Among the fastest-growing topics on business bookshelves these days are those that examine how we think, how we make decisions, why we make mistakes, how we learn, and how we lead.
These titles, which may be listed under the headings of social or behavioral psychology, behavioral economics, learning theory, or the increasingly popular title of “neuroleadership,” show us not only how we think, but also how we can start to think better.
Think about how many decisions you’ve already made today: What time to get up. Which toothpaste to use. What to wear. What to have for breakfast. How best to get to work. And what to do when you get there. From the minute we wake up, throughout the day, and until the second we fall asleep we are always thinking, whether we realize it or not.
But despite all that thinking, how often do we actually STOP to think about thinking? That’s what this year’s list is intended to help you do. Once you start thinking about HOW you think, it becomes pretty hard to stop. And with this heightened self-awareness, you will soon find yourself having greater insights, making better decisions, making fewer regrettable mistakes, and acting more efficiently, effectively, and confidently.
So here (in alphabetical order) are fifteen thought-provoking titles that will help you to become a more powerful thinker. They’re some of the best on the topic I read (or reread) over the past year—a mix of all-time classics and recent discoveries:
15 Books to Help You Think About Thinking
Art of Changing the Brain, The: Enriching the Practice of Teaching By Exploring the Biology of Learning
James E. Zull
Ever been interested in the biology, chemistry, and neuroscience behind how we think, learn, teach, and communicate? This highly accessible book gets into the details of how the brain actually works, and how learning actually happens, without ever getting too technical..
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
A fascinating journey through the world of error-making and a fun, eye-opening exploration of topics, from how and why we make mistakes to how and why we believe what we believe. For instance: “What was something that you used to believe, but no longer do?” Or (even more challenging) “What is something you believe today that you think you might not believe to be true in the future?” This book explores why are we so often wrong, and what can we do to change that.
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
Medina, a molecular biologist, provides an easily readable and highly practical guidebook that simplifies a highly complex topic without dumbing it down. With straightforward language and humor, he effectively clarifies and illustrates the importance of the mind-body connection when it comes to thinking and learning. For a sneak peak at how his 12 Brain Rules can help you to better rule your life, check out his collection of short, fun videos.
Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds
From the master of “multiple intelligences,” this brilliant developmental psychologist takes a cognitive approach to influencing by exploring what it takes to change someone else’s mind, as well as our own. The act of influencing is both an art and a science that benefits from a greater understanding of how the human mind works. For example, one of his key points is that you should spend less time and effort trying to persuade someone, and more time trying to understand their resistance to your idea. So simple, yet so practical and powerful.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
(also To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others)
Daniel H. Pink
What makes people tick? In his two recent bestsellers, Dan Pink takes a deep dive into the psychology of how to motivate and influence people–an incredibly valuable skill for managers, leaders, and salespeople. Pink shows how and why we ALL need to be motivators and that no matter what we do for a living, we are ALL salespeople.
My favorite takeaway: People are motivated by AMP: Autonomy, Master, and Purpose. Let your people do things their own way, in an environment that allows them to develop, while doing work that truly matters, and you will be setting them up for success. You might also want to check out Pink’s popular RSAnimate video, as well as his fun new TV series, Crowd Control, to see his ideas in action.
How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens
This brand-new release leverages the latest research on how our brains absorb and retain information. The numerous practical insights and powerful examples make this quick and easy read a valuable resource for anyone in the learning and development, coaching, or education fields.
Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently
An iconoclast is “a person who does something that others say can’t be done.” By focusing on three key areas—perception, fear response, and social intelligence—and studying the likes of Steve Jobs and Walt Disney, the author provides new insights into how we might model their behaviors to take a more brain-based approach to achieving success.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.
Influence, first published in 2006, is one of the most important books ever written on the subject. Taking a science- and research-based approach to figuring out why people agree to things and how to change opinion and behavior, Cialdini introduces us to his six now-classic persuasion strategies: Reciprocation, Commitment/Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity. Using these six principles can help bring success in work and in life.
The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
(also The Inner Game of Work)
This book has very little to do with tennis, and everything to do with how we think. When playing tennis (or anything else, including the game of life), we are facing two opponents: the other person or team, and ourselves. And in most cases, we are our greatest enemy. It’s within our own minds where “the inner game” is played, and either won or lost. If you want to gain a greater understanding of the mental side of achieving peak performance, these two books (which I refer back to all the time) will help you get there.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Carol S. Dweck, PhD.
Do you have a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset”? After hearing Dweck’s name referred to repeatedly over the past couple of years, I realized I better read this book to find out what she had to say—and what these two mindsets were all about. In brief, people who have a fixed mindset believe that you either have a talent or you don’t, that you were born that way, and that there is nothing you can do about it. Growth mindset people believe the opposite: that talents can be developed, and that obstacles can be overcome. Understanding this simple model helps us to gain a better understanding of ourselves and others, and shows how transitioning to a more growth-oriented mindset and developing a more positive and productive attitude can lead to higher levels of success.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business
Whether you’re trying to break an old habit or start a new one, this book will help you transform yourself into the person you would like to be through gaining a better understanding of how habits work, and what it takes to change them. Simply understanding and remembering his multipurpose, three-step “Cue-Routine-Reward” model will make you more self-aware and help you to develop new, more productive habits by filling the void left by the old, less-productive (or damaging) ones. More easily said than done, of course, but it does come down to mind over matter, and this book will help you get there.
Six Thinking Hats
Dr. Edward De Bono
One of my all-time favorite books and methodologies, by the guru of thinking about thinking, Six Thinking Hats, described in detail in one of my previous posts, will forever change the way you think, communicate, brainstorm, collaborate, and innovate.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
The numerous insightful stories and powerful examples will make you hyperaware of how much faulty thinking there is going on in the world around us, from cognitive biases and jumping to conclusions, to far too little objective, inquisitive, introspective thought, questioning, and decision making. This long but incredibly worthwhile work from 2011 is a modern classic.
Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
It takes willpower to read all (or even one!) of the books on this list, rather than just plopping down on the couch to watch a reality TV marathon on Bravo while finishing off an entire box of Mallomars. But if it were easy, we wouldn’t need a book devoted solely to the subject of willpower. Taking a deep dive into the subject of self-control, the authors explore the mind-body connection to help us take greater control over our own lives.
Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
(also Quiet Leadership)
Gaining a better understanding of how our brains function can help all of us be more effective by helping us take control of our thoughts and behavior. And if you don’t know (or care about) the difference between a prefrontal cortex and an amygdala, you will by the end of this fascinating work. With a better understanding of how the brain works, Rock shows us how you can use these insights to perform better AT work. His SCARF model alone is worth the price of admission. In Quiet Leadership Rock further applies his brain science insights to the world of work.
So that’s my list. Where to start? You can’t go wrong with any of them. So just follow your brain…and your gut…and dive right in.
What would YOU add to this list? If you have any additional book recommendations—or comments on any of the above selections—tell us about them @TheHiredGuns or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!