18 FROM 18: THE BEST BUSINESS BOOKS OF 2018 - SUMMARISED
18 FROM 18
THE BEST BOOKS OF 2018
A library of over 350 books
A series of printed books
A fertile source of new ideas
You can determine the
trajectory of a company by
understanding its default
future and the forces
• The world economy defies comprehension. A constantly
changing system of immense complexity, it offers over ten
billion distinct products, doubles in size every fifteen years,
and links 7 billion people. Nobody is in charge of it, and no
individual understands more than a fraction of what’s going
• This book is effectively 50 short sections. 4 examples…
• The plough: because it enabled people to stay in one place
for the first time.
• The gramophone: along with all subsequent recording
formats, it enables artists to be experienced without going to
a concert in person.
• Barbed wire: enabled the ownership of land to be
designated and enforced, particularly with regard to
• Seller feedback: has allowed many online services to
circumnavigate concerns about trust.
• This is all about setting your organisation on a trajectory to an
improved future. All companies have a default future – where
they will end up if they do nothing beyond their current planned
course of action. This can be good or bad.
• The trajectory of strategic reality can only be understood by
looking at and understanding the exogenous (external) and
endogenous (internal) navigating forces that determine it.
• Navigational forces can be made explicit by mapping them:
internal v. external, and visible v hidden; then by change
difficulty and influence on the company (high to low).
• Most executives ignore the future and fall into comfort traps:
1. Strategic planning: planning is a comfortable and doable
exercise, unlike strategy.
2. Cost-based thinking: costs are comfortable because they
generate precision, but they can still be wrong.
3. Self-referential strategic frameworks: using a popular
strategic framework or one that the CEO is familiar with is
comforting, but may be wrong for the business.
Up to 40% of us secretly
believe our jobs probably
aren’t necessary – they are
• In 2013 the author wrote an article entitled “On the phenomenon of
bullshit jobs”. A subsequent YouGov survey showed that 37% of
UK employees believe that their job makes no meaningful
contribution to the world (40% in the Netherlands).
• A bullshit job is defined as a form of paid employment that is so
completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the
employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the
conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend
that this is not the case.
• In the US the amount of time office workers have to spend doing
their primary job has fallen from 46% in 2016 to 39% - the rest is
pointless admin. There are 5 major varieties of bullshit jobs:
1. Flunkies – only exist to make someone else look important.
2. Goons – jobs with an aggressive, enforcing element that only
exist because other people employ them.
3. Duct tapers – the job exists only because of a glitch or fault in
the organisation – to solve a problem that ought not to exist.
4. Box tickers – employees who exist primarily to allow an
organisation to claim it is doing something that it is not really
5. Taskmasters – bosses who assign work to others without doing
it themselves and who actively create bullshit tasks for others.
Most organisations are
flooded with empty talk and
it’s killing them because
management speak has
become more important than
• Bullshit statements have one signature feature: they are
unclarifiable – not only obscure but they cannot be rendered
unobscure. How to minimise bullshit production:
1. Eliminate bullshit jobs – many people feel they have jobs
that are utterly meaningless.
2. Cut back corporate escapism – awayday preening exercises
rarely result in action.
3. Provide employees with some security – most bullshit is
generated by people who are insecure in their jobs.
4. Give employees space to ask questions – that means not
being scared to state that something appears to be bullshit.
5. Forget best practice – lots of initiatives are started just
because the competition is doing it.
6. Focus on stability – managerial bullshit obsessed with
change gives organisations repetitive change syndrome.
• How to slow down the exchange of bullshit:
1. Reality test – the facts on whether something truly works
2. Rationality test – does this need to be done at all?
3. Meaning test – do the concepts genuinely make sense?
If you want to equip yourself for
the age of creativity, you need
to be a maker, hacker, teacher
• This is a collection of essays designed to enhance the reader’s
“creative superpowers”. Topics range from general creativity in
communications businesses through to hat making, free music,
education, and frugal innovation.
• The book is impossible to summarise, but some areas in
particular catch the eye...
