Category : Books


Mind Control and Behaviour Engineering

Books on body language aren’t nothing new and there are some great resources available from experts such as Desmond Morriss, Paul Ekman and Allan Pease. The information in these books is great for learning to read people and gain an understanding of what’s going through someone’s head based on the involuntary visual cues they give.

The Ellipsis Manual: Analysis and Engineering of Human Behaviour, goes so much deeper.

The book is written by Chase Hughes, who is an expert behaviour profiler who works with government agencies teaching behaviour engineering, interrogation techniques and other psychological techniques which would fit into a James Bond film.

It covers body language and behaviour profiling using Hughes’ Behavioural Table of Elements, a wonderful tool for analysing body language, particularly taking into account climate and other situations which could affect certain cues.

The latter half of the book has been refereed to as “Cialdini on steroids” and I’d say this is an accurate evaluation. Practical persuasion and influence techniques are shown, which wouldn’t feel out of place in a James Bond film. Bestselling author David Barron (aka Dantalion Jones) said “It shows how to make a real life Manchurian Candidate.”

The overarching themes are:

  • Behaviour Analysis (Body Language and Verbal Cues)
  • Human Needs and Profiling
  • Building Rapport
  • Asserting Authority
  • Developing Control and Influence
  • CIA Methods
  • Corrugation Programming (inspired by now destroyed MKUltra documents)

I haven’t even made it half-way through the book yet, but it’s already quite difficult to summarise just how much it covers.  I find the techniques covered in it are just as profound and useful as the knowledge gained from the work of Robert Cialdin, Desmond Morris and other behaviour experts. If you have even a passing interest in body language and human behaviour – read this book. The price is a little higher than for most books, but it’s 100% worth it.

Chase’s website is also a great resource on behaviour profiling with loads of useful info.

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The Cognitive Revolution

In Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari explores the development of humankind.

Harari starts by outlining that humans first evolved in Africa about 2.5 million years ago and we were completely unremarkable until around 70,000 years ago, when human culture began to form.

Most people are aware than Neanderthals co-existed with Homo Sapiens (meaning “wise man”) for a time, but Homo Sapiens and Homo Neadnerthalensis were just two of multiple “human” species that roamed the earth at the same time. The book explores two opposing theories; Interbreeding and Replacement (ethnic cleansing) which outline how homo sapiens evolved and the other human species died out. Replacement dictates that over time we out-competed our human cousins for food and regularly killed off many members of these species.

The Interbreeding theory suggests that we interbred with the other human species until only modern homo sapiens were left. It’s important to note that the average European shares 1-4% of their DNA with Neanderthals, adding further evidence to the theory of interbreeding.

Harari goes on to say that the reality is likely to have come about from a combination of replacement and interbreeding.

So why did Homo Sapiens survive and prosper, while the other human species died out?

Harari explains that human history has gone through 3 large revolutions that other species didn’t:

  • The Cognitive Revolution
  • The Agricultural Revolution
  • The Scientific Revolution

The Cognitive Revolution occurred 70,000 – 30,000 years ago and was prompted by the discovery of fire.

Fire enabled us to cook food, which reduced the amount of energy our bodies need to digest it. This paved the way for a smaller intestinal tract and also meant we had more energy to spare, leading the development of a larger brain, which used 25% of the body’s energy.

Larger brains led to increased intelligence, which resulted in improved, more complex communication, allowing us to organise, collaborate and form relationships that other human species at the time couldn’t match. We were able to hunt more effectively, quickly (in evolutionary terms) taking us from the middle of the food chain (400,00 years ago) right to the top.

Humans began telling stories and share ideas and myths. As far as we understand, we are the only species that can comprehend ideas and events that we’ve never personally experienced. These stories and myths (religions, ideologies) facilitated cooperation and led to the creation of ideas such as fairness and justice, which were essential for cooperation between larger groups.

Unlike other animals, we didn’t have to didn’t have to wait for another few million years of evolution to take place for our behaviour to change. The way we behaved and cooperated could be changed by adapting the stories and ideas that we shared. Our brains and bodies have remained relatively unchanged since we passed through the cognitive revolution.

So, while we like to think that we are smarter now, than our ancestors, there is no evidence that we’re more intelligent than humans 30,000 years ago. As a collective, we possess more knowledge and understanding of the world, but at the individual level, ancient hunters and foragers were for more skillful and varied in their knowledge of the world than modern humans. As society has developed, we’ve relied less on survival skills and more on economical skills. Due to this, we are actually more likely to pass on undesirable or unremarkable genes nowadays. Undesirable traits have a negative impact on a person’s ability to survive. 30,000 years ago, people possessing these disadvantageous traits often wouldn’t survive long enough to pass them on. Nowadays however, finding food is as easy as walking into a supermarket and modern cities put a huge buffer between us and wild animals; most people never come face to face with an apex predator outside of a zoo.

