A Library for Brilliant Thinkers.

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

Jean Luis Borges


These are just a few of the books I’ve read and more specifically picked up and read again recently. What’s daunting is how many good minds there are out there.

Dave Allan, Matt Kingdon, Kris Murrin and Daz Rudkin
“?WhatIf! How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work” – Capstone (19 April 2002)

More of a sales brochure for their business than anything else but, nonetheless, some interesting and stimulating ideas.

Bourdain, Anthony
“Les Halles Cookbook: Classic Bistro Cooking” – Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition (4 Sep 2006)

I thought I’d bought a cookbook and found I was getting a brilliant education in how to run a creative business and one that’s under constant pressure. Pure genius.

Brafman, Ori & Beckstrom, Rod
“The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” – Portfolio; Reprint edition (5 Oct 2006)

Bill Clinton said this was one of his most thought provoking books. It puts the skids under the concept of the CEO – “who’s CEO of the internet then… go on tell me who, there must be one – surely?” It’s a great read.

Broughton, Philip Delves
“What They Teach You at Harvard Business School: My Two Years Inside the Cauldron of Capitalism” – Penguin (7 May 2009)

He’s a nice guy in a really horrible, left-brained place that I hated the more I read about it. Yet his adventure is a splendidly told story. He was the only one not offered a job after graduating from HBS that year. I was so pleased that he was spared to write this educational and funny epic.

Catmull, Ed
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration – Bantam Press (8 April 2014)

There are bits here that are great. About believing you should make a film that you want to watch as other people might then want to watch it too, about art classes being to do with learning to see not learning to draw, about the randomness of business life and about the need to try new things constantly.

Chouinard, Yvon
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman – Penguin Press (6 Oct 2005)

A fascinating story about a successful company called Patagonia, the focus of which was very narrow in terms of sector and fixed like a laser on great product quality. The conviction about working with people you like and trust and staying true to your values resonated.

Collins, Jim
“Good to Great” – Random House Business; 1st edition (4 Oct 2001)

When I first read this book with its carefully worked out scorecards-for-success I was impressed. I found the concept of the self-effacing team-building leader seductive. As time has passed and chaos has increasingly reigned nothing seems that simple any more.

Davis, Stan & Mayer, Christopher
“Blur: The Speed of Change in Connected Economy” – Capstone; 2Rev Ed edition (1 Sep 1999)

Yes I know…a bit old by now as an insight into technology but this was the first book I came across that put its finger on the increasing speed of the pulse of today’s world.

De Bono, Edward
– Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas -HarperCollins; (Reissue) edition 10 April 1995)
– Six Thinking Hats – Viking (1986) – Penguin (5 Nov 2009)

De Bono is the Daddy of writing on creativity. I’m not sure I go along with his attitude to creativity or his regimented approach but it would be remiss not to consult his fine mind.

Dennett, Daniel C
– Intuition Pumps and other Tools for Thinking – Penguin (6 May 2013)

Until he got on to the maths in this book, which lost me a bit, I thought it was amazing. He sits next to the late Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins as a formidable contrarian. If you want OPINION look no further.

Finkelstein, Sydney; Whitehead, Jo and Campbell, Andrew
-Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From Happening to You – Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (3 Feb 2009)

Marcus Alexander recommended this as he knows Whitehead and Campbell. It’s fascinating as an exercise in hindsight and closely examining the way the business mind – forensic as we hope it is – drifts hopelessly into bias and subjectivity given the slightest chance.

Friedman, Thomas
– The World is Flat: The Globalized World in the Twenty-first Century – Penguin; 2Rev Ed edition (5 July 2007)

Friedman is a brilliant observer of human nature and above all keeps his finger on the pulse of the global-socio-economic body. It’s above the battle and with his sleeves rolled up both at the same time. Stirring stuff.

Gladwell, Malcolm
– Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Penguin; Re-issue edition (23 Feb 2006)
– David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants – Penguin (8 May
2014)
– What the Dog Saw: and other adventures – Penguin; Re-issue edition (20 Oct 2009)
– Outliers: The Story of Success – Penguin; Re-issue edition (18 Nov 2008)
– The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – Abacus; New Ed edition
(14 Feb 2002)

If you are in business and don’t read every bit of Gladwell you can lay your hands on then you’re missing out. He’s a master storyteller and he opens minds. “Blink” and the art of training your gut was a revelatory big thought when it came out and has influenced my book. Gladwell makes you think. We’re waiting for the next one.

