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Rod’s Recommended Reading

On Evolutionary Psychology:

The Moral Animal

Robert Wright, 1994 First Vintage Books

If we accept the theory of evolution as the explanation of how we came to be who we are, what does that tell us about our psychology and our morals? Has evolution fooled us to believe in free will? How much of our behaviour is evolutionarily justifiable? Why do so many religious sages preach the same morals?

Robert Wright cleverly weaves his answers using Darwin’s life and his work as an illustration. His answer is utilitarian, exceptionally well thought out and a little confronting. It could leave the reader feeling hopeless and fatalistic.

But the good news when we separate causes from outcomes we are left with the most intelligent and logical argument I have ever come across as to why it would be in all our interests to stop fighting and to start looking after each other.

More than that, in a time when we are flooded with reasons as to why we should worry about or prospects, Wright provides the human race with a rationally optimistic future that so far has an unbeaten track record … natural selection.

Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change

Don Edward Beck, Christopher Cowan, 1996 Blackwell Publishing

Probably the definitive work on Clare W. Graves ‘Levels of Existence’ theory. The theory itself is nothing short of astonishing, insightful, thought provoking, challenging and hopeful. It goes way beyond any personality profiling to explain the link between the life conditions that we face and how we evolve our thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs.

This is the second time I have read this book and while the book itself is patchy (some parts speculative, others impenetrable) overall the book is incredibly important. Start with Sections 1 and 3 and then decide if you want to work through Section 2. It is a wonderful antidote to the stream of authors (Jarrod Diamond, Chris Patton, Thomas Homer-Dixon etc.) who are able to list the problems we face (climate, political, economic) and yet leave the reader with a sense of being overwhelmed and powerless.

This book shows us the tools that we already have and where we will find the tools we need to effectively deal with the problems that we face and to evolve as we do so. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is in a position to play a part, no matter how seemingly small, in solving the complex problems that we face as a planet.

The Naked Ape

Desmond Morris

An oldie but a goodie. There are close to 200 species of apes. All are covered with hair except one, the naked ape, self-named Homo sapiens. This book looks at us through a zoologists eyes, looks beyond the façade and shows how many of our everyday behaviours are driven by some very basic instincts.

The Human Zoo: A Zoologist’s Study of the Urban Animal

by Desmond Morris, 1969 Kodansha Globe

In this book, Desmond Morris continues his look at humans from a zoologist’s point of view. This time he looks at how the naked ape responds to the complex situation they have developed for themselves … civilisation. From tribes to super-tribes, bringing with it the issue of status to super-status, Desmond Morris builds a compelling position about how we are constantly trying to fine tune our lives as we struggle with the contrast and balance between our evolutionary psychology/biology and the environment in which we have developed for ourselves.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on ‘In-Groups and Out-Groups,’ ‘The Stimulus Struggle’ and the ‘Childlike Adult.’ There is some great stuff in there.

It was also very interesting to read it again considering Desmond Morris wrote it in 1969 and over 30 years later his analysis still largely seems to hold. This seems to only further support his thesis that 10,000 years of civilisation is a small percentage of our biological evolution of (depends how you define it) between 200,000 and 4-8 million years.

Hardwired Humans

Andrew O’Keeffe, 2011 Roundtable Press

Homo sapiens emerged around 200,000 years ago and walked into an office about 250 years ago. As such it is no wonder that human instincts play out in the office. Using his significant expertise as a Senior Human Resources practitioner with a long list of blue chip companies, Andrew O’Keeffe concisely lists organisations ills, like silo behaviour, poor change management and gossip, and then observes …

“Given that these experiences and many more are common to most organisations then they are not explainable at the organisational level. They can only be explained by a common factor – we all employ humans!”

Andrew then builds on the work of people like Dr Desmond Morris, Professor Nigel Nicholson and Dr Jane Goodall and brings them into the workplace to look at the implications for organisational structure and leadership. There are some startling explanations and insights into human behaviour and a seemingly endless list of practical tips tools and techniques for leaders. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has a leadership position.

On General Psychology:

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

by Jonathan Haidt, 2012 Pantheon

I very much enjoyed Jonathan Haidt’s last book The Happiness Hypothesis so I was very much looking forward to this one. And I was not disappointed. It is fantastic.

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall came down signalling the failure of communism. In 2007/2008 the housing market and the stock market came down signalling the failure of capitalism. Since then there has been very little new thinking on either side of politics. This is perhaps exacerbating oppositional politics and the lack of collaborative politics.

