01 Dec 2016

Inside the Bestseller List with Charles Duhigg


Charles Duhigg (MBA 2003)
(photo via LinkedIn)

It was building spreadsheets as an HBS intern at a private equity firm that convinced Charles Duhigg (MBA 2003) that his future was in journalism. While he worked, he listened to episodes of This American Life. “I should just go tell those stories,” he remembers thinking. After graduation, he took an internship at the Washington Post. He’s now a Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative business reporter at the New York Times.

Long-form journalism naturally led Duhigg to books, first The Power of Habit in 2012, which harnessed science to understand and change habits, and this year’s Smarter Faster Better, on the science of productivity. Both were bestsellers, and both have lessons for aspiring writers.

After researching the science of goal setting for Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg says, “The way I write my to-do lists is very different, specifically tailored to what science says is the right way to write a list. You put your stretch goal—your biggest aspiration—at the top of the page. Under that, you break that down into tasks, so you know exactly what to do next.” The goal is a book; today’s task is writing just five pages.

On the need to develop good writing habits, he says: “I’d been a professional writer for 10 years when The Power of Habit came out. I’d been practicing writing incessantly. The difference between writing a good book and a really great book oftentimes is simply how much time you’ve spent practicing and thinking about writing.”

Return to The Year in Books 2016
Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2003, Section G
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