Haidt, Jonathan
– The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion – Allen Lane (2010)

Not an easy book but it informed much of my thinking especially when he tells us he didn’t have the self-confidence to trust his intuition when he was at University. Read it and you get to understand why it is that people don’t get on and why this is normal and usually triggered by small things.

Hamel, Gary
– What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation – Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (4 Jan 2012)

This book is an impassioned plea to change the way we think about and manage business. He berates the ignorance, indifference and impotence which so many of us accept as OK. He carries on where Tom Peters left off. He ends his book by saying “we have the chance to make a new beginning”. Halleluya.

Hall, Doug
– Jump Start Your Business Brain: Scientific Ideas and Advice That Will Immediately Double Your Business Success Rate – Clerisy Press (11 Feb 2010)

No relation to me, Doug is a product inventor who now runs the “Eureka Ranch.” I didn’t like the book. I found the section on left and right brains simplistic and irritating -”logical left brains are easier to work with than radical right brains.” Hmmm. But it’s sold loads of copies and he’s fêted in the States. So pay no attention to me.

Hartigan, Elkington
– The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World (Leadership for the Common Good) – Harvard Business School Press (1 Feb 2008)

Much is about how to be a small, social entrepreneur. We see that the power of driving change is thriving in the rural third world. If they can do it there, first world organisations should be ashamed to find it hard to transform themselves. An anthem to passion, change and improvement.

Hoeckin, Lisa
– Managing Cultural Differences: Strategies for Competitive Advantage – FT PrenticeHall; 1 edition (17 Nov 1995)

I suspect in 20 years the barriers to cultural integration have somewhat broken down. But this book is a healthy prompt to thinking about global businesses and how different national cultures feel, think and behave.

Issaacson, Walter
Steve Jobs – Little, Brown (24 Oct 2011)

This is the best biography I’ve read for ages and one the most insightful business books. Warts and all we begin to understand what drove Jobs and how he drove Apple. Warts and all it’s a compelling book.

Kahney, Leander
– Inside Steve’s Brain: Business Lessons from Steve Jobs, the Man Who Saved Apple – Atlantic Books (1 May 2010)

Kahney was an Apple fan and follower for years and whilst this is a eulogy of how Steve “put a ding in the universe” he also tells how he lent his eye to every detail. What the book lacks in perspective it makes up for in drenching us in the passion everyone at Apple had in trying to do something extraordinary.

Kahneman, Daniel
– Thinking, Fast and Slow – Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2010)

This book defines and shapes a lot of current thinking about thinking. Hard to write anything about the subject without asking what Daniel – Nobel Prize Winner – thinks about it. It’s a difficult, dense book that’s nonetheless sold millions and has been widely acclaimed as a masterpiece. System one and system two shapes all we think now. And if I ever meet a woman called Linda I’m walking away from her (read the book and see why.)

Konnikova, Maria
– Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes – Canongate Books; Main edition (17 Jan 2013)

Maria is Russian where, when small her father read Sherlock Holmes stories to her. Mostly, though, she was brought up in America. She writes with a breathless and fluent energy. Her work is entertaining and whilst covering the more conventional thinking on thinking is especially good on memory – “the dynamic attic.” A great read.

Kline, Nancy
– Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind – Cassell Illustrated (1 Jan 1999)

Nancy has that kind of calm, kind and reasonable voice that drives some people mad. Yet in this book she writes most winningly about empathy and getting people to reveal how they really feel. Whilst reading it I decided to stop interrupting and to listen more attentively. My wife looked at me suspiciously and asked if I was feeling all right.

Kreitzman, Leon
– The 24 Hour Society – Profile Books; New edition (14 Oct 1999)
– The Rhythms of Life: The Biological Clocks That Control the Daily Lives of Every Living Thing (written with Professor Russell Foster) – Profile Books (30 Sep 2011)

Leon who used to be at the Henley Centre has an inquisitive and thoughtful mind and whether writing on time or deeply programmed instincts is always a compelling read. After Kreitzman’s been telling you engagingly about bees your respect for the brilliance of that species soars.