If we are to work together to create a new way of political thinking then the right and the left will need to understand each other. At the root of political thinking is moral psychology. Jonathan Haidt calls on well-constructed research, philosophy, psychology, history and the social and political sciences to produce a fantastically rich book in breadth and depth.

In the process he identifies the 2 moral foundations of the left and the 6 moral foundations of the right. Be prepared to have you Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic (WEIRD) morals tested and expanded. Should be required reading for every armchair politician.

Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change

Timothy D. Wilson, 2011 Allen Lane

On the cover of this book are glowing testimonials from both Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Gilbert, so I was very much looking forward to reading it. And I was not disappointed. This book is full of wonderful, well tested, examples of how changing the way people think of themselves will result in changing their behaviour.

Wilson shows this as he is tackling the difficult behaviours as well. Not only does he document successful projects that have reduced discrimination, teen pregnancy, peer pressure, substance abuse and crime prevention, he also identifies some common principles amongst these programs. On top of this the principles often run counter to common sense.

The application is that if we select certain words, evoke certain cues or even trigger certain stereotypes it can actually improve performance. Great reading!

Whistling Vivaldi

Claude M. Steele, 2011 Norton

Whistling Vivaldi is yet more evidence that we respond unconsciously to cues in our environment. Claude M Steele provides many detailed examples of how positive and negative stereotypes not only influence perceptions of performance from an observer’s perspective; they also influence actual performance from the performer’s perspective.

If you are asked to complete a maths test and at the beginning of the test you are asked to identify yourself as a Male, Female, Caucasian, African American, Asian etc. your answers to these questions will affect how well you do in the test. Astonishing? You bet!

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Jonathan Haidt, 2006 Random House

This is one of my favourite books of all time. The sub title to this book is ‘Putting ancient wisdom and Philosophy to the test of modern science.’ Jonathan Haidt is exceptionally well read and researched. His breadth and depth of knowledge combined with an eminently readable style makes this book wonderfully enlightening and entertaining!!!”

Learned Optimism

Martin E.P. Seligman, PH.D. 2002 Random House. ISBN 1400078393

Yes. Optimism is a skill and it can be learned. In this book there is a questionnaire to test you level of optimism and the results will probably shock you even if you like to think you are already a pretty optimistic person. There are also some clear principles that optimists use for you to learn.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1991 Harper Perennial. ISBN 0060920432

The Psychology of Optimal Human Experience This book is awesome. It looks at how people can get themselves into ‘the zone,’ the flow state. It is the culmination of years of research by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Yes that is the author’s name). It is not easy going but very rewarding.

The Time Paradox

Philip Zimbardo

Positive and negative perceptions of the past, the present and the future will play a significant role in every important decision that you make … and until you read a book like this the effect is most likely unconscious. Again this book is based in solid scientific research and yet is also very readable. I particularly like the section that outlines suggestions for shifting your own perception of time.

Crazy like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche

Ethan Watters – 2010 Scribe

The majority of medical research, studies and cure trials are conducted in the west by western doctors on western patients in a western context. For physical illness such as small pox, typhoid and measles there are little or no cultural issues with the outcome of such studies. The problem Ethan Watters identifies is when the illness is primarily psychological (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anorexia, Depression) the causes and cures can have a cultural element.

Results from western studies are recorded in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and then disseminated across the globe as scientific fact. Ethan points to several very interesting case studies where psychological disorders are dealt with very differently in non-western cultures and in some cases achieve better results in those cultures than western medicine does. Even more disturbing is the often well intentioned, yet naive attempts by pharmaceutical companies to have their drugs for these disorders accepted into other cultures without local studies being commissioned.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl – 1959 Beacon Press

A classic. In the first half of the book Viktor Frankl shows the power of purpose in his own life and its role in helping him survive 4 Nazi Concentration Camps. In the second half of the book Frankl outlines how he uses the power of purpose and his wonderful ability to reframe perceptions to help his patients. Well worth the read.

Stumbling on Happiness

by Daniel Gilbert, 2005, First Vantage Books

I will re-read this. There is so much in this book. I have only digested a small amount after the first reading. It is one of an increasing number of books that shows us, quite convincingly, that we are little better than sheep when it comes to the vast majority of the decisions we make. It also leaves you questioning the value of surveys and questionnaires. We are hopeless at knowing who we are, what we want and how we will respond. Insightful and a little frightening.”

