These books have helped me develop my thinking over the years and they may help you too. Click on the link to get to Amazon or let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Mindwise by Nicholas Epley

One of the best books I’ve read about the fallability of human understanding, what causes this and how to overcome it. He writes in a very approachable way, telling interesting stories and backing up his points with robust research that puts up a mirror to the reader and confronts them with the truth: its hard work to get another’s perspective but by doing so you solve their problems most effectively.

Even the index is a treat, running to 47 pages.

Below is the text from a very good  review by Daniel Finkelstein:

Just before the 2008 Presidential election, while withdrawing money from an ATM, Ashley Todd was robbed at knifepoint and horribly assaulted. As the young Republican campaign volunteer told police, her assailants were four six-foot tall black men who had taken her money and then, to make their point, they had carved a “B” on her face with a knife. They were branding her with a “B” for Barack. The story was widely reported but right from the beginning the police doubted her account. The “B”, you see, was carved backwards. It was written from Todd’s own perspective. And the reason for this is that she had carved it herself. Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Chicago, thinks we are not very good at understanding ourselves or other people. We think we know ourselves and can read the minds of others, that we know what we are thinking and that others can work it out too. And all these suppositions are wrong. The truth, as Ashley Todd demonstrated, is that we look at the world from our own angle, from the place we stand. We are, as Epley puts it, the centre of our own universe. And this prevents us from seeing things as others see them. He recalls the joke in which one man shouts to a man standing on the opposite side of a river: “Hey, how do I get to the other side?” And his interlocutor responds: “You are on the other side.” When the company Clorox acquired the rights to Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing they spent a decade trying to make the original recipe so that it did not need to be refrigerated. Everything they attempted seemed to the lab team to taste worse than the original. Eventually they gave up and sent an inferior version to market. To their surprise it was a great hit. It hadn’t occurred to them that almost nobody else had tried the original. From the consumers’ perspective, radically different from the company’s, the dressing tasted better than anything on the market. As well as seeing things from our own perspective, we also have an inflated view of our own importance. Say you slipped on the icy pavement. You might stand up, look around with a slightly embarrassed face and feel you have made a fool of yourself. The truth? Not that many people noticed. Researchers conducted an experiment in which a group of undergraduates were asked to walk around campus wearing T- shirts with a large picture of Barry Manilow on them. When asked how many of their contemporaries had noticed the garment, the students guessed that 50 per cent had. The correct number was 23 per cent. The spotlight shines more brightly on us in our heads than it does in reality. All of this wouldn’t be as great a problem — we could adjust for it mentally — if we weren’t so blind to it. We think we are good at reading minds, and seeing the perspective of others, particularly of those close to us. If we tap out a tune with our fingers on a table, we think others can recognise it fairly easily. That is because the tune is obvious to us as we can hear it in our heads. And we imagine the person listening can hear the same tune. Naturally, they cannot. An experiment in which volunteers watched videos of people either lying or telling the truth about being HIV positive, revealed that people were fairly confident they had guessed correctly about whether they were being told the truth. They thought they had got it right 70 per cent of the time. In fact they did hardly better than chance alone, guessing correctly 52 per cent of the time. Epley grants that it is true that we are better at understanding those close to us, but not vastly better and certainly not as well as we think. This failing means that even when we try to consider another’s perspective we fail. Indeed because we are so bad at working out what it is like to be in another’s shoes, Epley’s experiments show that “perspective taking consistently decreased accuracy” when detecting someone else’s emotional state. Perhaps even more surprising is that we aren’t very good even at knowing ourselves. For instance we are poor at knowing how hard we are going to work at a task or at knowing our own prejudices. Since Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Freakonomics there has been a vast output of books on behavioural science. Many have been quite poor — formulaic books supporting obvious conclusions at unnecessary length. Mindwise stands out from the crowd. It is surprising, intelligent and convincing. It continues to make worthwhile points in every chapter (after about chapter two most books of this kind are repeating themselves) and the author tells you things you don’t know without straining for effect. You emerge from reading it understanding both yourself and others better, which is not a bad dividend from reading fewer than 200 pages. You will not become Derren Brown, able to reach into the recesses of your boss’s mind. Instead Epley helps you live with your limitations. Buying your partner a birthday present? Don’t try and put yourself in their shoes, it will never work. Instead, the author suggests modestly, try asking them what they’d like.


Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

‘Nudge’ is a great read that demonstrates clearly why people behave in the way they do, how this is not in their best interests and how to ‘correct’ this.

