It’s that time of year, and the lists have already started. Amazon’s best business books of 2010 was posted over a month ago so I thought I’d share some of my top reads of the year. These aren’t necessarily the books that have the most obvious application to learning and development, but they’re the ones that I’ve learned the most from and made me look at the world in a slightly different way.
What are your best reads of 2010?
Drive by Dan Pink
I’ve heard this book referred to by so many people, on so many occasions in the last year, it’s amazing to think that it was only in January that it was released. In Drive, Dan gives a great summary of the current research into what motivates us and describes the reasons why the traditional approach of carrots and sticks (often) doesn’t work.
Even better, he puts forwards the three key ingredients to help cultivate a more motivated, better performing workforce: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
Johnah Lehrer is one of the most engaging writers on psychology and neuroscience working today. His keen eye for interesting subjects settled upon the topic of decision-making for his most recent book, How We Decide. I missed the hardback release of this book last year but caught the paperback when it came out at the start of 2010. It’s a fascinating insight into the inner workings of our mind when we make decisions, and a useful accompaniment to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, both of which touch on similar topics.
The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely
Dan Ariely’s latest is a companion piece to Predictably Irrational, this time focusing more directly on practical matters. There are a few chapters on irrationality in the workplace, which are particularly useful to anyone with an interest in performing more effectively.
Carrots and Sticks by Ian Ayres
Ian Ayres wrote the hugely successful Super Crunchers in 2007 (also well worth a read). This year he released a new book looking at the power on incentives to change behaviour. It’s particularly useful to read this book in conjunction with Dan Pink’s Drive since they both give you a slightly different perspective on the different tools that are needed to motivate.
Smart Swarm by Peter Miller
Not an obvious place to look for ideas to apply in a work context but Peter Miller has done a wonderful job of examining how flocks, swarms, schools and colonies from the animal kingdom have lessons about how efficient organisations get things done. Not just a theoretical piece, Miller cites plenty of examples of how ideas gleaned from the behaviour of ants and bees have been successfully applied in a range of different organisations. And contrary to what might be expected, the answers are never about exerting more control over people.
The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
This came out in 2008, but I read it earlier this year so it makes the list. I was inspired to read this after re-reading Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb. It’s actually a much gentler guide to probability and examines our tendency to spot patterns where patterns don’t actually exist. A useful read for those who want to hone their Baloney Detector.
Good Boss, Bad Boss by Bob Sutton
I’m cheating slightly by putting this in my list right now because I’m still in the middle of reading it but, since it’s my list, I can do what I want. I’ve always enjoyed and respected Bob Sutton’s books because they cleverly blend useful research, illuminating examples and a delight in uncovering the truth behind received wisdom.
This book is no different and it’s worth reading by anyone who has to be a boss or deal with a boss – almost everyone then.
As I was compiling my list I realised that most of these authors have really useful websites that are a treasure trove of information, blog posts and articles. Since I had already looked at them all, I thought I’d share the links for anyone who’s interested:
Dan Pink: danpink.com.
Jonah Lehrer: jonahlehrer.com.
Ian Ayres: his official Yale site.
Bob Sutton: Work Matters blog