Lencioni, Patrick
– The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable – Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (17 Nov 2011)

Lencioni has now written twelve highly readable “fables”. They’re short, punchy and fun. This one examines the make-up of a diverse team, the conflicts and hidden issues. If you don’t feel impelled to bone up on your empathetic skills after reading it I’d be surprised.

Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger
– The Cluetrain Manifesto – Perseus Books; Reprint edition (21 Dec 2000)

Four angry guys who just aren’t “going to take it anymore”. It’s a brilliant put-down of corporate blah-blah and an impassioned plea for conversations. The consumer after all is not stupid.

Levitt, Steve & Dubner, Stephen
– Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything – Penguin; 1 edition (5 Oct 2006)
– Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance – Penguin (24 Jun 2010)
– Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything – Penguin (13 May 2014)

Levitt and Dubner are like two highly intellectual stand-up comedians. Economics and sociology becomes fun in their writing. They think in an optimistically offbeat and contrarian way and provoke us all to look at life sideways because it’s never quite what it seems.

Lewis, Dr David
– Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It – Cornerstone Digital (16 May 2013)

All about that “zombie brain” which unconsciously processes all we do. From adolescence to sex to diet to shopping Lewis shows that we don’t make up our minds our zombie brain does. Interesting stuff.

Lindstrom, Martin
– Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy – Kogan Page (3 Jan 2012)
– Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy – Broadway Business (2 Feb 2010)

My problem is I just don’t accept that marketing is not nowadays a game which consenting human beings play together. Described by some as a marketing visionary Martin Lindstrom takes us through the research processes of say Lynx – a male fantasy is apparently to be adored by four beautiful naked women – quelle surprise that! It’s fun and it’s thought-provoking but, as he concludes, he (and I) still love brands however salacious his findings.

Martinez-Conde, Susan , Macklick, Stephen
-Sleights of Mind: What the neuroscience of magic reveals about our brains – Profile Books Ltd. (2011)

Two married psychologists who go to Las Vegas to try and learn the arts of magic and understand how the human mind welcomes being deceived by magical tricks. It’s a wonderful story behind the scenes and an instructive read. I’ll never trust a magician again.

Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor & Cukier, Kenneth
– Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think – John Murray (14 Mar 2013)

I thought I was going to hate this. I was wrong. Read it. From a new view on sampling (where n=everyone) to a sophisticated take on accuracy (where 2+2 = 3.9 is good enough) to the story of how the World Health Organisation cracked Avian Flu thanks to Google, I was riveted. This book is very good news to those who want quantification and not just anecdote.

McInnes, Tom
– Culture Shock: A Handbook For 21st Century Business – Capstone; 1 edition (26 July 2012)

If you like “angry” you’ll love this. Tom passionately believes organisations today desperately need a higher purpose than just gaining market share and profits. He is a king of CSR. Watch the sparks fly.

Morgan, Adam
Eating the Big Fish. How challenger brands can compete against brand leaders – (Wiley 1999)

Impressively assured insights into the beginnings of new marketing where ideas rather than communications are the new currency of growth. I love the idea that staying number one means needing to think like number two.

O’Rourke, PJ
-The CEO of the Sofa – Picador; New Ed edition (20 Sep 2002)
-The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way…And It Wasn’t My Fault…And I’ll Never Do It Again – Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press; Export & Airside ed edition (6 Mar 2013)

He’s funny and outrageous and keeps on hitting the bullseye. From seeing the resemblance between CEOs and 2 year olds (attention seeking, focused on food and drink, prone to tantrums) to describing how the most liberal generation ever have now become the most anally retentive. Thoughtful, amusing and important stuff.

Peters, Dr. Steve
The Chimp Paradox. The Mind Management Programme for confidence, success and happiness – Vermillion 2011

Dave Brailsford who’s Performance Director of British Cycling says Peters who’s a sports psychologist is a “genius”. This book describes graphically how the mind works with the “Chimp” a fictional player in System One who’s a paranoid, destructive adolescent force imagining what’s worst and most unfair. Peters shows us how to control him.

