Used our beach vacation to finish another book my friend and colleague Jorge Rivera had recently recommended: “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals” by Oliver Burkeman. This time-management book is profoundly skeptical of time-management advice while, at the same time, providing some real food for thought about life’s priorities. In a nutshell: Life is short. Most of us get on average about 4,000 weeks. So what are you going to do with that time?
Books & Podcasts
The Extended Mind (2021)
Just finished reading “The extended mind: The power of thinking outside the brain” by Annie Murphy Paul. Fascinating discussion of state-of-the art research on why and how we do (and should!) use our body for thinking; how our physical surroundings impact our thought processes; and how to capitalize on our social relationships to improve our thinking. Check out Adam Grant’s podcast to hear the author provide an insightful summary of the book.
Think Again (2021)
With misinformation, fake news, and strong believers all around us, Adam Grant provides a research-based recipe to help us change our minds (and maybe even those of others).
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012)
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (2016)
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (2017)
The Coddling of the American Mind (2018)
By Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt (Penguin Press)
In this scathing indictment of recent trends in parenting, education, politics, and the media, a First Amendment expert and a social psychologist take on three “great untruths”–what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people–that contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and that result in a culture of safetyism which interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.
This excellent analysis of how “good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure” is a must-read for young parents, educators, and anyone else interested in the future of our democracy.
Here’s the Atlantic article that formed the basis of this book.
Cracked it!: How to Solve Big Problems and Sell Solutions Like Top Strategy Consultants (2018)
By Bernard Garrette, Corey Phelps, & Olivier Sibony (Palgrave Macmillan)
Just used this book for the first time in my undergraduate strategy capstone course with very positive student reactions…
Solving complex problems and selling their solutions is critical for personal and organizational success. For most of us, however, it doesn’t come naturally and we haven’t been taught how to do it well. Research shows a host of pitfalls trips us up when we try: We’re quick to believe we understand a situation and jump to a flawed solution. We seek to confirm our hypotheses and ignore conflicting evidence. We view challenges incompletely through the frameworks we know instead of with a fresh pair of eyes. And when we communicate our recommendations, we forget our reasoning isn’t obvious to our audience.
How can we do it better?
In Cracked It!, seasoned strategy professors and consultants Bernard Garrette, Corey Phelps and Olivier Sibony present a rigorous and practical four-step approach to overcome these pitfalls. Building on tried-and-tested (but rarely revealed) methods of top strategy consultants, research in cognitive psychology, and the latest advances in design thinking, they provide a step-by-step process and toolkit that will help readers tackle any challenging business problem. Using compelling stories and detailed case examples, the authors guide readers through each step in the process: from how to state, structure and then solve problems to how to sell the solutions.
Written in an engaging style by a trio of experts with decades of experience researching, teaching and consulting on complex business problems, this book will be an indispensable manual for anyone interested in creating value by helping their organizations crack the problems that matter most.
Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick: People, Probabilities, and Big Moves to Beat the Odds (2018)
By Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, & Sven Smit (Wiley)
Several times a year, top management teams enter the strategy room with lofty goals and the best of intentions: they hope to assess their situation and prospects honestly, and mount a decisive, coordinated response toward a common ambition. Then reality intrudes. By the time they get to the strategy room, they find it is already crowded with egos and competing agendas. Jobs—even careers—are on the line, so caution reigns. The budget process intervenes, too. You may be discussing a five-year strategy, but everyone knows that what really matters is the first-year budget. So, many managers try to secure resources for the coming year while deferring other tough choices as far as possible into the future.
Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick explores in depth the social dynamics that undermine strategic dialogue and breed incrementalism. It also underscores the real, and very challenging, odds of crafting strategies that will lead to dramatic performance improvement.
–From the Publisher
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016)
By J. D. Vance (Harper)
A little more controversial than my usual business book recommendations, Hillbilly Elegy paints a striking and thought-provoking portrait of contemporary America and is definitely worth a read.
