Surprisingly Interesting Topics
Business sounds boring. Topics like accounting, management and logistics put people to sleep.
But some topics are genuinely exciting – areas that involve creativity, inspiration and personality.
If you're looking for something interesting and useful, these five areas are worth exploring:
Advertising has changed your mind.
Someone spent money to change your opinions, in ways that directly benefitted them.
If they did their job properly, you didn’t even realise what had happened, and felt 100% in control of your thoughts.
That’s a scary idea – and that’s what makes it fascinating.
A good ad can shape our culture.
Think of your favourite ads; ones that made you laugh, think, sing, excited or even angry.
How did they do that?
What did they say – or not say?
What did they show – or not show?
What did they promise – or not promise?
By understanding advertising, you begin to build an immunity to bullshit.
It’s like seeing the code that makes up The Matrix – detesting poor advertising and admiring true genius.
You should read books by Dave Trott, John Hegarty and Seth Godin.
Seth’s books are particularly good in audio format, I’d start with All Marketers Are Liars.
We like to tell ourselves that we are rational people, buying things for good reasons, accepting good deals and rejecting bad offers.
In economics, we talk about topics like the “Invisible Hand of the Market”, “Rational Consumers” and make assumptions based on everyone behaving in a logical, sensible way.
Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.
We make good decisions for terrible reasons, and create justifications for our predictable mistakes.
There’s a whole field dedicated to this area called Behavioural Economics – how humans actually work.
Dan Arielly wrote a fantastic book called Predictably Irrational, which is probably the best starting place.
If you like that, you’ll love Thinking Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Misbehaving by Richard Thaler.
These books will change how you see the world, help you make smarter predictions, and ultimately, make wiser life decisions.
If you want to get anything done in life, you’re going to need to work with other people.
Specifically, you’re going to need to work in a way that makes people happy, because if you’re rude or difficult, people will vote with their feet and your projects will stall.
Human Relations describes our basic interactions at work, but also the broader field of how we rally people together to do remarkable things.
There are the basic “Hygiene Factors” e.g. how to not be a jerk, but then there are areas like culture, teamwork and communication.
These are like oxygen – not important until it’s not there, then it’s suddenly all you can think about.
Patrick Lencioni is a master storyteller, and books like Death By Meeting and The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team are a great place to start, especially as Audiobooks.
Rod Wagstaff’s book Widgets is fantastic, a guide to treating people like people instead of robots.
Branding might sound dull, but I’ll tell you right now: you have opinions.
Have you ever had a conversation about your logo at work?
Floated an idea about signage or a poster?
Had someone criticize your design choices?
Everyone thinks they’re an expert, and everyone wants to chime in with their thoughts.
Branding is a captivating area, because it involves your personal tastes. You can make things aesthetically beautiful, and use colour, typography and positioning to convey your company’s values and beliefs.
It’s interesting to see how others create fantastic brands out of materials available to everyone.
You’ll learn how stylistic decisions shape our perceptions, and start noticing good and bad branding that surrounds you every day.
You’ll also start to discover and refine your tastes, noting what you think is stunning or ugly. That creates reference points for the future – creating good ideas that capture attention and send the right message.
Best of all, design books are a joy to read; check out Start Me Up! by Robert Klanten, and Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts.
There are two interesting aspects here:
Firstly, it’s interesting to understand why things work – what enables them to be efficient and effective.
Secondly, it’s interesting to understand the origins and history of our favourite products.
Things like how Nike runners evolved over time, or how Toblerone hasn’t changed in decades.
What products do you like?
Cars, computers, phones, makeup, armchairs, dresses, shoes, video games – whatever it is, when you learn how they work you’ll love them even more.
Better yet, you’ll appreciate the geniuses and pioneers who made them what they are today, like Shigeru Miyamoto at Nintendo, Coco Chanel or Steve Jobs (look up his keynote speeches on YouTube).
My favourite books are the 000-999 series by Phaidon, and The Design Of Everyday Things by Donald A Norman.