On Philosophy and Thinking:

Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind, Third Edition

Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov, 2010 McGraw Hill

An astonishingly comprehensive analysis of cultures in over 70 countries conducted over a 40 year span. Hofstede suggests that our cultural imprint drives many of our values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behavbiours. Many of these operate at the unconscious level … until you travel overseas and experience a different culture. The book measures and compares cultures on 6 dimensions and in doing so provides amazing insight into how to operate when living and working in a culture that you did not grow up in. A must for anyone who works with people from different cultures.”

The Consolations of Philosophy

Alain De Botton 2001 Penguin. ISBN 0140276610

This book makes philosophy accessible. Alain De Botton examines the work of some of the worlds greatest philosophers by starting with very human issues: Being unpopular, not having enough money, frustration, inadequacy, a broken heart and difficulties. It is a great read.

Six Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono 1995 Penguin. ISBN 014013784X

A classic. How to manage you own and your teams thinking in a highly imaginative and practical way that will produce excellent results. A must have on anyone’s bookshelf.

Edward de Bono’s Textbook of Wisdom

Edward de Bono 1996 Viking. ISBN 0670870110

An arrogant title … and it delivers! More about thinking and how to approach issues from a ‘lateral logical’ aspect. A little light on the interpersonal/emotional side. Still a fascinating read.

Think and Grow Rich

Napoleon Hill 2004. ISBN 1593302002

An absolute classic. Few books could be said to change people … this is undoubtedly one. It teaches thousands of people a year practical steps to achievement and financial independence. A must read for anyone who wants more out of life.

The Black Swan

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The title of this book is now being used as a euphemism for all that is unpredictable. ‘You can’t predict the Black Swan!’ With an astonishing grasp of mathematics, philosophy, economics and human behaviour Taleb shows why there are no economists in the richest 500 people. It is a little dense on occasions and he could do with a good editor … but then editing ideas and flow of thought is against everything Taleb stands for.

On Business and Business Skills:

Change Starts Here

Call 02 9987 2911 To Order

Rod Matthews 2011

Have you ever felt stuck, trapped or dissatisfied?

Change Starts Here covers the fields of philosophy, psychology and the social sciences to provide an entertaining, educational and practical guide to change what you can, live with what you can’t and the wisdom to know the difference.

This book enables you to identify ways to respond to life’s challenges so that you are able to walk away knowing you have handled the situation in the best possible way.

Change Starts Here also explores methods of remaining calm and comfortable in situations that are outside our control.

Practical Performance Improvement … with Impact

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Rod Matthews 2005 Impact Publishing ISBN 0975706608

  • How to reduce the stress associated with leading a team of people
  • How to improve the likelihood that things get done right … first time
  • How to be an exceptional leader

Obviously I’m a bit biased … however … This is a highly practical book that takes you through the ‘how to’ of setting direction, objectively analysing performance, coaching, counselling, developing and what to do when all else fails. An easy read for those who are looking for application over academia.

Precision Recruitment Skills … with Impact

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Rod Matthews 2005 Impact Publishing ISBN 0975706616

How to find the right person for the right job, first time Once again, another ‘… with Impact’ book. Precision Recruitment Skills provides tips tools and techniques for before during and after the interview. Essential reading for those dedicated to being “an Employer Of Choice” and attracting the right people. Another practical and easy read.

The Myth of Multitasking

Dave Crenshaw, 2008 Jossey-Bass

This is a simple little parable in the same vein as the One Minute Manager series. It is very quick and easy to read and has a couple of very practical activities. The thrust of the book is that while it is possible to switch between different tasks very quickly and give the illusion of multitasking, it is, in fact, a very inefficient strategy. What we are actually doing is switch tasking or background tasking.

No it is not a generational thing as our brain does not evolve that quickly and, sorry ladies, there is no evidence, other than urban myth anecdotal evidence, that women can multitask and men cannot. To do two things at once is to do both things poorly.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

by Chip Heath, Dan Heath, 2007 Random House

This book is a must for any one who is keen to communicate an idea and wants the idea to be remembered. I have read many books on presentation skills and story telling in my time and this would easily be one of the best. Chip and Dan Heath, show the science behind stories and ideas that stick. If you want to get your message across … read this first!”

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Chip Heath, Dan Heath, 2010, Random House

The brothers Heath have done it again. Another highly readable book on how to help people make a change. The book is packed full of anecdotes, case studies and examples of organisations and the individuals who have shifted them to the next level. These stories are structured into a very neat series of principles – Direct the Rider (How to provide direction and competence), Motivate the Elephant (How to increase commitment) and Shape the Path (How to shape the environment). All three things together do not guarantee that change will take place but together they provide an easy to understand change checklist. This means the ideas in the book are easily translatable to a wide variety of circumstances. Good Stuff!

