Simply Smart I

How to Get Smarter Fast

Simply Smart I—How to Get Smarter Fast

By Robert DiYanni, New York University



Preface—Why and How to Get Smarter


PART ONE—Establishing Smart Skills—Thinking, Critical & Creative

Chapter One               Why Thinking Matters / Three Key Aspects of Thinking

Chapter Two               Thinking About Information

Chapter Three             How to Become a Creative Thinker

Chapter Four               Thinking about Innovation


Interlude—Critical and Creative Thinking in the Workplace


PART TWO—Cultivating Smart Skills—Critical Reading & Writing

Chapter Five               Reading Toward Thinking

Chapter Six                 How to Read Great Books

Chapter Seven            Writing—Learning, Process, Habit

Chapter Eight             Writing as Revising


Coda                      Seven Smart Habits

Appendix              Future Thinking



Preface—Why and How to Get Smarter


Most of us, most of the time, believe that we are smart— smart enough to get on with our work and with our lives reasonably well. There is little reason to doubt that we are mostly right about this. And yet we may also recognize that there is much that we don’t know, and many kinds of things we don’t do well, if at all.

Admittedly, it’s likely you may never need to know many things you don’t now know. You also may not require additional skills and capabilities for your work and your future life.

But what if you could become smarter quickly? How might that improve your mind, enhance your life?

And so, I suggest that you will find it useful (and pleasurable) to get smarter in ways that can matter—becoming a better thinker; a more confident, accomplished writer; a more careful, critical reader. I suggest that you invest yourself in these key intertwined skills right away.

Why? Because they can enrich your life intellectually and emotionally. Because becoming smarter can improve your ability to relate to and work with others. Because getting smarter can increase your enjoyment of life and can help you become a better version of yourself.

And if those benefits aren’t enough, here are a few more things getting smarter can do for you.

An ability to think critically can help you make smart decisions in your personal and professional lives. Critical thinking aids judgment, abets discernment, clarifies our values, and deepens our understanding.

 It makes us wiser.

Analogously, an ability to think creatively, with imagination, helps us generate ideas and solve problems that don’t readily yield to critical thinking. Creative, imaginative thinking is a basic human capacity, one we possess in abundance when young, but allow to atrophy as we age. But this decay of our imaginative capacity is not inevitable; it does not have to happen.

And so, in this book’s opening chapter I explain why it’s worth developing both your critical and creative thinking abilities. I explain why quality thinking matters to us all—in the era of Covid-19, more than ever before. In the section, “Three Key Aspects of Thinking,” I identify three key aspects of thinking: (1) combining and connecting; (2) blending art and science; and (3) embracing ambiguity. Each of these approaches extends our thinking while also deepening it.

Chapter Two invites you to consider the challenges of information overload—and ways to cope with it. Misinformation and disinformation plague our lives from every side, polarizing our thinking, polluting our politics, infecting public behavior. This chapter suggests how to compensate for these and other information dangers.

“How to Become a Creative Thinker” explains how you can make creative thinking a regular part of your life, and how you can develop a flourishing imagination. We need imaginative thinking today more than ever before to generate fresh ways to solve increasingly wicked problems. The chapter that follows applies creative thinking strategies to innovation. Innovative thinking improves our lives and the lives of others; it enables progress across many domains.

After a brief interlude, “Critical and Creative Thinking in the Workplace,” Simply Smart I shifts attention from thinking to critical reading and writing. You will find two chapters on critical reading. “Reading Toward Thinking,” stresses how reading (like writing) is inextricably connected with thinking—the book’s central and persistent pre-occupation. A second reading chapter offers advice about how to read great books that span languages and cultures across millennia—advice you can begin applying right away.

The two writing chapters explore the relationship between writing and learning, explaining how writing extends and deepens our learning, and why. Included is advice about how you can develop the all-important habit of writing. And a chapter on revision explains why revising is essential for good writing and how to revise effectively.

The book’s coda offers specific, concrete advice about how you can develop 7 habits for getting smarter right away. An Appendix explores various types of future thinking: interdisciplinary thinking, systems thinking, institutional and architectural design thinking, innovative thinking, social innovation, and medical decision thinking.

The book is designed to help you become a smarter thinker, writer, and reader. Its goal is to help you improve these intertwined capacities and apply them for deeper thinking about challenges you confront personally and professionally.

Let Simply Smart I—How to Get Smarter Fast serve as your roadmap to becoming wiser and more knowledgeable—more discerning about all manner of things. I invite you to begin sampling its provocations to getting smarter right away.


Current Writing Projects

My current writing projects are linked below: (1) a book on reading literature (Improvisations); (2) two books on getting smarter (fast and across the board); (3) a pair of memoirs about my teaching life (50 years+) and my life with music (even more years!). Also included is information about my biggest work-in-progress: an encyclopedic summa pedagogica, with the current title: We Are All Teachers Now—Learning with the World’s Great Teachers (152 chapters—and counting—each chapter a dozen double-spaced pages, with most chapters devoted to a pair of great teachers past and present).

For each of these works in the making, I have provided a table of contents and preface. A couple of them also include a sample chapter. An additional book I have in the works is Poems to Live By, for which I’ve included about a third of what I’ve written so far—also with a brief TOC and prefatory note.

We Are All Teachers Now

Learning With the World’s Great Teachers


We Are All Teachers Now

Learning With the World’s Great Teachers


Simply Smart I

How to Get Smarter Fast

Simply Smart II

How to Get Smarter Across the Board

Improvisations on Teaching Literature

The Teaching Life: Why Teaching Matters

Living with Music: A Glorious Journey

Poems to Live By

Robert DiYanni

Robert DiYanni

Author ⪢ | Professor ⪢ | Consultant ⪢

Robert DiYanni is a professor of humanities at New York University, having served as an  instructional consultant at the NYU Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Center for Faculty Advancement. For these centers he conducted workshops and seminars on all aspects of pedagogy, consulted with faculty about teaching concerns, visited and observed classes, and provided a wide range of pedagogical consultative services. Professor DiYanni serves on the faculties of the School of Professional Studies and the Stern School of Business at NYU. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Rutgers University, attended a Master of Arts in Teaching program at Johns Hopkins University, and received a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the City University of New York Graduate Center.  

In addition to his work at NYU, Dr. DiYanni has taught at City University of New York, at Pace University, and as a Visiting Professor at Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and at Harvard University. As a high school teacher for four years and a college professor for more than four decades, Professor DiYanni has taught students from eighth grade through doctoral candidates. Most of his teaching, however, has been with college and university undergraduates. His numerous workshops, offered in more than twenty countries, have been attended by secondary school teachers and administrators, as well as by undergraduate college and university faculty and administrators.

Dr. DiYanni has written and edited numerous textbooks, among them, Literature: An Introduction; The Scribner Handbook for Writers (with Pat C. Hoy II); Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities, (with Janetta Rebold Benton), the basis for a series of lectures given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions, which served as a companion text for the PBS television series Voices and Vision, which aired in the late 1980s.

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