10 Fantastic ‘Smart Thinking’ Books To Read In 2013

As long as I can remember I’ve always loved to read – there’s something about sitting in a quiet room with your feet up and a decent book that’s always appealed to me, ever since I was a boy. But as a self confessed workaholic I could never justify the time if I was reading a novel or a piece of fiction (sad as that might sound!), so as a result my bookshelves at home are filled with non-fiction literature, mainly science, business and what I would class as ‘smart thinking’.

Over the last few years I’ve read scores of non-fiction books that have ranged from the laughably inaccurate to hugely enlightening and, in some case, what I would consider to be life-changing. So, I thought it would make a useful and interesting post to share some of the best I’ve come across with our readers, hopefully you’ll find something remarkable in the following list of ten smart thinking books to read this year:

1. Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

This is probably my favourite from this list, and one of my favourite books of all time – it’s certainly the one that’s had the biggest impact on my life and the way I think about what I’m capable of (and what we’re all capable of). The book not only had a dramatic impact on my outlook towards work, talent and success, but has made Malcolm Gladwell one of my favourite authors and led me to a host of other fantastic books, including The Genius In All Of Us and The Tipping Point, both of which are featured further down this list.

Outliers: The Story Of Success takes an interesting look at the lives and circumstances of some of the world’s most talented and successful people; from software billionaires and scientific geniuses to famous musicians and professional athletes. Rather than looking at them as people however, the book looks at their circumstances, where they’re from and the people around them, suggesting that nobody makes it completely on their own and that talent, rather than being innate, is something that is earned. It will honestly change the way you look at your own life and it remains a constant driving force in my motivation to succeed and how I think about what I, and my team, are capable of.

Anytime someone says to me ‘I wish I could do that’ – or words to that effect – I always reply with four words: You can. Read Outliers.

2. Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini PHD

This book is an absolute must-read for anyone in the marketing industry; it’s revealing, engaging and nothing short of absolutely fascinating. Influence is written by Robert B. Cialdini, who is both of Professor of Marketing and a Professor of Psychology, making him perfectly placed to approach the marketing industry (and the art of persuasion) from a unique point of view that is hugely enlightening, actionable and, in some instances, rather frightening.

The book essentially looks at the psychology of why people say yes – offering six universal principles of persuasion, how to apply them to your own life (or business) and, pertinently, how to defend yourself from being influenced by these approaches. I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough and honestly consider it one of the most important books on marketing I’ve ever read – go and grab yourself a copy and if you’re not hooked within one chapter … well, you will be, so finishing that sentence seems rather redundant.

3. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

The second of three books from Malcolm Gladwell included in this list, The Tipping Point is profoundly insightful and absolutely fascinating – another must-buy for anyone in marketing (both online and offline).

The book looks and the precise moment an idea, product or social convention crosses the threshold from a small trend into a national or international phenomenon; a moment Gladwell refers to as the ‘tipping point’. Including numerous real-world examples – from books and products to social trends – the book examines the moment of shift in great detail and illuminates the specific dynamics that drive the change from small to large; giving you endless ideas for actionable elements in your own campaigns.

I promise you if you read this book you’ll not only be recommending it to all your friends, family and work colleagues, but you’ll be citing examples from it to anyone who’ll listen for weeks afterwards. A hugely enjoyable and insightful read and one of my favourite books from the last few years.

4. Switch, Chip and Dan Heath

Of all the books on this list, this one had the biggest impact on the day-to-day running of Designbysoap; giving us the most in terms of actionable takeaways, improving productivity and creating a brand culture that benefits both the business and the staff.

Switch is a book about making changes successfully; both in terms of business and personal change. The authors, Chip and Dan Heath, argue that by better understanding how our minds work, we can unlock shortcuts to successful and long-lasting switches in behaviour. They also present a fundamental paradigm-shifting alternative to how we look at problems; illustrating the benefits of seeing the goal rather than the obstacle, and finding what they refer to as the ‘bright spots’ in any given issue (no matter how large the problem).

As well as outlining the theory behind their views, the authors present numerous real-life examples that clearly demonstrate the benefits of what they’re suggesting – from scientific studies to a rather illuminating case study of how a pile of gloves completely transformed the finances of one US company. If you’re looking to make changes in your work or personal life (whether that’s making sure staff return expenses forms on time or helping you lose weight), then this is a book you should be reading.

5. The Dip, Seth Godin

The word ‘quitting’ has numerous connotations – almost all of them negative. We’re always praising the ‘never give up’ attitude (especially in the UK, where we’re all about the bulldog spirit), while quitters as seen as weak and lacking in willpower and self-discipline. It’s rare then to hear about the potential benefits of quitting, let alone have someone tell you that you should be utilising your ability to quit as a positive and valuable asset in attaining your real goals. But that’s exactly what this book from Seth Godin is about – the extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit, and conversely, when to stick.