Once we passed the cognitive revolution, homo sapiens quickly spread throughout the world, travelling across the sea to Australia. 16,000 years ago, humans first made their way across the Siberian peninsular to America and right down to the South America – to our knowledge, the quickest expansion of a species to ever occur.

Even given these remarkable achievements, physically and mentally, we are essentially the same animals that we were 30,0000 years ago. This lack of biological change is partially to blame for many of the stresses we feel in our modern lives. Many of our daily habits and experiences are unnatural to us:

  • Gorging on high calorie foods makes sense in the wild, but not when there is an abundance of food.
  • Humans naturally fall into a bi-phasic sleep cycle where our sleep is broken into 3 parts (2 cycles at night and 1 in the afternoon) not a single 7-8 hour block.
  • A single city contains more people than the average human might meet in 100 lifetimes.
  • The concept of privacy is very new, but so is loneliness; we were always surrounded by a group of trusted friends and family.

The cognitive revolution ended around 10,000 years ago as humans began to built permanent settlements and so began the agricultural revolution. Impressively, this revolution happened independently in many areas of the world. The Agricultural Revolution is responsible for the huge growth of the human population and the creation of towns and cities. I’ll explore the Agricultural Revolution in another post.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’d implore you to pick up Harari’s book Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind – it’s a great read and incredibly informative.

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Books Other

The Checklist Manifesto: Summary

Regardless of the intelligence, skill of experience of the person in question, we inevitable make mistakes . No matter how much we might believe that we’ll remember something and regardless of how many times we’ve completed the task at hand we are still prone to forgetfulness and to human error.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande explains that the use of checklists in our professional lives can greatly reduce mistakes made by human error.

Checklists force us to go through step-by-step and not only prevent us from forgetting tasks, but can prompt other ideas and steps. It’s important to note the a checklist isn’t just a list of tasks, it’s a process and eventually develops into company culture or “that’s just how we do things here.” A well designed checklist can elevate the performance of entire teams and spread across many departments.

It’s important to note however, that to be effective, they must meet a few criteria. They must be concise, clear and collaborative.

  • Concise – A long checklist with no more than 9 pointed per section will eventually be discarded and steps skipped.
  • Clear – Only the important points need to be included, you don’t need to outline every step in the process.
  • Collaborative – At any point, anyone in the team has the authority to halt a project or process if the checklist hasn’t been adhered to properly.

They have been used by airline maintenance crews, pilots and surgeons to great success. Checklists can provide a safety net for our inherent cognitive biases and mental flaws (memory, attention, thoroughness).

The premise of the book is simple enough and the many examples Gawande shares help to really drive home the benefits and effects of using checklist. The Checklist Manifesto is a great read and filled with actionable information – a rare find.


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Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Summary

Motivation is examined in almost every airport management book, how to energise and inspire your team is vital to your success as a manager and a leader. Steven Pinker took an in-depth look at what actually motivates us and dispels a few myths about motivation that keep hanging around. In his studies, Pinker discovered that rewards improve performance in routine and algorithmic tasks, but as soon as any cognitive effort is required, rewards actually have negative effects on performance. He found that offering a reward narrows focus and hinders our ability to think laterally and creatively.

Rewards by their very nature, narrow our focus. That’s helpful when theirs a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster…the rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old objects.

Intrinsic motivation is much more powerful. When we’re doing something out of curiosity or for fun, we are much more motivated and often outperform situations where we are incentivized or rewarded for our involvement and performance. In one study, it was found that non-commissioned (unpaid) artworks were judged to be more creative than commissioned (paid for) pieces.

Not always, but often when you are doing a piece for someone else it becomes more “work” than joy.

I’ve personally encountered this phenomenon, where I am happier and more productive when continuing to work from home on a particular problem after office hours than when I’m in the office. I’m in the office because I HAVE to be, but when I am working in the evening from home, I am CHOOSING to and it makes all the difference.

Daniel Pinker gives the following summary of his work:

When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system–which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators–doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements: 1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

If you’re looking to develop a deeper understanding of motivation, then Steven Pinker’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explores the subject in detail and proposes how we should change the way we think when trying to motivate our employees, colleagues and even children.

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Recommended Smart Thinking Books

If you want a good grounding in smart thinking, books are the best place to find it. I love reading and particularly love books on smart thinking, whether they’re about the brain, body language, politics or strategy. Naturally over the years I’ve read hundreds of books and decided to assemble a list of the books which have had the strongest effect on my knowledge of smart thinking and those which have impacted the way I think and view the world the most.

As I read and discover more I’ll add books to the list. See Recommended Smart Thinking Books


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