Qual Street

Dedication to the answer


Book Club

Book Club


If you’ve got the time and the inclination, here’s a list of books that are worth a read and certainly reflect today’s conversations in research on social influence and how the brain works.

Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD and James Fowler PhD

Learn about how ideas, disease and behaviours are all transmitted through the social networks that we belong to. This book identifies the influence people who we don’t even know, but are connected to, have over us.

What’s right with it

It’s a mind-blowing book with huge implications for business, politics and how we organise ourselves. It’s Hitler or Ghandi’s handbook, the key to good and evil…

What’s wrong with it

Nothing, it’s just volume one of the handbook, and I bet there’s about 20 more volumes to go…

Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth by Jonah Berger

Jonah takes you through 6 key steps (or thanks to his natty mnemonic STEPPS) that will make your ‘thing’ more contagious. They are 1. Social Currency – are you ‘now’? 2. Can you deliver Triggers to remind people about you? 3. Can you generate Emotion around your idea? 4. how Public is your thing? Can people see it? 5. Does it have a Practical value? If it’s useful people will talk about it. 6. Will people tell Stories about your thing?

What’s right with it

It’s full of catchy catch phrases and it has a very zippy and readable style.

What’s wrong with it

There’s nothing earth shattering in this. Although of course, being reminded of the obvious is often really useful.

Social: Why our brains are wired to connect by Matthew D. Lieberman

An inspiring book which challenges our understanding of how our brains work and just how important our mind’s social functions are. Lieberman tries to make his science as accessible as possible, but I still had to take notes. However, it was worth it – it reinforced my understanding that we are ‘built’ to focus on others and our relationship with others. I also found it fascinating reading how social rejection is experienced in many ways as the same kind of pain as bumps and bruises. Sticks, stones and names will all hurt you!

What’s right with it

New thinking on just how social we are is worth reading about!

Room for improvement

It’s hard to know how ‘true’ the book is if you aren’t a neuroscientist, and it’s not a skim read (nor should it be). I have my own summary of the book in the Ponder section of this website…

Change by Design by Tim Brown

Learn how design thinking can help with innovation within any business. Tim Brown explains how important it is to gain insight into people’s needs as part of the innovation process and the significance of prototyping (among other things).

What’s right with it

It’s a great introduction to Co Creation and new thinking on how to innovate.

Room for improvement

Some of Tim’s examples of successful innovations…have now bitten the dust!

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and… W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

If you are working on a brand that is in a crowded market place and is struggling to distinguish itself from the competition, then this book is the one you need to read. It helps you to think about how to make you brand different and how to therefore create a new market for your brand – in other words how to swim in a blue ocean.

What’s right with it

There are concrete, practical activities for you to follow that will help you think differently about how to market your brand.

What’s wrong with it

Some of the success stories of blue ocean brands are now brands that have failed… which means this book is not the answer, just an answer to differentiation.

Sensation by Thalma Lobel

If you are, like me, really interested in how the brain works, but not that great at the technical science bits, then you will find this book a joy. It’s all about how our senses influence our thinking and decision making. Hold a hot cup… and…you’ll behave more ‘warmly’ towards someone. We live metaphorically…

What’s right with it

It’s interesting, accessible, magazine-style reading

What’s wrong with it

If you’re looking for hard-core academic reading, it’s not for you.

Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer

Keith Sawyer wants us to believe that new ideas are not born from isolated Eureka moments, but are delivered by different minds feeding each other with stimulating thinking. We are social thinkers, and our minds are designed for collaboration. His book makes a strong case for when and why it’s best to work in groups, and how to achieve group flow

What’s right with it

Really interesting book to read for anyone interested in group dynamics and institutional organisation. I really like his arguments about how to build innovation into the structure of businesses.

Room for improvement

You need to commit to the book, it’s a long one, and like a lot of other authors he borrows anecdotes and stories from others to prove his point. (Academic Chinese whispers?)

Mindwise: How we understand what others think, believe, feel and want by Nicholas Epley

The book focuses on how we are uniquely set up to read each other’s minds, but shows us how we often make mistakes in these assumptions because of the way our brains our set up for quick-thinking. The first half of the book demonstrates the kinds of errors we make when we relate to the world around us. It’s all about how we mis-read minds. He then moves on to demonstrate how to avoid ‘human’ error. Big drum roll….it’s through conversation – listening, talking and understanding. One up for being a qualitative researcher, I guess.

What’s good about it?

Really accessible, interesting read on how our brains are set up so that we can cooperate and relate with one another.

Room for improvement

He leads you to think that there is going to be some big breakthrough answer about how to ‘mindread’ better, but when the big answer turns out to be ‘communicate better’, it feels a bit unsatisfying.

Who am I?: 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions… by Steven Reiss

A very different book inspired by the author’s near-death experience. He has identified 16 basic behaviour drivers. These are hard-wired into our nature distinct from the day-to-day (often chemical)drivers linked to every-day behaviour. The 16 are…. (drum roll…) power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honour, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical activity, tranquillity. We can all profile ourselves – which of the 16 are the important drivers in our lives and which are less important to us?

What’s good about it

I think it explains difference in people in a really useful way – it reminds us that we have different (innate) goals and drivers, and these make us separate and different from others (and bring us together with others too).

What’s wrong with it

If feels incomplete as a book. Like he’s rushed it. So some of the desires he goes into in great detail, and others (like food) he rushes over. This is because he takes each in turn and actually 16 is a lot to get through.

Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott

What’s good about it

Inspirational, really well written, entertaining. My favourite book of the year so far. Dave Trott shares with us his thinking about advertising and creativity through a series of stories about people he knows, or has come across. Each story shows us what Dave wants to tell us. His tone is aggressive, he talks about zero sum games, and about grabbing what you want out of life, but it’s good aggression, the kind of aggression that powers creativity. If you read it, you will love it – it’s a promise.

Room for improvement

Dave seems to think research is about asking people their opinions, rather than what I think it is for – seeing the world as others see it (something that he encourages us to do). Maybe he should think again about what research has to offer?

PS I’ve recently read Creative Mischief too – and that’s equally good.

Decoded – the Science Behind Why We Buy by Phil Bardon

What’s good about it

It really hots up in the second half when Bardon gets to his central argument that we make buying choices based on how well products meet our goals. Goals are the biological/ psychological drivers that are hard wired into our psyches. It’s a strong reminder of the ‘codes’ a brand needs to communicate about its place in a category in order to pull a customer in. In many ways it feels like semiotics in another guise… Bardon also makes a really valid point that we shouldn’t choose between ‘emotive’ or ‘rational’ communication for a brand – the choice shouldn’t be either/ or, it should be what’s the most powerful way to demonstrate the brand meets your goal.

Room for improvement

The book rehashes a lot of other similar work and makes big claims for ‘science’ without really making a convincing scientific case. (Perhaps just because Bardon’s made the book easy to understand, but perhaps because it’s selective in its thinking).

The Social Animal by David Brooks

The book works through Brooks’ ideas about how we connect with each other as social animals.

What’s good about it
It’s really readable, using a story-telling device, so it’s a light way to encounter ideas on neuro science and social psychology. It’s got good notes, so it can lead you onto other interesting reading too.

Room for improvement
Like so many books these days it ‘proves its point’ by using cherry-picked anecdotes and re-hashed work from other people – always leaves me thinking – yes, but the opposite could also be true.

Herd by Mark Earls

This book show us how recognising our instincts as social animals should drive marketing and market research behaviour. It’s very critical of ‘focus groups’, but don’t hold that against it, because there’s some interesting ideas within.

What’s good about it
Inspirational tone and style

Room for improvement
I wasn’t convinced by all the arguments within – worth reading to make your own mind up

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

This one is a soft landing into Behavioural Economics – it’s easy to understand and very intuitive – it spends time helping us to come to an understanding of how people don’t act in a way that is rational, because we’re all programmed to make quick, snappy and instinctive choices.

What’s good about it
Makes sense, uses experiments to illuminate the points he’s making
Room for improvement
Dan’s tone of voice – read it and you’ll see what I mean…

The Private Life of the Brain by Susan Greenfield

Described as offering us a brain scientist’s perspective on the interplay of emotions and cognitive abilities, it helps us to understand how we develop our sense of self and our personality.
What’s good about it: Fascinating and readable. An antidote to the idea that we are simply social animals, it reminds us about the conscious mind and individual identity too.

Emotional Rollercoaster by Claudia Hammond

If you are looking for an easier read than the Greenfield book, I can recommend this one on emotions. Claudia takes us through the science of feelings and focuses on nine emotions including joy, anger, sadness, jealousy and love. It’s really interesting, and the section on joy helps us understand the benefits of happiness in being creative and productive.

The 32 Stops by Danny Dorling

A lovely way to deliver data, Danny Dorling takes us on a journey from West to East on the Underground’s Central line. For each stop we meet different families with different stories which help to illuminate the social statistics that Danny weaves into the narrative.

What’s good about it
Interesting facts and figures about social inequalities and how people’s life chances shift tube stop by tube stop, and delivered in a way that all researchers can learn from – insight comes to life when we tell stories about people.

Introducing Mind & Brain by Angus Gellatly & Ocsar Zarate

I’ve just discovered the ‘introducing series’ and I’m already hooked. Here’s an essential one for researchers – understanding Mind & Brain. Don’t think just coz there’s pictures in it – it’s completely lightweight… it’s just a really accessible way to start off understanding all about the Mind & Brain.
PS some of the introducing series can be downloaded as interactive books for ipads and other smart devices. Looks really great – the future of publishing and all that. Well done Icon books.

Purple Cow by Seth Godwin

A book to inspire you to zig when others are zagging, to offer a unique product and service built to be different. A reminder it’s not marketing that sells products, but it’s people that buy products that work, and it’s people that tell other people about products that work really well.

What’s good about it

Feels inspirational

Room for improvement
Are all the ideas easier said than done? And after all Milka did invent a purple cow…

Influence by Robert B Cialdini

A fun way to discover how susceptible we all are to the power of persuasion (because we’re wired that way). Cialdini identifies 6 weapons of influence: reciprocity; consistency & commitment; social proof; liking; authority and scarcity and shows us how our emotional responses to choice can leave us making choices perhaps not always in our interests. The ultimate defence against these weapons seems always to be mindfulness…

What’s good about it

Insightful and fun

Room for improvement

Sometimes it feels like he’s interpreting behaviour, but presenting his ‘reading’ as fact.


Kath Rhodes, Qual Street Owner

I love love learning and so I invest time and resources with Ambreen and Claire into exploring social psychology, neuro science, creativity and new techniques in research. Read all about it and help yourself to the ideas that will deliver your business the insight it needs

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