simply stocking stuffers

1 December, 2009 - 14:53
Looking for holiday gifts that will enrich and educate and not break the bank? You'll simply have to check out these two noteworthy reads.


More than any other business skill, creative thinking is held in almost sacred regard – an ethereal, mystical gift that some people simply possess, but cannot explain. In The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin attempts to shine some light on the process, with his theory that creative problem solving can be quantified, and the process explained in an almost scientific way. By doing so Martin hopes to go one step further than management literature that explains what great leaders think, and explains how they think.

The implications of such a system are obvious – if creative thinking can be concisely explained then it can perhaps be taught, or improved-upon. Creativity is not a magical gift that some of us are blessed with – it’s just a systematic approach to a problem. This approach is the 'Opposable Mind'.

The analogy comes from the opposable thumb sported by primates. Martin explains - “Thanks to the tension we can create by opposing the thumb and fingers, we can do marvellous things that no other creature can do – write, thread a needle, carve a diamond.” Similarly we can use the ‘opposable mind’ that we are born with in order to solve problems. By holding two opposing ideas in our minds at the same time, creative thinkers are able to find a synthesis between the two that is preferable to either alternative.

When you break down a problem it really only consists of two ideas that are not compatible. As a very simple example, consider these ideas: picking up the shopping that’s being delivered to my house at noon, and my being at the dentists for an appointment at noon. A creative and intelligent person is able to hold both these ideas in their mind at the same time and, rather than panicking and plumping for either one, is able to form a mental bridge between the two ideas and come up with a solution. In the simplistic example I just gave, it might be something like “call the dentist and move my appointment to 1pm.” Martin calls this process 'Integrative Thinking', and claims that it is the “hallmark of exceptional businesses and the people who run them.”

Having fleshed out his theory the rest of the book is dedicated to expanding the concept and delving into case-studies. Whilst these do seem a little thin and perhaps not as investigative as we might like, making them longer and more scientific, (whilst lending credence to the book’s driving theory) would certainly make for a dry read. As it is the balance is adequate, and whilst Martin’s 'Opposable Mind' theory is a long way off from a scientific thesis, it’s an interesting idea that makes for interesting reading.

You can bag yourself a copy of The Opposable Mind from Amazon.co.uk for the holly-jolly sum of £11.29.

-Luke Westaway


If you’re looking for a quick, motivational read this holiday season, you could do considerably worse than Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be. It’s a short book – coming in at just 126 pages, with most of those pages dedicated to only a few lines of type. That said, it features some genuinely insightful and memorable advice, and is beautifully laid out and presented.

Management and motivational books really are ten-a-penny – walk into any bookstore and you’ll soon find yourself lost in a sea of self-improvement literature. Normally these epic tomes take the form of a six hundred-page lecture, but Arden’s helpful guide is more like a list of memorable and motivational sentences – more a memory aid than a lifestyle choice. This means that it’s perfect for carrying around and occasionally flipping through, the quotes and help being so memorably expressed that they’ll stick in your head and jolt your memory whenever you start to stray from Arden’s path of wisdom. It’s more like a Bible than anything else – a whole business philosophy boiled down into a handful of key ideas.

For example, opening one double-page spread reveals the maxim in large, bold font: “The person who doesn’t make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.” Below this, we have Arden’s explanation of what this means – ‘failures and false starts are a precondition of success. At the last company I worked for you would not be fired for being wrong, but you would be fired for not having initiative. It had a positive attitude to mistakes. It was a great company.’

The advice is often more aggressive than we might be used to – frequently motivational books pat us on the back and tell us we’re brilliant, whereas Arden doesn’t shy away from being brutally honest, such as when talking about blame, “The point is that, whatever other people’s failings might be, you are the one to shoulder the responsibility. There are no excuses.”

Of course advice – particularly business advice – is only as good as the person who spouts it. Should we trust Paul Arden as a reputable source? The short answer is: yes. The long answer is: definitely yes. The late Arden was a prominent advertising guru and, in case you didn’t know, was creative director at Saatchi and Saatchi when the agency giant was at the height of its advertising might. Arden pioneered groundbreaking ad campaigns for British Airways, Toyota, Fuji and the Independent, amongst others. For advertisers and creatives there are very few higher authorities, and fewer still who are capable of writing this powerfully and succinctly.

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be is available from Amazon.co.uk at the very festive price of £3.63.

-Luke Westaway

 

 

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