It is the time of the year for lists, so I figured I would put together a list of the books which most influenced my thinking on the topic of unlearning this year. The list is in no particular order:
#1: The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects by Marshall McLuhan. Contrary to popular belief, the title of this 1967 classic is not "The Medium is the Message," it is "The Medium is the Massage." Here's one worthwhile quote from the book: "Survival is not possible if one approaches his environment … with a fixed, unchangeable point of view–the witless repetitive response to the unperceived."
#2: Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod. Lesson #17: The world is changing … avoid folks who play it safe. (This is why I believe playing it safe is risky.)
#3: Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently by Gregory Berns. This book reminds us that "the brain is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat." One strategy to strengthen your grey matter is to begin a "notebook of things you don't know about."
#4: Linchpin: Are Your Indispensable? by Seth Godin. Instead following the manual, Godin encourages us to try writing the manual. Great advice if you want to successfully navigate the future.
#5: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. Fact: IQ scores are not valid for life … society, parents and educators should stop behaving as such. (You might also want to stop telling your child that he or she is smart.)
#6: SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Did you know that a drunk walker is eight times as likely to be killed as a drunk driver? Neither did I. This just one of many interesting things which required unlearning on my part as I read this book.
#7: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb. I actually read this outstanding book in 2007. The author, however, added an 80-page addendum to the book this year and, on this basis alone, it was worth re-buying. The book is outstanding reminder of this vital point: What we don't know is often far more important than what we do know.
#8: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Internet isn't making us dumber. In fact, it has the potential to revolutionize and improve the world in some unexpected ways. Shirky also does an excellent job of explaining how "more has a quality all of its own."
#9: The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Out Intuitions Deceive Us by Chris Chabris and Dan Simons. In case after case and example after example, the authors explain why our minds don't work the way we suppose they do.
#10: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink. Think you know what motivates you? After reading this book, you'll think again. I especially liked this quote: "Unlearning old ideas is difficult, undoing old habits is even harder." So true … that why I keep reading and unlearning! Here's to great 2011!
P.S. If you're looking for a great book for kids about the importance of unlearning, I'd recommend The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. (Also see this old post on The Wisdom of the Phantom Tollbooth.)