The Watchman's Rattle - Rebbeca Costa
This is one of the most influential books in my collection. Rebecca Costa uses the theme of the town crier or Watchman with his rattle warning villagers of the dangers at hand as she warns us of the dangers upon us today. Her warning centers around the theory that all civilizations eventually fell because they become overloaded by the complexity (uncertainty) of their times. She coined the phrase “reaching a cognitive threshold” beyond which they were no longer able to process the patterns in their midst and so began to substitute mere beliefs for facts. The impact was a slow and inevitable disassociation with reality leading to mismanagement of their selves and their contexts. It seems apropos indeed. She ends with the core tenet that has continued to haunt and inspire my own doctoral studies into embodied cognition when she proclaimed boldly, that our problems are not political today, nor have they ever been; they are biological. Well worth a quick and profound read.
Coming to Our Senses - Viki McCabe
Viki McCabe helped me see what kinds of patterns are working in our midst that most of us pay no attention to but which direct our lives whether we like it or not. More importantly, she argues that we privilege too many of our externalized mental models such as theories over more direct sense making by our own bodies. She specifies the difference between those that have a great deal of variability (variant) from those that have much less variability (invariant). For instance, think of the human face. As it ages the features or details shift but we always know the underlying structure as Sam or Susan. In another example, we actually recognize a friend coming down the street from a great distance even before we can see the details of their face or clothing simply "by the way he walks". As it turns out, each of our bodies move in a kind of figure-8 pattern around our midline and that "pattern" is what we recognize first. A fascinating read into what we are missing for all the cluttering in our times. In a very real sense, she also lends credence to Rebecca Costa's thesis above on how humans are prone to miss the forest for the trees at great cost to our ability to see and understand the reality about us and not the reality we wish to see.
Range - David Epstein
This one is a bit self-indulgent because I use it to confirm my bias about what I like to think I am! But it has also become a best seller across the international business landscape. It provides a well supported thesis on why cultivating a "range" of experiences over only a few is more needed today than ever before. David Epstein argues that HR Directors and CEO's only really know how to hire "experts" or hyper specialists because of the venerable structural arrangements of work inherited from decades past. The machine metaphor still looms and we are expected to create teams of specialized parts to make that engine run! While good for an earlier time, the future will leave more and more of these CEO and experts in confusion as these hyper-specialized components fail to adapt to an increasingly vast and fast paced world. While there still remains a deep need for specialists, connecting across domains to match varieties into various cohering entities will be the coin of the realm in increased complexity. I have always fancied myself as a generalist with specialist appreciation. I have always preferred cohering specialists into some whole. This gives final justification to "our" kind while taking the concept into much richer waters for consideration by all. Enjoy!
The Great Mental Models - Shane Parrish
The first of 5 more volumes to come. Shane Parish started a website, podcast, blog and newsletter to capture the best mental models that are both expanding and in some cases limiting our thinking and governing our behaviors - often beneath our level of awareness. These captured models are "designed to upgrade your thinking with the best, most useful and powerful tools so you always have the right one on hand."