• Don’t stuff your head with too many facts – allow free thinking
• Don’t dive in alone – teams are better
• Invade each other’s turf – no one has a monopoly on a topic
• Throw stuff away – kill average stuff
• Sleep – throwing all nighters doesn't work
• Don’t make shit for shit – bad work for bad products is a disaster
• Love and respect – a bit ethereal this one, but fair enough
• Same same but different (a Thai phrase) – try adjacent copying
• Abstraction – remove things and apply them elsewhere
• Originality is a myth – ideas are new combinations (of old stuff)
• Praxis is the process by which a theory or skill is embodied in
something (the word is not actually explained in the book)
• Transpose patterns from one place to another
Hands-off leadership works
best – work less and achieve
more by getting the right team
and letting them get on with it.
• Good leaders should not act now, send a note, micromanage, get
on it, monitor and verify, check it again, run the numbers, or
demonstrate any other annoying characteristics.
• Instead they should focus on the people, start at the end, trust them
more, release control, bear down warmly, ignore performance
goals, de-emphasize profits, or do as little as possible.
• But leaders should not do nothing when they are the only one with
the skills to get it done, or when dirty work is needed.
• The Leadership Law: Think of the reaction that you want first, then
determine the actions you can take to maximize the chances that
those reactions will actually happen.
• 5 natural problems of individuals as leaders:
1. Egocentrism: start by focusing on them, not yourself
2. Empathy gap: learn to take your team members’ perspectives
3. Focus on own actions first: don’t. Follow the leadership law
4. Transparency (thinking that people understand them entirely):
people don’t, so use active listening (“tell me what I just told
5. Double-interact: get on the balcony and walk the floor
Do less, work hard on fewer
things, learn diligently, and
debate properly to generate
better work and achieve more.
Top performers do less, work better and achieve more - based on a
5-year study of 5,000 people. Seven Work Smarter Practices:
1. Do less, then obsess. Select a tiny set of priorities and make a
huge effort in those areas. Those mastering this rank 25
percentage points higher in performance.
2. Redesign your work. Focus on creating value, not reaching
3. Don’t just learn, loop. Eschew mindless repetition in favour of
better skills practice (quality learning). A learning loop means
measure, feedback, modify, do/redo - leading to better outcomes.
4. P-squared. This is passion (what you love) + Purpose (do what
contributes). Seeking roles that match your passion with purpose
(inner motivation) generates more energy per hour.
5. Forceful champions. Shrewdly deploy influence tactics to gain the
support of others (advocacy).
6. Fight and unite. Cut back on wasteful team meetings that go
through the motions. Promote rigorous debate. Unwelcome
alternatives are groupthink, fight & undermine, or just anarchy.
7. Two sins of collaboration: undercollaborating, &
overcollaborating. Carefully pick which cross-unit projects to
Good leaders are multipliers
who develop, explore,
challenge, consult and support
people, getting twice as much
out of them.
Feeling (feel good)
Fluency (be recognisable)
• This is about how the best leaders make everyone smarter.
• The logic of addition and resource allocation is usually: our people are
overworked, our best people are the most maxed out, so we need
more resources. But in truth, most staff are overworked on pointless
stuff, yet underutilized (most have more talent and resourcefulness
than is actually used, and most managers only use 66% of their
• Multipliers think “people are smart and will figure it out.” They develop,
explore, challenge, consult & support. Their traits include being the
talent magnet, the liberator (requires people’s best thinking) , the
challenger, the debate maker, and the investor (in other’s success).
They increase performance by x2.
• Diminishers think “they will never figure this out without me.” They
use, blame, tell, decide and control. Their traits include being the
empire builder, the tyrant, the know-it-all, the (sole) decision maker,
and the micromanager. They reduce performance on average by 50%.
• To be fair, most diminishers are accidental diminishers, such as the
idea guy, being always on, the pacesetter, the rapid responder, the
optimist, the protector, the strategist, or the perfectionist. Although
superficially appealing, none of these qualities make for good
leadership, and usually lead to the shutting down of ideas and the
helpful actions of others.
We don’t really know for sure
what leadership is, and many of
our beliefs and theories about it
aren’t necessarily right either.
• This book maps out over 50 misconceptions about what it takes to be a great
leader. In truth, we don’t really know for sure what leadership is, what leaders
do, what their character traits are like, or how they succeed.
