Books that will change how you think about thinking—Part II

Books that would break a lot of myths, clarify a couple of misconceptions, and would force you to look at things differently.

Note: This is a continuation from last week’s post where I had discussed about 5 books. Following are the rest of the 4 books + 1 bonus book.

6. Superforecasting

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

We all are terrible forecasters. In this book, Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner explore if some people do have real foresight. And if they do, what makes them so good in it, and can these skills be learnt by others as well?

Notable quotes:

“It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously,” Daniel Kahneman noted, “but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.”

“For superforecasters, beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.”

“Consensus is not always good; disagreement not always bad. If you do happen to agree, don’t take that agreement — in itself — as proof that you are right. Never stop doubting.”

Why you should read it:

Written in an engaging and accessible style, Superforecasting illustrates every concept with a good story, often featuring national surprises like 9/11 and the lack of WMDs in Iraq with explanations of why forecasters missed what looks obvious in hindsight.

Ultimately, this is a book about critical thinking that challenges the reader to bring more rigour to his or her own thought processes. Tetlock and Gardner have made a valuable contribution to a world of internet factoids and snap judgments.

You might think there isn’t much need for accurate forecasting in your profession or personal life. But as you progress with this book, you’ll learn a lot of interesting things that would genuinely surprise you. Very insightful book not only on forecasting, but also on leadership, organisation, politics, etc.

7. Zero to One

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

Peter Thiel explores the relationship between technology, society, and historical moments in this unique book of business philosophy. The book is both about how to start a company and how to save the world: entrepreneurship as business and entrepreneurship as social salvation.

Notable quotes:

“EVERY MOMENT IN BUSINESS happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”

“EVERY ONE OF TODAY’S most famous and familiar ideas was once unknown and unsuspected.”

“The single greatest danger for a founder is to become so certain of his own myth that he loses his mind. But an equally insidious danger for every business is to lose all sense of myth and mistake disenchantment for wisdom.”

Why you should read it:

The best thing about the book is that it explains everything from a meta level. It doesn’t present a formula or a framework to follow (as done in books like The Lean Startup). It presents a school of thought, a philosophy, an idea. You have to read this more than once. The more you read, the more you would get to uncover the layers.

This book doesn’t talk as much about building a startup or a company, as much as it talks about building the future — with the right mindset. What sets it apart from the others is that it amalgamates Economics, Philosophy, and Innovation while talking about entrepreneurship.

8. The Design of Everyday Things

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

Even the smartest among us can feel inept as we fail to figure out which light switch or oven burner to turn on, or whether to push, pull, or slide a door. The fault, argues this ingenious — even liberating — book, lies not in ourselves, but in product design that ignores the needs of users and the principles of cognitive psychology.

In this entertaining and insightful analysis, cognitive scientist Donald A. Norman hails excellence of design as the most important key to regaining the competitive edge in influencing consumer behaviour.

Notable quotes:

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.”

“A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem.”

Why you should read it:

Anyone who designs anything to be used by humans — from physical objects to computer programs to conceptual tools — must read this book, and it is an equally tremendous read for anyone who has to use anything created by another human.

Have you ever stood in front of a door, or a microwave, absolutely flummoxed, because the damned thing gave you no clue whatsoever how to open it. If so, you will enjoy this book. If not, then also you would equally enjoy it.

Norman would point out the obvious things you take for granted, and would make you think about them in an entirely new light. He breaks down the simplest devices into their basic functions & features, then rebuilds them in a way that is both obvious and yet entirely new.

He then points out places where the design elements are good & bad. He gets into the basic aspects of design that you never considered. Best of all, he lays all of this out in an interesting manner with common examples that are easy to follow even for a non-designer — as he delves deeper into the problems and solutions.

After reading this you will never look at any man-made object the same. You will question everything from doors to tea kettles to the most sophisticated computer program. The next time you fumble with an answering machine, web page, or light switch you will think back to the lessons from this book. It is almost liberating once you can see beyond the design of everyday things.

It is an absolutely must read if you are in a position to create something — anything from a software, a chair, or even a door knob.

9. Fooled by Randomness

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

This book is mostly about luck, or more precisely, how you deal with it in life and in business. It is a captivating insight into one of the least understood factors of all our lives.

Notable quotes:

“Heroes are heroes because they are heroic in behavior, not because they won or lost.”

“Probability is not a mere computation of odds on the dice or more complicated variants; it is the acceptance of the lack of certainty in our knowledge and the development of methods for dealing with our ignorance.”

“No matter how sophisticated our choices, how good we are at dominating the odds, randomness will have the last word.”

Why you should read it:

If you are even remotely interested in Philosophy, Statistics, Behavioural Economics, Psychology and Mathematics, this book acts as a great starting point.

One of the constant themes that you’ll find particularly interesting are about the hindsight bias and the narrative fallacy. We humans are great at fabricating post hoc narratives about our world. It’s how we understand (and misunderstand) the world.

This book will also most likely make you a bit more humble. It will reveal how much you don’t actually know. Many of the greatest qualities you assume about yourself are likely deluded or, at best, the result of a streak of luck.

This book might make you more comfortable with failure, and persuade you to not let success get inside your head since you might not really have earned all of that just by hard work.

10. Bonus: Creativity, Inc

| Audiobook | Kindle | Paperback |

What it’s about:

Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios distils down what it takes to manage a creative company. This is also a history of Pixar, and the story behind their much loved movies.

Notable quotes:

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”

“You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offence when they are challenged.”

Why you should read it:

This book would give you a practical framework that you can put to use in your company/team from today itself. In this process, it would bust a couple of well known myths about team management and leadership as well.

Ed Catmull explains what is creativity, and how you can foster it in an organisation. You don’t get feel-good abstract ideas from him, or cherry picked solutions to the most commonest of problems. Instead, you get an approach to tackle problems that you face in any creative organisation. Mostly, you get a good starting point. “The future is not a destination — it is a direction,” Ed Catmull makes his point very clear.

This is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve centre of Pixar Animation — into their meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made.


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