March 4, 2020
Here are short reviews of four books I read last year which I think everyone in our space should read:
What’s the most effective route to success in any field? It’s probably not what you think.
Many experts suggest that anyone who wants to develop a skill, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and put in as many hours of focused practice as possible. That way you get a head start. But a closer look at research on top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialisation is the exception, not the rule.
Range makes a good case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn and those who quit may end up with the most fulfilling careers. Great inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area; the conclusion is people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.
Success is not just about talent, knowledge or skill. It is also about freeing ourselves from the blinkers and group think that hamper us all, by harnessing a critical new ingredient: cognitive diversity.
Syed offers a new approach to success and a route map to how we might tackle the most complex of challenges, such as obesity, terrorism and climate change. He offers many specific applications: the art of personal reinvention, the benefits of personalised nutrition and a radical blueprint for the future. Rebel Ideas challenges hierarchies, encourages constructive dissent and asks us to rethink how success really happens.
A robust examination of our interactions with strangers and why they often go wrong. Gladwell argues, that is something wrong with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. This means we don’t know how to talk to strangers, often inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a serious impact on our lives and our world.
Gladwell takes us on a tour of the dark side of human nature, where strangers are never simple and misreading them can have disastrous consequences. This book is a fascinating study of gullibility and the social necessity of trusting strangers.
The urge to tidiness seems to be rooted in the human psyche. Many of us feel threatened by things which are vague, unplanned, scattered around or hard to describe. We take comfort in having a script or plan to rely on, a system to follow, in being able to categorise and file away.
The trouble with tidiness is that it can make systems rigid and unresponsive. In Messy, Tim Harford shows how qualities we value such as resilience and creativity cannot be disentangled from the messy ground that produces them. A book about the benefits of being messy: in our private lives; at the office, with piles of papers and unread spreadsheets on the desk; messy in the workshop, the lab or while preparing for an important presentation; and messy in our approach to business, politics and economics, leaving things vague and uncomfortably made-up-on-the-spot. It’s time to rediscover the benefits of a little mess.