Conversation Agent 2012 Recommended Reading List

People often ask me for book recommendations and it's been a while since I published a review. 

Here's a link to past reviews.

This time, it's nine books — an eclectic collection of new and evergreen titles mostly about creativity, social behavior, and willpower.

The-Intention-Economy1. The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge by Doc  Searls

The book's premise is based upon the belief that the `free' customers are more valuable than captive ones. 

Relationships between customers and vendors will be voluntary and
genuine, with loyalty anchored in mutual respect and concern, rather
than coercion. So, rather than "targeting," "capturing," "acquiring,"
"managing," "locking in," and "owning" customers, as if they were slaves
or cattle, vendors will earn the respect of customers who are now free
to bring far more to the market's table than the old vendor-based
systems ever contemplated, much less allowed

Searls is the originator of the "Vendor Relationship Management" (VRM) concept and works at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet &


Ignore Everybody2. Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod

Creativity is timeless and this book was many years in the making. 

MacLeod shares his best thinking in this book, which was his first one. For example:

* Selling out is harder than it looks. Diluting your product to make it more commercial will just make people like it less.
* If your plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail. Nobody suddenly discovers anything. Things are made slowly and in pain.
* Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.
There’s no point trying to do the same thing as 250,000 other young
hopefuls, waiting for a miracle. All existing business models are wrong.
Find a new one.
* The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours. The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.


I'll Have What She's Having3. I'll Have What She's Having: Mapping Social Behavior by Alex Bentley, Mark Earls and Michael J. O'Brien

Continues the conversation Earls started with Herd on how our inherent social nature shapes and explains most of our choices.

To me, when we talk about influence, we should take into consideration human nature and Earls is an experienced student and observer of why we do what we do.

The book describes, among other things, how buzzwords propagate and how ideas
spread; how the swine flu scare became an epidemic; and how focused
social learning by a few gets amplified as copying by the masses. It
describes how ideas, behavior, and culture spread through the simple
means of doing what others do.

How fixed are preferences and how much are they subject to social and cultural influences? Learn why and how behavior shapes attitudes, and not the other way around.


Making Ideas Happen4. Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality by Scott Belsky

founder and CEO of Behance, a company on a mission to empower and organize the creative world.

Why is it so difficult to ship good ideas out the door? Why do
committees show up and wreck the purity of your idea? Why do people
avoid doing the hard work of actually bringing their work to the market?

Seth Godin says: Because it's safe. Ideas that never ship are never criticized.

Getting motivated to cross the finish line is hard work.

The idea might be the engine that makes everything else work, but unless you step up to the plate to execute and involve your team in making it happen, it's going to languish.

The idea, of course, is to take the advice and do the work.


The Willpower Instinct5. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal

Based on the psychologist's wildly popular course at Stanford University.

Bsed on research that combines psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, the book explains how willpower works. For example:

* It's a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a
biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise,
nutrition, and sleep.
* It is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.
* Temptation and stress hijack the brain's systems of self-control, but the brain can be trained for greater willpower
* Guilt and shame over your setbacks lead to giving in again, but self-forgiveness and self-compassion boost self-control.
* Giving up control is sometimes the only way to gain self-control.
* Failures are contagious — you can catch the desire to overspend or
overeat from your friends­­ — but you can also catch self-control from
the right role models.


The Signal and the Noise6. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don't by Nate Silver

This is a book on applied statistics that delves into science, economics, and prediction. Which is pretty much a vital part of everything we do.

But we're not very good at it because we fall prey to cognitive biases. Other systemic problems such as information overload make things
even worse. 

Data models not based on adequate theory lead to erroneous inferences.

What happens in systems with noisy data and underdeveloped theory –
like earthquake prediction and parts of economic and political science –
is a two-step process. First, people start to mistake the noise for a
signal. Second, this noise pollutes journals, blogs, and news accounts
with false alarms, undermining good science and setting back our ability
to understand how the system really works

It's not just about statistics, it's about real-world experience and critical reflection on what happens to research in social contexts.


Turning Pro7. Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work by Steven Pressfield

If you ever wanted to be a writer, this book is for you. Pressfield maintains that to be an amateur is to walk or run away from your true calling.

The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain
and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a "life," a
"character," a "personality." The artist and the professional, on the
other hand, have turned a corner in their minds. They have succeeded in
stepping back from themselve

A pro is courageous; a pro doesn't get distracted; the pro is ruthless
and yet compassionate with himself; lives in the present; delays instant
gratification; does not wait for inspiration; and helps others

Sharpen your pencil and get started. Become a pro.


Ten-faces-of-innovation8. The Ten Faces of
Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and
Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization
by Tom Kelly and Jonathan Littman

Because organizations need individuals who are savvy about the
counterintuitive process of how to move ideas forward, Kelley recommends
three "Organizing Personas": The Hurdler, The Collaborator, and The

Because organizations also need individuals and teams who apply insights
from the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organizing
roles to make innovation happen, Kelley recommends four "Building
personas": The Experience Architect, The Set Designer, The Caregiver,
and The Storyteller.

Together, these interconnected and interrelated personas make the ten faces of organizational innovation.


Ken_Robinson-Out_of_Our_minds9. Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Sir Ken Robinson

From the Q&A with the author: Cultivating creativity is a bottom line item for all businesses today. The top priority for CEOs everywhere is to promote creativity
systematically throughout their organizations.

The reasons are clear
enough. In a world of rapid change, companies and organizations have to
be adaptable as circumstances change and be able to develop new products
and services as new opportunities emerge.

Most people occasionally have
a new idea. For companies that isn’t enough. To remain competitive,
they need to develop cultures where creativity is a habit and innovation
is routine

Everybody wants the creativity and innovation but without the risk of
failing. This book, like many others, explains why creativity requires
the freedom to inquire, explore, and fail in the pursuit of breaking new

Organizations need to to create the conditions where creativity will flourish.


Your turn — what are you reading now?



Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a
speaking engagement click here.