I spent a lot of 2019 reading a variety of books with topics as eclectic as Victorian sailing ships, Nikola Tesla and the origin of conspiracies. In this blog I’ve picked the first four of my eight favourite of the year. I hope you find something that catches your eye.
Rebel Ideas – The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Sayed (2019)
When Matthew Sayed, Olympic table tennis champion and sports journalist produced his sequel to his thought provoking and entertaining books “Bounce” and “Black Box Thinking” I had to read it. I was not disappointed.
In “Rebel Ideas” he champions the power of bringing people together who think differently from one another. He describes cutting edge research and a dizzying array of case studies and real-world examples and stories from the CIA’s blindness to 9/11 to Rob Hall’s heroism in the 1996 Everest tragedy to the deep flaws in dietary science and the alarming spate of crashes of the US airforce in the late 1940s.
He maintains the more diverse the perspectives, the wider the range of potentially viable solutions a collection of problem solvers can find, the better the outcome. The trick is to find people with different perspectives.
This book holds powerful lessons for all of us who find comfort in being surrounded by people who think in the same way, mirror our perspectives and confirm our prejudices rather than seeking out rebels. But it is not just people. We should also be wary of the echo chambers created by social media where the algorithms invisibly personalise our search giving us more of what we already believe.
Another masterpiece from Matthew Sayed.
Conspiracy – Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday (2018)
“Conspiracy entails determined, coordinated action, done in secret, that aims to disrupt the status quo and accomplish some aim”. Conspiracy has long terrified and intrigued and is associated with the likes of Machiavelli or the gunpowder plot. This book is about poetic justice on a grand scale, plotted silently for nearly a decade.
Peter Thiel – the billionaire co-founder of Paypal, and early Facebook investor is outed as gay by Gawker, a website immune to libel laws and with no editorial limits to their “free speech” or unsubstantiated and highly vindictive gossip – depending upon which way you think. The First Amendment of the American Constitution makes it almost impossible to successfully sue for libel.
Peter Thiel is approached by a brilliant young legal brain with a plan to find victims of Gawker’s cases where they can make claims using legal arguments apart from libel for multimillion dollar compensation and despatch Gawker into bankruptcy. But importantly, to get the jury’s sympathy to the victims, it is important that the money behind the cases is not revealed. Hence the need for conspiracy.
A thought-provoking true story in the digital era where rules on editorial control of publishing are no longer relevant.
Factfulness – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, with Ola Roslin and Anna Rosling Ronnlund (2018)
A book by a Swedish professor based largely on statistics about why year by year the world is improving, despite public perception to the contrary, does not appear to be the most compelling read.
But as Hans Rosling’s bestseller develops his arguments he peppers them with his lifetime of experiences as a doctor working in many of the poorest parts of the world. These personal experiences add interest to his view which, as the title suggests, is based on evidence that is almost counterintuitive.
When he posed questions to groups all over the world on poverty and wealth, population growth, birth, deaths, education, health, gender, violence, energy and the environment, he found that chimpanzees consistently outperformed not only the general public but also specialists, scientists, university lecturers, teachers, and politicians.
He does not ascribe this to fake news, ignorance or lack of up to date knowledge. He ascribes it to the very way our brains work.
He then looks at ten dramatic instincts which cause the mega misconception on how people perceive the world and not only dismantles preconceived ideas but he offers his own interpretation and his suggestions on how to control the instinct and develop a fact-based world view.
This book is thought-provoking but is also exceedingly readable and offers an optimistic view of life.
The Talent Lab: The Secrets of Creating and Sustaining Success by Owen Slot (2017)
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games Great Britain finished 36th in the performance table with just 15 medals, behind Nigeria, Ireland and North Korea. At the London Olympics in 2012 in London, Britain won 65 Olympic medals.
Owen Slot credits the success to UK Sport’s hard-headed, creative and open-minded approach that sets it apart from other countries. Unfortunately, in my view, he does not give sufficient recognition to the English Institute of Sport who provided the cutting-edge research and innovation and support services.
UK Sport set up the Talent ID programme to recruit large numbers of talented youngsters. The results are told through stories of Tom Daley in diving, and Lizzie Yarnold who won a gold medal in skeleton.
For methods of developing the identified talent, UK Sport looked to a variety of unusual organisations including the European Space Agency, the Yehudi Menuhin School of Musical Excellence, the Royal Ballet School, and the SAS.
The role of business transformational leadership, the empowering of female talent, of challenging the tyranny of the normal through research and innovation, and of developing high performance parents, and of how to deliver on the day are all examined.
Makes me proud to be British.