All I want for Christmas is….BOOKS!

I am fortunate enough to have everything I need this holiday season, but there are always books that I want.  So for this post, I thought I would share what’s on my current work-related “to read” list, as well as my “wish list” for the first part of 2012.  Maybe my list will inspire you to check out some of the titles.  If you’ve read any of these yourself, I’d love to hear YOUR reviews.  Happy reading, everyone!

In my “To Read” pile, you’ll find…

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences.

“System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.  Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior.”

Linchpin:  Are You Indispensable?, by Seth Godin.

“There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there’s a third team, the linchpins. These people figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.”

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, by David Brodzinsky, et al.

“Recent studies have shown that being adopted can affect many aspects of adoptees’ lives, from relationships with adoptive parents to bonds with their own children. Using their combined total of 55 years experience in clinical and research work with adoptees and their families, the authors use the voices of adoptees themselves to trace how adoption is experienced over a lifetime.”

 

And some of the books on my list for Santa are…

The 100 Best Business Books of All Time:  What They Say, Why They Matter, and How They Can Help You, by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten.

“This collection is more than just a list. Covert and Sattersten highlight important takeaways and put each book in context. Their insights can help anyone cut through the clutter and discover the business books that are truly worth their time and money.”

Too Big to Know:  Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room, by David Weinberger.

“This groundbreaking book shakes the foundations of our concept of knowledge—from the role of facts to the value of books and the authority of experts—providing a compelling vision of the future of knowledge in a connected world.”

Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, by William C. Taylor.

Practically Radical goes deep inside twenty-five for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations to find out how they’ve made remarkable strides in tough circumstances. They include IBM, Zappos, Swatch, the Girl Scouts, Interpol, big-city hospitals, fast-growing banks, and high-flying airlines.”

How Remarkable Women Lead:  The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life, by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston.

“Based on five years of proprietary research, How Remarkable Women Lead speaks to you as no other book has, with its hopeful outlook and unique ideas about success. It’s the new “right stuff” of leadership, raising provocative issues such as whether feminine leadership traits (for women and men) are better suited for our fast-changing, hyper-competitive, and increasingly complex world.”

Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

Rework shows you a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business. Read it and you’ll know why [business] plans are actually harmful, why you don’t need outside investors, and why you’re better off ignoring the competition. The truth is, you need less than you think. You don’t need to be a workaholic. You don’t need to staff up. You don’t need to waste time on paperwork or meetings. You don’t even need an office. Those are all just excuses.”

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, by the hitRECord collaborative and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

“To create The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, [the actor] known within the hitRECord community as RegularJOE—directed thousands of collaborators to tell tiny stories through words and art. With the help of the entire creative collective, Gordon-Levitt culled, edited and curated over 8,500 contributions into this finely tuned collection of original art from 67 contributors.

The Language Instinct:  How the Mind Creates Language, by Steven Pinker.

“In this classic, the world’s expert on language and mind lucidly explains everything you always wanted to know about language: how it works, how children learn it, how it changes, how the brain computes it, and how it evolved. With deft use of examples of humor and wordplay, Steven Pinker weaves our vast knowledge of language into a compelling story: language is a human instinct, wired into our brains by evolution.”

Demand:  Creating What People Love before They Know They Want It, by Adrian J. Slywotzky with Karl Weber.

“In Demand, Adrian Slywotzky provides a radically new way to think about demand, with a big idea and a host of practical applications—not just for people in business but also for social activists, government leaders, non-profit managers, and other would-be innovators. To succeed in their various missions, all these groups need to master such ground-breaking concepts as the hassle map (and the secrets of fixing it); the curse of the incomplete product (and how to avoid it); why ‘very good’ does not equal ‘magnetic’; how what you don’t see can make or break a product; the art of transforming fence sitters into customers; why there’s no such thing as an average customer; and why real demand comes from a 45-degree angle of improvement (rather than the five degrees most organizations manage).”

 

Is Google making us stupid?

No matter how busy I am, I always find time to read.  Fiction, non-fiction, magazines, books, and journals – I love them all!  Recently, I finished reading The Shallows:  What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr, the former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. What a fascinating book!  Read on for more details.

