Sources of Inspiration

We asked the Directors of the Insight Management Academy to choose the three books that had been most influential for them, and that have made a significant contribution to their approach to insight management over the past few years.

We hope you find their choices interesting and informative – even though both Steve and James seemed determined to break the rules…

Look out in the weeks and months ahead for more formal book reviews as we seek to distil their wisdom for you.

Steve Wills

My top three, no four, oh, go on then, five would be:

  • ‘The Decisive Moment’ by Jonah Lehrer. This is a great book about the brain and decision-making processes, as it has the perfect combination of fact and science mixed with stories that bring each element to life. In fact, it is a great example of how we, as Insight professionals, should communicate using both facts and stories.
  • ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman. This is also about the brain, but through a different lens. Kahneman received the Nobel prize for Economics in 2002 for his work on decision making and behavioural economics. The key element that this focuses on is the difference between System 1 and System 2 thinking (or sub-conscious versus conscious). We all need to understand this if we are to be effective in communicating insight and persuading people to act upon it.
  • ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ by Clayton Christensen. A very telling book about how industries and companies can rise and fall, and about how newcomers can disrupt markets. For anyone in Insight, it provides useful context for how markets work and therefore the issues we need to warn our companies about.
  • ‘In Search of Excellence’ by Waterman and Peters. This business classic includes well-known techniques such as MBWA (Management By Walking About!) It’s something I’ve put into practice and have recommended to others. It’s as simple as walking a different route to your desk each day simply to see who is where and what people are working on (e.g. Marketing people in particular will have samples and display material around). It’s the same when walking through a call centre or factory floor - you pick up so much by just observing and having chance conversations.
  • ‘The Pyramid Principle’ by Barbara Minto. If all you read are the first and second chapters, you will learn the basics of one of the most valuable consultancy techniques there is – SCQA. All management consultancies teach it, and everyone in Insight should learn it too.

Sally Webb

I'd opt for these three:

  • ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey. All of this is good advice, but in particular ‘start with the end in mind’ helped me to work top-down, and saved me a lot of time.
  • ‘The Pyramid Principle’ by Barbara Minto. Using SCQA has helped us to clarify our thinking and communications immensely – but some parts of the book are rather heavy.
  • ‘Made to Stick’ by Chip and Dan Heath. I found the idea of the ‘curse of knowledge’ very illuminating. Once you know something, it's very difficult to put yourself in the position of someone who doesn't know it. I also realised that I'd spent years trying to communicate using succinct bullet points, whereas telling stories would have been much more ‘sticky’ and effective. Put these two elements together and you see how the many forms of story-telling – examples, anecdotes, video clips, etc can bring any communication to life.

James Wycherley

It’s interesting how few books there are on insight management as such, but if I thought about the books that had helped me to do my job, they would have quite a lot of overlap with Steve and Sally’s recommendations…

  • Like Sally, I rate Stephen Covey very highly - both ‘7 Habits’ and the follow-up books, amongst them ‘First Things First’ (about prioritisation) and ‘Principle-Centred Leadership’ (about the team leader role being based on principles and supporting your team).
  • Like Steve, I love ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ and 'The Decisive Moment’.

Many of the other books I read are variations on these themes. For example, ‘The One Minute Manager’ by Blanchard and Johnson is very like Covey, as are many progressive books on understanding yourself, and managing yourself better, so that you can be happy, more successful, or a better leader. Likewise, there are many popular psychology books that are variations on Kahneman and the people who worked with him - such as ‘The Organised Mind’ (Levitin) and Jonah Lehrer.

But here are three different books which might stimulate thinking:

  • ‘Freakonomics’ by Levitt and Dubner. The original, and the two books and all of the blogs that followed, are a great example of behavioural economics and are more accessible than Kahneman, Levitin, Lehrer, etc.
  • ‘The End of Politics’ by Douglas Carswell. This is something very different that I’d recommend. Whether you agree or disagree with his views on the role of government and the EU, it’s a fascinating, evidence-based piece of writing. His views on the big data / digital implications for public services, government and our understanding of democracy are very refreshing.
  • ‘Losing My Virginity’ by Richard Branson. This autobiography has more of a business focus. Again, you might agree or disagree with his recipe for successful business. However, having heard him as a presenter, he really brings a youthful enthusiasm to his belief that there has to be a better way of providing services that are currently poorly provided - which was what drove him to start so many of his companies.