The Gist of the Best Books I’ve Read

You don’t have time to read everything you’d like to. So to save you some time, here’s the gist of the most important books I’ve read*:

Why We Fail

The world is too complex to predict and control.

But we are hardwired to try to predict and control the world.

So we create mental models which can never fully reflect the world’s complexity.

This is why the results of our actions are often not what we intend.

How We Respond

When our expectations are violated, we seek to regain a sense of familiarity and understanding.

This can involve adapting our mental models to better reflect reality.

But it can also involve asserting unrelated values, or clinging more tightly to false models.

Knowing Ourselves

Our tendency to simplify includes our perception of ourselves and others.

We should see ourselves and others as complex and changing, not simple and stable.

Exploring the Unknown

Accepting our inability to fully predict and control ourselves and the world does not lead to inaction, but a change of focus.

Instead of identifying a future goal and a plan to reach it, we go from where we are.

We pay more attention to possibilities in the present and constraints from the past.

We balance exploiting predictable patterns with exploring the unknown.

By making connections in diverse environments, we foster discovery and creativity.

Systemic Patterns

Everything is a system, a set of interacting components.

Complex systems exhibit recurring patterns of resilience and fragility.

The more tightly coupled and efficient a system is, the more fragile it becomes.

Diversity and redundancy help systems develop resilience.

Individual and Collective Growth

Our self and our world change as we develop a more complex perspective.

Our social environment can promote or inhibit developmental change.

Development is promoted by exposure to the limits of your current outlook.

In complex environments, we cannot expect anyone to have all the answers — we must explore the unknown together.

We must adopt a paradoxical attitude of open closedness: seeking and holding onto patterns, whilst reaching beyond their limits to connect with and create a more complex reality.

* Books

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Why We Fail

Positive Linking, Paul Ormerod

Overcomplicated, Samuel Arbesman

The Logic of Failure, Dietrich Dörner

This Will Make You Smarter, John Brockman

Can Intervention Work? Rory Stewart & Gerald Knaus

Complexity: A Very Short Introduction, John Holland

Everything is Obvious, Duncan Watts

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, Russ Roberts

How We Respond

Nonsense, Jamie Holmes

Beyond Pleasure and Pain, E. Tory Higgins

The Psychology of Closed Mindedness, Arie Kruglanski

Future Babble, Dan Gardner

Knowing Ourselves

Mindware, Richard Nisbett

The Person and the Situation, Richard Nisbett & Lee Ross

Mindset, Carol Dweck

A Mind of Its Own, Cordelia Fine

How We Are, Vincent Deary

The Organised Mind, Daniel Levitin

The Soul of the Marionette, John Gray

The Silence of Animals, John Gray

Exploring the Unknown

Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned, Kenneth Stanley & Joel Lehman

Effectual Entrepreneurship, Stuart Read et al

Streetlights and Shadows, Gary Klein

Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson

Managing the Unexpected, Karl Weick & Kathleen Sutcliffe

Managing the Unknown, Christoph Loch, Arnoud DeMeyer & Michael Pich

Project Resilience, Elmar Kutsch & Mark Hall

Seeing What Others Don’t, Gary Klein

Originals, Adam Grant

Messy, Tim Harford

Black Box Thinking, Matthew Syed

The Art of Action, Stephen Bungay

Superforecasting, Philip Tetlock & Dan Gardner

Obliquity, John Kay

How Change Happens, Duncan Green

The Limits of Institutional Reform in Development, Matt Andrews

Building State Capability, Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock

Helping People Help Themselves, David Ellerman

Learning for Action, Peter Checkland & John Poulter

Organisation Change, W. Warner Burke

Adaptive Action, Glenda Eoyang and Royce Holladay

Systemic Patterns

Embracing Complexity, Jean Boulton, Peter Allen & Cliff Bowman

Principles of Systems Science, George Mobus & Michael Kalton

Antifragile, Nassim Taleb

The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb

The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra

Why Information Grows, Cesar Hidalgo

Individual and Collective Growth

The Evolving Self, Robert Kegan

An Everybody Culture, Robert Kegan et al

Development Through Adulthood, Oliver Robinson

Simple Habits for Complex Times, Jennifer Garvey Berger & Keith Johnston

Leadership: A Very Short Introduction, Keith Grint

Changing Conversations in Organisations, Patricia Shaw

Dialogic Organization Development, Gervase Bushe & Robert Marshak

Helping, Edgar Schein

The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist

The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning

The Path, Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh

What It Means to Be Human, Joanna Bourke