Grade: A+

In a few words: thought-provoking, interesting, extremely well-written

From the cover:

“’Is Google making us stupid?’ When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us.  He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time:  As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?”

My thoughts:

Early in The Shallows, Carr writes, “It seemed ludicrous to think that fiddling with a computer, a mere tool, could alter in any deep or lasting way what was going on inside my head.  But I was wrong.  As neuroscientists have discovered, the brain—and the mind to which it gives rise—is forever a work in progress.”

He goes on to describe four loose categories of tools that humans use to expand our power and control over our circumstances.  The fourth of these—and the primary focus of this book—is tools that extend or support our mental powers.  These are “intellectual technologies,” like the typewriter, abacus, globe, book, and Internet.  In Carr’s view, each embodies a set of assumptions about how the mind works or should work: How did people find their way before maps existed?  How did people tell time before the 24-hour clock was invented?  Was storytelling different before the invention of the typewriter?

Throughout The Shallows, Carr gives compelling and powerful evidence of how our minds are changed by the intellectual technologies we use.  Examples are everywhere, but I was particularly struck by his description of how humans are easily “fooled” by artificial intelligence computer applications in large part because we want to be fooled by them.  As he put it, “The Turing test, it turned out, was as much a test of the way human beings think as of the way machines think.”

Of particular importance to this book is Carr’s observation that “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively.  Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again.”  As alarmist as this sounds, a New York Times book review said this about The Shallows:  “This is a measured manifesto. Even as Carr bemoans his vanishing attention span, he’s careful to note the usefulness of the Internet, which provides us with access to a near infinitude of information. We might be consigned to the intellectual shallows, but these shallows are as wide as a vast ocean.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment.  I read this book as more of a caution about maintaining technology’s role as a tool for humans, not a substitute for humanity.  My suspicion – and perhaps it’s too optimistic (but let me keep my delusions, okay?) – is that the people who are the game-changers, earth-movers, and innovators in today’s world DO use the Internet as a tool.  These people haven’t lost their ability to reason, create, and achieve in the physical world just because they have a constant stream of information accessible 24/7.

For me, there’s a critical distinction between the “brain” and the “mind,” and I have some measure of faith in the triumph of the thoughtful, intelligent, complicated, amazing human mind.  Though our paradigm for understanding the brain has been rooted for years in the machine-mind analogy, that comparison is now being rejected as inadequate.  Sure, there’s a ton of research about what parts of the brain are affected by using the Internet, comparisons of brain activity while reading in print versus online, etc., but I believe that these studies only offer a partial view of reality.

It’s often said that the human brain is more complex than the universe, and we know even less about it.  I suspect that until neuroscience is exponentially more sophisticated, we won’t see the total view of what the brain is (much less the mind) for generations, and maybe never.  And that is probably a good thing.

Conclusion/Applicability for Business

It would be easy to dismiss this book as an intellectual exercise with little applicability “in the trenches” of running a business.  But I believe the philosophical questions Carr raises have potentially critical implications for business owners, marketers, and salespeople, among others.  Why?  I see in my work that the Internet is a constant information hog.  I often joke about how many articles, blogs, and other “copy” I’ve written for clients that is NEVER read by any human – just search engines.  There’s a fundamental question of how much to play along with this demand.  Hypothetically, is it possible to run a business – and a very successful one – without this reliance on technology?  When is technology a true tool, and when is it distracting from the real world problems and solutions?

Carr writes, “When a carpenter picks up a hammer, the hammer becomes, so far as his brain is concerned, part of his hand….Our ability to meld with all manner of tools is one of the qualities that most distinguishes us as a species.” True enough, but I have difficulty with his conclusion that “When the carpenter takes his hammer into his hand, he can use that hand to do only what a hammer can do.  The hand becomes an implement for pounding and pulling nails.”  Sure, we can hammer with a hammer.  But I’ve seen a hammer used as a crowbar, a paperweight, a counterweight, and a symbol representing the working class.

I believe the answer the question, “Is Google making us stupid?” is probably, “No.”  We’re making ourselves stupid if we don’t stay in touch with what makes us human.  We must keep technologies where they belong:  in our toolkit, to be called on when needed.  Just because I have a hammer doesn’t mean I have to bang something with it.  I can use it to make a point, too.