• Many of our beliefs and theories about leadership aren’t necessarily right either.
• Academic writing offers at least 90 variables that make great leaders - a recipe
• Henry Kissinger described a leader as “someone who takes people where they
would not have got by themselves.”
• There is a huge reality gap between the perceptions of leaders and their
followers. The most reliable predictor of whether followers rate their boss is “My
boss cares for me and my career”. If they agree with this, then they rate the
boss highly on pretty much everything else.
• Picture an old-fashioned watch that has three hands: frontline staff watch the
second hand (here and now); managers watch the minute hand (near-term
goals); leaders watch all three, including the hour hand (long term).
• Leaders need IQ EQ and PQ: intelligence, emotional and political quotient.
• Good bosses are good listeners. They have mastered the art of paraphrasing
back – summarizing accurately what the other person said.
• In a parent-child script, the leader always ends up with all the accountability. In
an adult-adult script, everyone has equal accountability.
• Be careful what you succeed at: if you do something really well, you will get a
reputation for it, so make sure it’s the sort of work you really want to do.
Years of experience from the
toughest negotiations in the
world can help in business and
This is by a former FBI negotiator and contains nine negotiation principles.
1. Be a mirror: repeat what they say to gain empathy, use silence to allow it to
work, use the late night DJ voice to calm things down, and don’t make
assumptions. Mirroring is also called isopraxism.
2. Don’t feel their pain, label it: by using phrases such as “It seems like…”, “It
sounds like…” and “It looks like…”
3. Beware yes and master no: no usually means something else, such as I
am not yet ready to agree, you are making me uncomfortable, or I don’t
4. Trigger the two words that trigger any negotiation: “That’s right.”
5. Bend their reality: make deadlines your ally, put the emphasis on fairness,
anchor their emotions, and establish a range of options.
6. Create the illusion of control: ask calibrated questions that start with “How”
7. Guarantee execution: you need the other person to say yes 3 times to
guarantee it’s going to happen. There are three types of yes: counterfeit,
confirmation and commitment.
8. Bargain hard: when you do talk numbers, use odd ones – it makes it sound
as though they are properly calculated.
9. Find the black swan: something you know that they don’t, or discovering
something about them that you didn’t know.
Bosses can get what they want
by saying what they mean – if
they do it the right way.
• Radical Candor means you have to care personally and challenge directly.
• Challenging directly without caring personally is just obnoxious aggression.
• Caring personally without challenging creates ruinous empathy.
• Neither caring nor challenging leads to manipulative insincerity.
• It is vital to understand what motivates each person on the team.
1. Ask them for their life story
2. Ask them what their dreams are
3. Ask for their 18-month plan
• Superstars are change agents, who are ambitious at work and want new
opportunities. They are on a steep growth trajectory.
• Rock stars prefer gradual growth. They are a force for stability, are
ambitious outside of work or simply content in life, and are happy in their
current role. Effective teams require both types of people.
• The Get Stuff Done Wheel shows how without telling people what to do:
• Listen: give the quiet ones a voice.
• Clarify: create a safe space to nurture new ideas – they are fragile.
• Debate: keep the conversation focused on ideas, not egos.
• Decide: this is usually team consensus, not the job of the boss.
• Persuade: use emotion, logic and credibility.
• Execute: “keep the dirt under your fingernails” – leaders should not be
above executing things.
• Learn: openly – avoid being in denial if the outcome was unexpected.
Fill in this sentence:
OUR BRAND IS THE ONLY
___________ THAT _________.
• The process of agile strategy is simple. You apply the five principles
of design thinking (called the five Ps) to the five questions of strategy
(called the five Qs). 5Qs × 5Ps = Agile strategy.
• Design thinking is the process of using prototypes to work through
creative challenges. You might define it as thinking by making. The
easiest way to understand design thinking is to contrast it with
traditional business thinking. Traditional thinking has two main steps:
knowing and doing.
• The five Ps are problemizing, pinballing, probing, protyping, and
proofing. They provide a framework for finding third-pasture ideas
• Third-pasture thinking is the concept of going beyond the obvious to
find the freshest ideas. When horses are turned out in a field to eat,
the pickiest ones don’t settle for the trampled grass in the lowest
pasture. They climb higher, up to the second pasture, and even to
the third, where the grass is truly fresh.