Peters, Tom
– Re-Imagine – Dorling Kindersley; Re-issue edition (1 July 2009)
– The Circle of Innovation – you can’t shrink your way to greatness – Alfred A. Knopf; 1 edition (Oct 1997)

The passionate Mr Peters bestrode the presentation stage for decades. He’s another very angry man who wanted to change everything. A believer in creative destruction. Particularly acute on creative thinking. Wearing a little thin now perhaps.

Ridley, Matt
– The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves – Fourth Estate (27 May 2010)

Lord Ridley – scientist and one time banker – is a glass half full person who believes we are going through the best phase of civilisation ever. It’s interesting to read a passionate system 2, right brain thinker for a change. Lots of good material here.

Robinson, Sir Kenneth
– The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything – Penguin (5 Feb 2009)

In his TED talk “Do schools kill creativity” which has so far had over 27 million hits, Ken inspired and entertained us. This book proclaims the power of positivity and focusing on spending your life doing what you love. It’s a compelling challenge to corporate business and convention.

Sinclair, Michael & Seydel, Josie
– Mindfulness for Busy People: Turning from Frantic and Frazzled into Calm and Composed
Pearson Business; 1 edition (26 Sep 2013)

Mindfulness has been widely espoused, even at Davos. It is we hear the “new black”. This book is full of good advice but managed to irritate me. If only life were this simple. If only they didn’t sound so smug.

Surowtecki, James
– The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few – Abacus; New Ed edition (3 Mar 2005)

A fascinating story about why the collective views about almost anything when averaged tend to be about right. These include guessing the weight of an ox and the whereabouts of a lost submarine. A tribute to diversity and teamwork.

Syed, Matthew
– Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice – Harper (April 20, 2010)

Matthew and was England’s number one table tennis player for many years. Like Gladwell’s “Outliers” he writes in praise of practice. He tells the story of three sisters who were all coached to be world class chess players and of Desmond Douglas the table tennis player whose earliest practice in a very small space put all the premium on his speed of reaction. A great read.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas
– Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder – Allen Lane (27 Nov 2012)

I loved this book. Taleb is a very cross contrarian who regards economists, bankers, doctors and marketing people as virtually criminal. His thesis is there are things that thrive in disorder, that nature can do well in the face of destruction. Most of all he sends an exocet missile through the concept of predictions and patterns. More than we imagine is random. Less is predictable. Brilliant.

Thaler, Richard & Sunstein, Cass
– Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Yale University Press (13 May 2008)

The idea that we can design a world in which people make better informed and smarter decisions is interesting and it has certainly interested governments. Nudging behavioural change rather than trying seeking wholesale change of attitude could be a big money-saver.

Thomas, Martin
– Loose: the future of business is letting go – Business Plus (3 Mar 2011)

Like the “Starfish and the Spider” this proclaims the weakness in command control models. Thomas looks at the weakening of political structures, of trust in institutions and of rules – like over-zealous traffic management. Like improvisation skills we need to ready for anything not try to be ready for everything.

Townsend, Robert
– Up the Organisation; how to stop the corporation from stifling people and strangling profits – Michael Joseph May 1970

So what can a book written nearly ½ century ago about Avis teach us today? Astonishingly a lot. It’s fresh, direct and simple. Way to go.

Welch, Jack
– Jack: What I’ve learned leading a great company and great people – Headline Book Publishing 2001

Reading Titans of industry telling us how great they were palls but this still has plenty of good stuff. More Gretzky (the ice hockey player) than Aristotle perhaps. Key lessons: get the people right, set tough targets and have rigorous systems. He says he wants his people to embrace “speed, simplicity and self-confidence”. Action this day….

Wipperfurth, Alex
– Brand Hijack. Marketing without marketing – Portfolio (3 Jan 2005)

He argues marketing hasn’t changed enough and lives in the past. He argues brands need to lighten up and have a sense of humour. He says it’s about telling the audience exactly what they want to hear but don’t know until they hear it. A good book.

Wiseman, Richard
– Did You Spot the Gorilla? How to spot hidden opportunities – Arrow Books 2004

In general graphic “how to be a success in 30 minutes” guide books are a turn-off for me but Wiseman (as his name might suggest) has some interesting experiments he’s conducted.

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