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization (Leadership for the Common Good)

Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey, 2009, Harvard Business School Publishing

A wonderfully practical book that outlines one of the main reasons why people might not change their behaviours. It takes you through a process that has proved successful for the authors with a variety of business leaders. I love the part about conducting experiments to test the validity of competing objectives. Once again, however, it could have been said in half as many pages.

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance

Tony Schwartz, Jean Gomes, Catherine McCarthy, 2010, Free Press

Are you working over 10 hours a day non-stop in an effort to be more productive? Then you are fooling yourself. We are not machines and as humans we pulse. We take energy in we expend energy, we work we rest, we are awake, we sleep. Tony Swartz argues that it is energy more than time that we need to bring to our work to be more efficient. Some timely reminders of what is obvious and yet seemingly forgotten by millions of people everyday.”

Other Cracking Good Reads:

The Rational Optimist – How Prosperity Evolves

Matt Ridley, Harper Perennial, 2010

Chapter 1 opens with the following quote from Thomas Barrington Macaulay. On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?

Matt Ridley then proceeds with wit, intelligence and a broad sweep of research to show that there have always been people who will tell us that the end is nigh, The plague, Y2K, Peak Oil, the ozone, AIDS, H5N1 etc., etc., etc., and yet not only have we survived but we enjoy a standard of living that even King Louis the XVI would have envied.

Matt Ridley makes the point that while we face many issues there is no reason to believe that our lives won’t improve. The history of humans is one of improving quantity and quality of life primarily because we share ideas and trade.

I cannot recommend this book enough as an antidote to the endless stream of pessimism served up by our sensation seeking media and the media’s audience… US!

The Big Mo: Why Momentum Now Rules Our World

Mark Roeder, 2010, HarperCollins

Mark Roeder takes Newtons formula (Momentum = Mass x Velocity) and applies it to the fields of business, politics, psychology and the arts. His suggestion is that the Mass and Velocity of human activity has dramatically increased over the last 25 to 40 years and as a result society has a momentum that is difficult to stop. Momentum is what will kill you in a car crash. Momentum is the difference between losing a few dollars and your life savings in a crashing market. His experience in the financial markets makes for a convincing argument when it comes to regulation. I also liked the concept that our unconscious aim is to make things in society operate with less friction. We try to increase speed and reduce inefficiencies. The drawback of this is that we lose is the ability to slow down contagion, to contain damage and to limit loss. Yet another book that shows every time we gain something we lose something.

Bad Science

Ben Goldacre, 2009, HarperCollins

Ben Goldcare is angry. Angry at people who conduct poor research, angry at people who use that research to support their position and angry at people who believe the poor research because the word ‘science’ was used. Fortunately, Ben is also very witty and very entertaining. A must read to make sure you do not fall prey to marketers and advertisers with low morals and a must read to make sure Ben isn’t angry with you.

The Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell
2002 Back Bay Books. ISBN 0316346624

How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference This book is brilliant. It looks at what is required to take an idea, product, service or social behaviour and move it beyond the tipping point where it spread like wildfire and becomes the norm. The book is filled with dozens of mind blowing experiments, findings and conclusions.

Human Universals

Donald E. Brown
1991, Temple University Press Philadelphia ISBN: 0-87722-841-8

For many years anthropologists have looked into human behaviour and human culture through the filter of looking for the difference. If you were a student of anthropology before the year 2000, chances are you would have completed your doctorate by travelling to some far flung location, finding a tribe who still lives the hunter gatherer lifestyle and then written your thesis on how they are different to other cultures … most likely your own.

To look at our fellow humans through this lens is to miss half the picture. On one level we are all different. At the risk of stating the obvious … everyone is an individual. On another level … we are all the same. Every culture on earth shares certain behaviours.

In his book “Human Universals,” Donald E. Brown conducts a Meta study of the anthropological literature to establish the existence of universals and then builds an astonishing list of the behaviours that are universal to us all across cultures, history and geography. It is a very interesting list.

What You Can Change

Martin Seligman Ph.D.

It sounds like a self help book … but it is a collection of the most recent and authoritative scientific research to help us realise exactly what we can and can’t change. Weight, childhood trauma, alcoholism, depression, propensity for anger and violence … it’s all in there.

One of the most underrated books available.