Behavioural Economics is a relatively recent field of science combining economics with psychology which provides a fascinating and rich insight into human behaviour. David Cameron famously adopted this way of thinking (and acting) before he came to power and created a unit specifically to inform how Government ‘nudge’ its citizens.

The argument for ‘paternalistic liberalism’ is well made although I have always felt uneasy about how Nudge can be used to exploit the cognitive weaknesses we share. But there again, the more mindful people are about how they behave, the better decisions they should make.

The principles of Nudge are mostly applied to understanding social behaviour and how to improve outcomes for people. For a business, a better understanding of human behaviour is critical to working out how to engage with people. This and other works about behavioural economics are useful aids in planning how to do this successfully.

Good strategy/Bad strategy by Richard Rumelt

This great book was recommended to me earlier this year and from the start, it made for compelling reading. Rumelt, an American strategy practitioner and academic, draws upon years of experience to explain how strategy matters and where it goes wrong. And it is a joy to finally read a US writer who doesn’t just focus on US organisations but UK and European ones too.

A clearly written, accessible and practical guide for anyone serious about tackling the issues they face. The importance of coherence, in dealing with the hard stuff, making smart choices and of resolve and focus is clearly underlined. Loved it.

Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl

From conversations I have had with colleagues, I’ve come very late to this classic book. Written by the father of ‘Logotherapy’, this Viennese jewish psychotherapist shows us in stark and humbling ways how his philosophical idea about ‘Purpose’ helped him (and others) survive four concentration camps. The second part describes and illustrates ‘Logotherapy’ in action with many and varied case-studies.

Whilst I’m told this is essential reading in the self-knowledge/personal improvement and motivational world’s, underpinning current thinking, its relevance to how teams can manage an endeavour in the darkest of times is striking. And the insights about the modern plague of unhappiness caused by an absence of purpose is a powerful reminder about where human success and happiness actually stem from.

Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

Whilst Predictably Irrational is a fast and uncomplicated read, Kahneman’s work is weighty and dense running to over 400 pages of magnificently distilled ideas.  But this by no means suggests it is inferior, in fact quite the reverse.

This amazing man won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 for his work with Amos Tversky on ‘Prospect Theory’, the original paper being included in the appendix. And what a paper it is. I always like a good picture and their model for illustrating the theory has the paradoxical ability to be breathtakingly simple and incredibly complex.

This book builds on that original theory and goes into the world of memory and experiences and how brilliant and flawed human judgement is. And it is his wonderful humility that helps one persevere through the dense, empirically supported evidence illustrating how we act in the way we do.

It is no surprise then that Kahneman’s work is the most cited in the world of Behavioural economics. I needed a breather after every 10 or so pages but the value in my work has been immeasurable. Anyone involved in strategy or planning must read this.

Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinov

I saw Leonard Mlodinov speak at the Royal Society for Arts in 2012 and on the strength of this decided to buy his book. What this book essentially does is to summarise  much of the science so far behind our understanding of the unconscious mind. And because he does not come from this field (weirdly, he is a theoretical physicist who incidentally co-wrote a book with Stephen Hawking and co-wrote Star Trek!) his style is very accessible and informative. I had a couple of moments when I wanted more source information but apart from that, this is a hugely interesting and good read.

Winning by Jack Welch

I received my signed copy when seeing Jack speak at a function in London a few years ago. For a hard nosed, hugely successful businessman, his focus on people, values, culture and incentives is amazing. Anyone recruiting staff or in HR should pay attention to the importance of what so many leaders consider to be ‘soft’ stuff. To Welch, people were the bedrock of his success. Well ‘ard; great stuff!

The E-myth by Michael Gerber

I went to see Gerber speak in 2009 and was underwhelmed with his performance but the basic tenets of his original book remain incredibly valid for anyone running a business. When I read it in 1996, I was co-running a business but knew  but nothing about management. Gerber manages to communicate  management practice founded on sound theory that helps entrepreneurs get to work ON their business not IN it.

Drive by Dan Pink

Dan Pink’s treatise is now as famous for the animation created to tell the story of what drives people  in the “RSA Animate” lectures as it is for the book. As ever, it’s good to go to the source and his fascinating book explains what really motivates people to perform which he breaks down into three drivers: Autonomy, Mastery and most powerful of all, Purpose. An easy to access, no nonsense practical handbook for any leader of knowledge workers trying to make a difference.

Start with Why by Steve Sinek

I was given this book by a client I have journeyed with since 2008. It focuses entrepreneurs on articulating why they exist (beliefs), how they are differentiated (focus) and what they do (products and services). This strategic framework of three concentric circles provides a helpful model for  leaders to define and then use to focus their organisations  on creating sustainable competitive advantage .

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