Simply Smart One

How to Get Smarter Fast

Simply Smart One—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             The Habit of Writing / Connecting Reading & Writing


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 things we don’t do well, if at all.

Improving your capacity for productive thinking, critical reading, and effective writing could very well come in handy. It is my contention that they would make you a more interesting individual, a more attractive person, someone others will be drawn to.

What if you could become smarter quickly? How might getting smarter improve your mind, enhance your life, and increase your desirability?

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 critical reader, and a more confident and accomplished writer. I believe that it will be worth your while to invest in these intertwined skills right away. They will make you a more valued friend, a more interesting colleague, and, with a bit of luck, even a more attractive partner and companion.

Why? Because getting smarter will enrich your life intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Becoming smarter will improve your ability to relate to and work with others. Getting smarter will increase your enjoyment of life and help you flourish. You will become a better version of yourself—more competent, more knowledgeable and skillful, more fun to be with, and more interesting.

Getting smarter keeps your mind sharp as you age. Getting smarter serves as an antidote to the accelerating proliferation of disinformation—making you more discerning. And if those benefits aren’t enough, here are a few more things getting smarter can do for you.

Getting smarter will improve your ability to think critically and creatively. These thinking skills will help you make smart decisions in your personal and professional lives.

Critical thinking aids judgment, abets discernment, clarifies values, and deepens understanding. It will make you wiser.

Analogously, an ability to think creatively, with imagination, will help you 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 us from every side, polarizing our thinking, polluting our politics, infecting public behavior. I explain 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 to develop a flourishing imagination. We need imaginative thinking today more than ever before to generate fresh ways to solve increasingly wicked problems. A companion chapter 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 One shifts from thinking to reading and writing. “Reading Toward Thinking,” stresses how reading (like writing) is inextricably connected with thinking—the book’s 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.

I 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. A chapter on revision explains why revising is essential for successful writing and how to revise effectively.

The book’s coda includes 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.

Simply Smart One is designed to help you improve your reading, writing, and thinking, and apply them to meet challenges you confront personally and professionally. Let Simply Smart One—How to Get Smarter Fast serve as your guide to becoming more knowledgeable, even wiser—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: Provocative Pairs—Learning with the World’s Masters (152 chapters—and counting—each chapter a dozen double-spaced pages, with most chapters devoted to a pair of great masters 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.

Provocative Pairs—Learning with the Masters

Volume I:
Major Influencers Past and Present

Provocative Pairs—Learning with the Masters

Volume II:
Humanities, Sciences, and More

Simply Smart One

How to Get Smarter Fast

Simply Smart Two

How to Get Smarter Across the Board

Improvisations on Reading 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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