Never Eat Alone (2014)
By Keith Ferrazzi (Crown Business)
A little over-the-top but, overall, excellent advice on how to become a master networker…
Achieving Success Through Social Capital: Tapping the Hidden Resources in Your Personal and Business Networks (2000)
By Wayne Baker (Wiley)
Comprehensive advice on how to make sense of social networks–and make them work for you.
Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (2014)
By Adam Grant (Penguin)
This book has literally changed the way I approach relationships–must read for everyone interested in social networking! In a nutshell, givers succeed in life and the workplace because we all root for givers and gun for takers!
Disclaimer: Must say I am not entirely unbiased, though, as Adam Grant devotes an entire section in this book to discussing our research on dormant ties…
Mind Wide Open (2004)
By Steven Johnson (Scribner).
“Given the opportunity to watch the inner workings of his own brain, Steven Johnson jumps at the chance. He reveals the results in Mind Wide Open, an engaging and personal account of his foray into edgy brain science.”
“In the 21st century, Johnson observes, we have become used to ideas such as ‘adrenaline rushes’ and ‘serotonin levels,’ without really recognizing that complex neurobiology has become a commonplace thing to talk about. He sees recent laboratory revelations about the brain as crucial for understanding ourselves and our psyches in new, post-Freudian ways. Readers shy about slapping electrodes on their own temples can get a vicarious scientific thrill as Johnson tries out empathy tests, neurofeedback, and fMRI scans. The results paint a distinct picture of the author, and uncover general brain secrets at the same time. Memory, fear, love, alertness–all the multitude of states housed in our brains are shown to be the results of chemical and electrical interactions constantly fed and changed by input from our senses. Mind Wide Open both satisfies curiosity and provokes more questions, leaving readers wondering about their own gray matter.”
The Tipping Point (2000)
By Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books)
“The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life,” writes Malcolm Gladwell, “is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” Although anyone familiar with the theory of memetics will recognize this concept, Gladwell’s The Tipping Point has quite a few interesting twists on the subject.”
“For example, Paul Revere was able to galvanize the forces of resistance so effectively in part because he was what Gladwell calls a “Connector”: he knew just about everybody, particularly the revolutionary leaders in each of the towns that he rode through. But
Revere “wasn’t just the man with the biggest Rolodex in colonial Boston,” he was also a “Maven” who gathered extensive information about the British. He knew what was going on and he knew exactly whom to tell. The phenomenon continues to this day–think of how often you’ve received information in an e-mail message that had been forwarded at least half a dozen times before reaching you.
Gladwell develops these and other concepts (such as the “stickiness” of ideas or the
effect of population size on information dispersal) through simple, clear explanations and entertainingly illustrative anecdotes, such as comparing the pedagogical methods of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues, or explaining why it would be even easier to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the actor Rod Steiger. Although some readers may find the
transitional passages between chapters hold their hands a little too tightly, and Gladwell’s closing invocation of the possibilities of social engineering sketchy, even chilling, The Tipping Point is one of the most effective books on science for a general audience in ages. It seems inevitable that “tipping point,” like “future shock” or
“chaos theory,” will soon become one of those ideas that everybody knows–or at least knows by name.”
The 48 Laws of Power (2000)
By Robert Greene (Penguin)
To be taken with a considerable grain of salt, this book is a worthy update of and complements Machiavelli’s almost 500-years old treatise of power and politics.
