the accepted extraordinary.


1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control

2 The striatum is a critical component of the motor and reward systems. Functionally, the striatum coordinates multiple aspects of cognition, including both motor and action planning, decision-making, motivation, reinforcement, and reward perception. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striatum

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