Big Ideas: Our Five Favourite Books of 2011

Big Ideas: Our Five Favourite Books of 2011

Posted December 30, 2011

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The point where technology, business, and society intersect is the epicentre of our changing world—and it’s where T4G Research focuses as we plan for the future. 

To do so we look for new ideas and try to understand how T4G and our customers can utilize them for competitive advantage.

Mobile, social, and the cloud have been the hot technology topics in the media for 2011 and probably 2012—but you didn’t need us to tell you that.  Instead, here’s our point of view about how some other important new ideas are reshaping technology, business, and society. Presenting our five favourite books of 2011:

#1 Race Against The Machine

This is our top book of the year because it acts as a sort of “grand unifying theory” for all the trends that have shaped the year and will shape the years to come. At its core this book argues computers are about to come out of their infancy and really shake things up—a powerful statement given how much they’ve already changed the world.

From mechanical automation in manufacturing to the digitization of knowledge work, computers are making inroads into jobs that we considered automation-proof. So how do we (as humans) stay relevant (and employed)? The book offers some suggestions, but ultimately serves to start a new conversation.

It’s also worth noting the authors completely eschewed traditional publishers and released the book themselves exclusively to the Amazon Kindle. At 16,000 words and priced at three dollars, this book is definitely worth the time and money.

#2 The Filter Bubble

Filter Bubble (the book) is very good. Filter Bubble (the concept) is one of the most powerful and important ideas from the past year. The core idea is that in order to make us happier (and more profitable as customers), many digital systems are pre-filtering the information they deliver to us so that we’re more likely to agree with it or enjoy it.

We tend to think of Google as being the objective arbiter of knowledge, but two people searching for the same things will be served different results based on what the search engine thinks they want. Facebook makes similar calculations, and services like Netflix and Pandora are built from the ground up on this kind of functionality.

What kind of world are we wandering into when everyone is basing their decisions off of data that was prepared specifically for them? Eli Parser explores the space in his book, and introduces it well in his TED talk that you should check out at the very least.

#3 Thinking Fast and Slow

Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is the fundamental work of Classical Economics and its being said that Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is just as important.  In fact, Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics for the work that served as the basis for this book despite not being an economist. 

Synthesized from a half century of psychological research, this book is the definitive overview of behavioral economics, a new discipline that explores how and why decision-making strays from the “rational self-interest” that is assumed to govern behavior in economic thought.

In short, this book looks at the situations in which our ability to make decisions is reliably bad.  It highlights how we have a number of short-hand mental tricks that make decisions quickly but sometimes misfire, and also carry with us in our thinking a number of biases that lead us astray. This book should be required reading for anyone with a brain, literally.

#4 The Information

This is a big book and an important one.  From African tribal drum ceremonies to quantum encryption, The Information explores the nature of information, our relationship with it, and the ways we’ve learned and invented to store and transmit it.

While the book is at times technical, it’s populated by a lively cast of historical characters. The real lasting feeling it produces is a profound appreciation for all of the incredibly smart people who made non-trivial discoveries, inventions, and contributions to the practice of communication—contributions that, little by little, made today’s world possible.  We are indeed standing on the shoulders of giants!

#5 Darkmarket

The internet is pretty cool: it has transformed communications, democratized access to information, and has effectively rendered ignorance a temporary inconvenience. Despite its awesomeness however it also has a dark side that is discussed far too little. 

Darkmarket delves into the negative consequences of humanity’s growing—and sometimes dangerous—dependence on the internet. Smelling digital blood in the water, criminals are now exploiting this dependence. This book is full of stories of hackers, crackers, carders, and securocrats that are both instructive and chilling.  Picture of kittens will always be great, but watch out: they may be delivering a viral digital payload! While the writing here can be a bit heavy, the content should be on your radar, this is a worthwhile and instructive read.

Honourable mention for a book published late 2010: WIKIBRANDS

The Wisdom of Crowds, The Wealth of Networks, Wikinomics, Macrowikinomics and many other books have made the academic and strategic case for mass collaboration and the power of communities. WIKIBRANDS continues in this tradition but takes it to the actionable next step for marketers by providing in-depth tactics to build, grow, and leverage a branded community. WIKIBRANDS provides specific examples from virtually every sector of the economy and is essential reading for anyone looking to build their brand in our increasingly digital world. 

Filed under

big-ideas, books, race-against-the-machine, wikibrands, behavioral-economics

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Recent Comments

Terri Griffith

12/30/2011 12:50:13 PM



Great list, thank you. Race Against the Machine has been top on my list for the year's books that set our course for the future. I would like to offer another book that then gives you tools for action as we work and manage in the world Brynjolfsson & McAfee describe: The Plugged-In Manager. Self-serving as I'm the author, but it's been exciting to see how Race Against the Machine and other books pointing to the future highlight the skills I think we all need and that I wrote The Plugged-In Manager to support.


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About the Author


Paul Barter

As VP of Research, Paul Barter works with T4G business unit leaders to develop high-level perspectives on the current and future state of the market.




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