“Amoral or immoral, this compendium aims to guide those who embrace power as a ruthless game, and will entertain the rest. Elffers’s layout (he is identified as the co-conceiver and designer in the press release) is stylish, with short epigrams set in red at the margins. Each law, with such allusive titles as “Pose as a Friend, Work as a
Spy,” “Get Others to Do the Work for You, But Always Take the Credit,” “Conceal Your Intentions,” is demonstrated in four ways: using it correctly, failing to use it, key aspects of the law and when not to use it. Illustrations are drawn from the courts of modern and ancient Europe, Africa and Asia, and devious strategies culled from well-known
personae: Machiavelli, Talleyrand, Bismarck, Catherine the Great, Mao, Kissinger, Haile Selassie, Lola Montes and various con artists of our century. These historical escapades make enjoyable reading, yet by the book’s conclusion, some protagonists have appeared too many times and seem drained. Although gentler souls will find this book frightening, those whose moral compass is oriented solely to power will have a
perfect vade mecum.”
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Everything Bad Is Good For You (2005)
By Steven Johnson (Riverhead)
In his fourth book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, iconoclastic science writer Steven Johnson (who used himself as a test subject for the latest neurological technology in his last book, Mind Wide Open) takes on one of the most widely held preconceptions of the postmodern world–the belief that video games, television shows, and other forms of popular entertainment are detrimental to Americans’ cognitive and moral development. Everything Good builds a case to the contrary that is engaging, thorough, and ultimately convincing.
The heart of Johnson’s argument is something called the Sleeper Curve–a universe of popular entertainment that trends, intellectually speaking, ever upward, so that today’s pop-culture consumer has to do more “cognitive work”–making snap decisions and coming up with long-term strategies in role-playing video games, for example, or
mastering new virtual environments on the Internet– than ever before. Johnson makes a compelling case that even today’s least nutritional TV junk food–the Joe Millionaires and Survivors so commonly derided as evidence of America’s cultural decline–is more complex and stimulating, in terms of plot complexity and the amount of external
information viewers need to understand them, than the Love Boats and I Love Lucys
that preceded it. When it comes to television, even (perhaps especially) crappy television, Johnson argues, “the content is less interesting than the cognitive work the show elicits from your mind.”
Johnson’s work has been controversial, as befits a writer willing to challenge wisdom so conventional it has ossified into accepted truth. But even the most skeptical readers should be captivated by the intriguing questions Johnson raises, whether or not they choose to accept his answers. –Erica C. Barnett, Amazon.com
Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (2003)
By Duncan J. Watts (W. W. Norton)
Duncan J. Watts, one of the principal architects of network theory, sets out to explain the innovative research he and other scientists are spearheading to create a blueprint of our connected planet.
You may be only six degrees away from Kevin Bacon, but would he let you borrow his car? It depends on the structures within the network that links you. When the power goes out, when we find that a stranger knows someone we know, when dot-com stocks soar in price, networks are evident. In Six Degrees, sociologist Duncan Watts examines networks like these: what they are, how they’re being studied, and what we can use them for. To illustrate the often complicated mathematics that describe such structures, Watts uses plenty of examples from life, without which this book would quickly move beyond a general science readership. Small chapters make each thought-provoking conclusion easy to swallow, though some are hard to digest. For instance, in a short bit on “coercive externalities,” Watts sums up sociological research showing that:
“Conversations concerning politics displayed a consistent pattern …. On election day, the strongest predictor of electoral success was not which party an individual privately supported but which party he or she expected would win.”
Six Degrees attempts to help readers understand the new and exciting field of networks and complexity. While considerably more demanding than a general book like The Tipping Point, it offers readers a snapshot of a riveting moment in science, when understanding things like disease epidemics and the stock market seems almost within our reach.
–Therese Littleton, Amazon.com
By Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner (Morrow)
Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives – how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they set out to explore the hidden side of … well, everything.
Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?
These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded young scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life-from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing – and whose conclusions regularly turn the conventional wisdom on its head. He usually begins with a mountain of data and a simple, unasked question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: Freakonomics.
Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives – how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they set out to explore the hidden side of … well, everything. The inner workings of
a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.
What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication, and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and – if the right questions are asked – is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking. Steven Levitt, through devilishly clever and
clear-eyed thinking, shows how to see through all the clutter.
Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: if morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will
literally redefine the way we view the modern world.
(Front Flap Text)