The book presents two different situations when it comes to trying to achieve your goals; the Dip and the Cul-de-Sac. When you try and achieve something, whether it’s mastering an instrument or competing in a crowded business market, it starts off fun and easy and then gradually gets harder until it hits a low point (The Dip). When you’re in this Dip things are very difficult, progress is slow and tough and the whole thing is anything other than fun. From this point, things will either get better if you continue to push hard (moving out of the Dip), or they will never get any better, regardless of how hard you push (a Cul-De-Sac). Marketing guru Seth Godin highlights the benefits of being able to tell the difference between the two and suggests that really successful people can recognise when their in a Cul-de-Sac and quickly take the decision to quit. He assets that real winners are skilled at making this judgement call and as a result, quit often and quickly without any guilt or bowing to social connotations of ‘giving up’.

This is a very short book but one that is genuinely revelatory – a must read for anyone looking to improve and focus their efforts when it comes to being the best at something, whether it’s in your business or personal life.

6. The Genius In All Of Us, David Shenk

I came to this book after reading Outliers, and it continues the nature vs. nurture debate surrounding talent; whether or not we’re genetically pre-disposed to be good at something and therefore born with certain innate talents, or talent is something that is earned, worked at and nurtured in those willing to put in the time and effort to master it.

In The Genius In All Of Us, David Shank makes a strong argument for the latter, suggesting that talent is a process; a scientific interaction between genes and our surroundings and, most importantly, it’s a process we can influence. Backing up his hypothesis with a raft of scientific and social evidence, Shank builds his case in a way that not only compels the reader to agree, but leaves you feeling nothing short of inspired.

I would thoroughly recommend this superb piece of literature to anyone who feels that they’re destined for mediocrity; that they will simply never be able to do the things they want to because they’re ‘not talented enough’. It’s an enlightening, deeply interesting read that will leave you feeling like you can achieve anything you want to, if you’re just willing to put in the effort.

7. Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson

I absolutely love this book and consider it a must-read for anyone in marketing, content development or any industry where coming up with good ideas is beneficial to your business (so basically all of them). Taking a unique, compelling and sometimes counter-intuitive look at innovation and the process of coming up with good ideas, Steven Johnson presents a new framework for looking at the things around us and using them to develop original and innovative ideas.

Where Good Ideas Come From identifies seven principles of innovation and highlights how, by looking at things using these principles, we can recognise patterns of creativity and use them to accelerate the process of finding inspiration. In this truly fascinating read Johnson shows us how a slow hunch can often be more valuable than a much-sought-after ‘Eureka’ moment, how where you do your thinking plays a pivotal role in coming up with innovative ideas and how the best ideas often come from building upon the innovations of other people, as well as numerous other illuminating suggestions.

If you want to improve your creative thinking by taking a structured, intelligent approach to innovation then this book is definitely one that should be on your ‘to-read’ list – highly recommended.

8. Permission Marketing, Seth Godin

Another instalment from Seth Godin, this concise and beautifully written book should be of particular interest to those in marketing, offering an alternative to what Godin refers to as ‘Interruption Marketing’ and delivering a raft of innovative ways to create brand advocates.

Permission Marketing is a look at how we can stop annoying potential customers with advertising and marketing and instead incentivise voluntary acceptance of our brand message and product offerings. By targeting only those consumers who have reached out to the brand (or expressed an interest via social media engagement, email sign-ups, etc.), Permission Marketing offers a much more acceptable and effective way of communicating with potential customers and building long-term relationships with them. Not only does this dramatically increase the possibility of converting them into paying customers, but it builds trust with the consumer and creates genuine brand advocates – something every marketer should be interested in.

The ideas presented in this book are applicable to any business – both online and offline – but is particularly relevant to those in the digital industries, or any company looking to make sales via an online presence. We regularly utilise the concepts contained within Permission Marketing for Designbysoap and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to improve their online marketing.

9. Blink, Malcom Gladwell

Yet another book from Malcolm Gladwell, Blink is an intelligent and thought provoking look at how and why we make snap decisions – or as Gladwell puts it, the ‘art of thinking without thinking’.

Not only does Gladwell effectively and compellingly explain how we make snap judgements, but explores their benefits – often suggesting that such a judgement can be more efficacious than a cautious, considered decision. This book is essentially a look at our instincts and ‘gut reactions’ to situations; compelling the reader to trust their instincts wherever possible. Fiendishly clever and deeply engaging, Blink is a fantastic read and one that will change the way you think about decision-making on both a small and large scale.

10. Drive, Daniel H. Pink

Drive is a fantastic book by an author I only came across towards the tail-end of last year. Daniel H. Pink is an engaging and intelligent writer, and it’s well worth checking out his other books: To Sell Is Human and A Whole New Mind (books I bought immediately after finishing Drive).

In Drive, Pink assets that the traditional approaches we all take towards motivating other people (and ourselves) are fundamentally flawed, whether it’s at home, at work or in education. Using a wealth of research, case-studies and examples, Pink offers an alternative approach to motivation, suggesting that the secret to high performance lies not in carrot-and-stick philosophies or external incentives, but rather in our own innate need to direct our own lives and our human desire to learn new things and to create something interesting and innovative.

I would strongly recommend this fascinating and paradigm-shifting book to anyone who understands the value of motivation and wants a new and effective approach to encouraging high levels of performance from staff, students or themselves.


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