• The five Qs are:
1. What is our purpose?
2. Who do we serve?
3. Where should we compete?
4. How will we win?
5. How will we grow?
Decent PR needs curiosity,
message and motive integrity,
empathy, agility, crisp, clean,
complete sentences, and not
believing you are expert in
• The PR fundamentals are: curiosity, message and motive integrity,
empathy, agility, writing crisp, clean, complete sentences, an ability to
work together, understand data and analytics, story telling, measurement,
and not believing you are expert in everything.
• PR has no boundaries. At some point or another, it includes anything that
could happen to, or in, a business.
• Attraction, not promotion: gentle collisions allow brands to explain their
• Creativity: logic is fine, but people think emotionally.
• Don’t just listen – really hear and include. Resilient thinking takes a lot of
effort, and a considerable amount of inclusion.
• Words are our currency: avoid jargon, and develop a lexicon. Good words
are everywhere – find ones that resonate with stakeholders.
• Inspire to change behaviour: offer hope and a practical roadmap for
turning hope into a trial process that can be repeated and that leads to
• Embrace change by asking: why not? Stretch yourself, and find someone
to ‘bug you’ into action.
• Never forget, it’s business: learn in detail the sphere a company operates
in, and all its workings; build relationships and have a line of sight to
business objectives; keep learning.
• Perfection is overrated, but do aim for a PR strategy aligned with
business objectives, well-informed recommendations, flawless
documents, solid evidence, and high levels of integrity.
There are at least 25
behavioural biases that
influence what we buy.
• The Fundamental Attribution Error. Those in a rush are distracted, so
brands need to target contexts as much as audiences.
• Social Proof. Popular brands become even more popular because their
visibility provides social proof. Don’t assume your scale is known.
• Negative Social Proof. Don’t confirm inferiority (“Only a tiny proportion of
our readers give.”) Flip the statistics in your favour.
• Distinctiveness. When the world zigs, zag. Subvert category norms.
• Habit. Most behaviour is habitual, so aim to shake people out of such
behaviour, and target them after they have undergone a life event.
• The Pain of Payment. Handing over money hurts. People using cash
overestimate their spend by 9%, so invest in cashless payment
technology, and remove the £ signs from your price lists.
• The Danger of Claimed Data. People lie in research, or at least can’t be
accurate. Be prepared for deceit and design surveys accordingly.
• Mood. Target customers when they are likely to be happy, and match the
message to their mood.
• Price Relativity. Make your brand appear better value by changing the
comparison set. Introduce a higher end line to set a new comparison
• See blog for all 25
When trying to change others’
beliefs and behaviour, many of our
actions are ineffective because
they are incompatible with how the
mind really works.
• This is a research-based inquiry into how we influence those around us,
Understanding the brain can help us change minds for the better.
• We systematically fall back on sub-optimal habits when trying to change
others’ beliefs and behaviour. Many of these actions are ineffective
because they are incompatible with how the mind really operates.
• Examples include trying to scare people into action, insisting the other
person is wrong, and attempting to exert control.
• The book covers 7 main areas:
1. Priors. Evidence doesn’t change beliefs. Data doesn’t persuade people.
2. Emotion. Stories, plots and characters stick in the mind and persuade
more than anything rational.
3. Incentives. Should you scare people into action? No. “Employees must
wash their hands” doesn’t work. Immediate positive feedback does.
4. Agency. You obtain power by letting go. “It’s your responsibility to water
this plant” is stronger than “We will water the plants for you.”
5. Curiosity. What do people really want to know? People are more likely to
listen to pre-flight safety briefings that are funny and optimistic.
6. State. What happens to minds under threat? Stress and intimidation
change the way we process information. Usually that means playing it
safe, but sometimes it leads to unexpected risk taking.
7. Others. Be careful of too much social learning – the circumstances of
others may not suit you.
Elevation, insight, pride and
connections contribute to
defining moments that have
disproportionate impact, so by
paying attention to these you
have a stronger chance of
being able to engineer them.
• Certain experiences have extraordinary impact.
• We can be more impactful as leaders and as people by
recognizing and creating more of these moments.
