Great Reads

Post date: 03-Oct-2010 14:53:11

I think I mentioned last week that I have a long list of recommended reading around the fields that fascinate me. Since people sometimes ask me for suggestions, I thought I’d collate a few together here and share them more widely.

It’s not an exhaustive list nor is it necessarily in order of preference (indeed it’s probably disproportionately influenced by what I’ve read most recently – what Stuart Sutherland would dub the “error of availability”). However, I hope it provides some useful direction or suggestions if you share my fascination for how our minds work, how we can take better advantage of that knowledge and how we can achieve success and happiness more easily, more quickly and more often in our lives!

Now that I look at it, this list falls into three segments: Happiness, Success and How the mind works.

On Happiness, there’s no single book I’d recommend more highly than Authentic Happiness By Martin P. Seligman. Seligman is the founding father of the entire field of Positive Psychology and the pre-eminent expert in the areas of learned optimism. He has written a number of excellent books (including Learned Optimism and, for concerned parents Raising Optimistic Children), he also has an excellent website where you can do all sorts of self-assessment questionnaires. But, I still rate Authentic Happiness as the book to read by Seligman since it takes you through his journey in founding the school of Positive Psychology, synopsises much of his early work on optimism and pessimism and then progresses a holistic theory of happiness and fulfilment in life which is quite inspiring.

On Success, I have three current favourites that are all quite different in style and content but all thoroughly enjoyable. Outliers: The story of success By Malcolm Gladwell is a great read by an author who combines anecdote and published research to support a compelling thesis on what underpins human success and achievement. If his theory of 10,000 hours doesn’t have you looking differently at the whole idea of “genius”, I’d be very surprised!

Second of the success books is Tom Peters’ The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence at Work. Tom Peters has been writing, coaching and delivering Excellence for many years. He’s a master of pithy, challenging and thought-provoking one-liners and I particularly like “If not Excellence, what? If not Excellence Now, when?”. This book I actually listened to in audio read by Tom Peters so his energy and mood really come through too but no doubt it would have a similar impact in print.

The third book on success that really captured my attention recently is Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh. This is a great book of two halves. The first half tells a very personal and engaging account of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur - a few times over. Tony Hsieh's story beautifully illustrates the persistence, resilience and pure quirkiness it takes.

The second half is a fascinating journey to the realisation that organisation culture is all - the key to success, happiness and fulfillment for staff and management alike. It's also really practical if you're working with or in an organisation that wants to develop its thinking on culture.

Not only do I recommend this but, unusually, I recommend it as an audio book even more! There's something enthralling about listening to Tony Hsieh tell the story in his own voice - really brings it to life. There’s a website too

On How the Mind Works, there is an increasing myriad of fascinating books on this subject and I regularly work my way through as many of them as I can find! Here’s a few that I have found particularly interesting, informative and readable. All of these combine anecdote with scientific research to illustrate the many ways we are far less rational than we think. They also offer some insight into how, once we have this knowledge, we might use it to make better decisions in the future.

  • Blink: The power of thinking without thinking By Malcolm Gladwell

  • The Decisive Moment: How the brain makes up its mind By Johah Lehrer

  • Predictably Irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions By Dan Ariely

One more title that broadly fits into this group and which I’ve just finished is The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris, Daniel Simons. This is a great collection and interpretation of the body of research into the ways our perception is not nearly as reliable as we commonly believe. Written by the psychologists who first devised one of the most famous experiments in perception ever - it's certainly worth a look for anyone interested in the topic, as is their website Overall, this pair are not as upbeat about the possibilities for human potential and are less than enthusiastic about the idea of intuition as a good tool for decision making – in fact they take issue directly with both Malcolm Gladwell and Tom Peters (who also feature in this list of my favourites). That said, since I’m a firm believer in gathering diverse opinions and information this one is still a good read even, or maybe especially, if you’re very taken with the others!

Happy Reading!