Books to Get You Thinking

In today’s competitive economy dominated by rapidly changing technology, global commerce and skill migration, attention is turning to improving individual performance and productivity. While acquiring the right skill sets and domain knowledge continue to be critical, it is also imperative to focus on mental attitudes that play a vital role in determining an individual’s ability to think creatively. The motivation to try out new ideas and a willingness to take risks lead to superior abilities and enhanced performance in life as well as in the workplace.

The physiological and behavioral dynamics which make people proficient are the subject of extensive research at the academic, business and institutional levels. Some thinkers approach from the neuroscience perspective, while others focus on “learning” through collaborative teamwork and personal empowerment as a fundamental element in driving innovation, growth and competitive advantage. A number of fascinating books have appeared that analyze what works to make people more proficient in their areas of expertise. All titles can all be found and checked out at the Mercer County Library System!

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Poole
Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Poole
Psychologist Anders Ericsson teams up with Robert Pool, a science writer, to author this compelling book on the forces critical in developing expertise in a specific area or domain. Ericsson’s research is based on a study covering a period of thirty years during which he observed and interviewed outstanding performers in different fields—musicians, athletes, doctors, and teachers. Analyzing how and what they do, their psychology and neuroanatomy, Ericsson maintains that expert performance in a field is not always a result of inherent talent or natural ability but can be honed and developed through hard work, dedication, targeted practice, constantly raising the bar for oneself and stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Malcolm Gladwell, in his famous book Outliers: The Story of Success, has quoted Ericsson’s research on the 10K rule—it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. In his analysis, Ericsson makes an important distinction between knowledge and skill. While knowledge is intrinsically important as a precursor to being able to do a job, it is the actual act of repeated implementation and executing of a job that translates that knowledge into skill and deep expertise. Ericsson also makes another important distinction between naïve, practice where people practice mindlessly and repetitively, versus purposeful practice that is focused and directed at targeted improvement as a tool for enhancing performance and developing proficiency. In enhancing a skill, Ericsson identifies the strategic importance of training with an expert in the field who provides valuable feedback and a better understanding of the area of study.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
Adam Grant, a top management thinker and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, is well known for his research on the science of what motivates people. Following the phenomenal success of his first book, Give and Take, Grant now studies the phenomenon of originality, identifying it as a key determinant of achievement in today’s competitive economy. Success, in Grant’s analysis, results from individuals who are open to exploring and pursuing diverse and divergent ideas, are comfortable following the less traveled path, rejecting the default and going after original ideas rather than conforming to the status quo. To be original, individuals must be creative as well as willing to step out of their comfort zone. Familiarity with one’s field or domain can sometimes encourage one to steer the known path but, to be successful, leaders must guard against this becoming an obstacle to working with new ideas. Grant shows how the commonly held belief that only the young can be creative risk takers and effective innovators is not a universal truth and can be a deterrent to pursuing original ideas. Throughout the book Grant reinforces his analysis with fascinating real life examples from the business world. He ends with an action plan designed for impact that focuses on voicing ideas, managing emotions and building cultures of originality by both individuals as well as leaders.

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The author is a Pulitzer prize-winning business journalist for the New York Times and is best known for his book, The Power of Habit, that focuses on the science of how routines are formed. In his new book, Duhigg turns his attention to exploring what makes individuals or companies more productive. Combining elements of psychology, behavioral economics as well as neuroscience, Duhigg explores eight different ideas that are most important in expanding an individual’s productivity both at work and outside it. The important takeaway from the book is that an increase in productivity does not depend on longer hours of work but rather on the way we make certain choices and decisions, and the sense of community, teamwork and creative culture we build around us. The principles he identifies include the importance of setting both short and long term goals and always planning not in terms of just one definite apprised goal, but rather in terms of different probable scenarios. Duhigg advocates the importance of critical decision making and a feeling of control as both major contributors to improved motivation and performance. Extending this idea to the dynamics of a company, the author emphasizes the importance of assigning employees the freedom and autonomy to make decisions at every level. In an age of advanced technology and automation, it is also important to maintain attention span and sharp focus and Duhigg explains how this can be done through building mental modules of the way things work. Perhaps the most compelling part of the book is Duhigg’s incisive stories and examples that illustrate the applicability of his prescriptions for achieving higher productivity levels.

—Nita Mathur


  1. Very interesting books! The book review makes me want to read them! These are now on my reading list!


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