• We need to think in terms of defining moments made of:
• Elevation: they rise above the everyday.
• Insight: they rewire our understanding of ourselves in the
• Pride: they capture us at our best – achievement or courage.
• Connections: they are social and are strengthened because
we share them with others.
• Thinking in moments means marking transitions,
commemorating milestones, and filling pits – our lowest
• To elevate a moment, you need to boost sensory appeal,
raise the stakes, and then break the script.
• We tend to remember the best, worst and last moments of
an experience and forget the rest.
• We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but most
alive when they’re not.
Don’t simply declare what you
believe – offer arguments.
• Arguments are not shouting matches – they are supposed to be constructive.
An argument is defined as when someone (the arguer) presents one claim
(the premise) as a reason of some kind for another claim (the conclusion).
• It is a connected series of statements intended to present a reason for a
proposition. A classic argument shape is:
Observation (I see that…)
Hypothesis (So I think that x is the case)
Comparison (This explanation is better than other possibilities)
Conclusion (Therefore x is the case)
• How to be civil when arguing:
1. Re-express the other person’s position clearly, vividly and fairly so they
wish they had put it that way themselves.
2. List any points of agreement.
3. Mention anything that you have learned from them.
4. Only then are you permitted to challenge or criticise.
• Infinite regress is when an argument never ends because there is always
another level of justification needed. This can be halted by regress stoppers:
1. Guarding (introduce uncertainty as in some but not all)*
2. Assuring (judgments that only apply if you are trusted). But beware
abusive assuring, as in “You would have to blind not to see that…”
3. Evaluating (evaluative words like good/bad cannot be proven/disproven)
4. Discounting (anticipate and defuse objections, then discount them)
*Also try asking: What do you mean: all, some, many or most?
You can live a richer, more
engaged life by paying
attention to how time works.
• There are scientific secrets of perfect timing. Timing is everything, but we
don’t know much about it. It’s not an art, it’s a science.
• Days have certain hidden patterns that we can make use of if we
understand their rhythm properly.
• The MCTQ is the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire: asking people to
identify their peak behaviour on free (non-work) days – between wake,
sleep, and the middle of those two times.
• This survey generates Chronotypes, which explain people who are more
effective at different times of day. Larks are better in the morning, night
owls at night, and third birds somewhere in the middle. Larks are more
likely to be born in autumn or winter, owls more likely spring or summer.
• Vigilance breaks are important in high stakes jobs such as surgery and air
traffic control. They refresh the brain and reduce likelihood of error.
• Pause like a pro: professionals practice a lot in the morning, take the
afternoon off, then do a bit more in the evening.
• Temporal landmarks anchor most beginnings. People are more likely to
run marathons when 29 and 39. Such numbers trigger people to set up a
new mental account: terms, birthdays, years, etc.
• Positive mood always dips in the afternoon – that means poorer exam
performance, more car crashes, and more grumpy judges declining bail. It
happens all over the world.
Most thinking is too safe so to
be properly creative we need
To be creative and bold you need to break out of Safe
1. Courage: seek moments of low arousal so you can think
properly, accept anxiety as part of the journey, and
reimagine fear as fuel for creativity.
2. Motivation: focus on intrinsic motivation and avoid (most)
extrinsic distractions; get in flow; allow for some
distraction (new stimulus).
3. Learning: do things that make you a beginner again,
don’t bother trying to look like an expert; don’t seize and
freeze (grab hold of a fast solution and become wedded
to it) – put off important decisions for as long as possible.
4. Flexibility: pay attention to your intuitions, but don’t trust
them blindly – instead, chip away at your biases.
5. Morality: practice a certain level of disobedience, and
teach it to others – never follow orders blindly.
6. Leadership: resist quick-forming consensus, make it safe
to get unsafe, and incentivize risk tasking, not just
• Be inquisitive
• Make the time
• Understand the lines of argument
• Have a point of view
• Inform your work
• Enjoy the debate
• Ask Kevin to speak or train
More at: greatesthitsblog.com
Ask Kevin to speak or train: 07979 808770
Jan. 30, 2019
Kevin Duncan has read over 350 business books. He summarises them for you. Read the best of the year here.