Essential Behavioural Economics Books for HR and L&D

Recently Sukh Pabial has written a couple of pieces about the crossover between behavioural economics and HR/L&D. I’m not claiming expertise in this area, but it’s probably true that I’ve probably read a bit more of this stuff that quite a few people so I thought I’d share some tips for reading. Nothing particularly ‘out there’, but some good starting points. I think the best way to ‘get data’ is to fall in love with data. Some of these books helped me do that… I’ve linked to Amazon – if that isn’t your preference most will be available from all good book shops. The CIPD report on Behavioural Science is also a good initial stop off.

I’m not making a clear distinction between behavioural economics and psychology within this – these are books about why people do stuff. If you understand why people do stuff then it puts you in a good position to help them better understand how to do stuff better.

In fact, if you are attempting to support people in a business without understanding them you are making your job terribly and unnecessarily hard.

  • Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics by Levitt & Dubner. I used some of their thinking for this for this post here on incentives. Freakonomics inspired me to start playing about with data to better understand my org about 7-8 years ago. If you are a consultant then please read the chapter on pricing models for prostitutes in Superfreakonomics.Their latest book ‘Think Like a Freak’ is useful for understanding how they approach problem solving.
  • Predictably Irrational and The Truth about Dishonety by Dan Ariely – I’ve stolen much of Dan’s stuff here (my wonky wardrobe is the IKEA effect) and his MOOC is my favourite bit of learning over the past few years. You can find details of that here.
  • Adapt, The Undercover Economist and others by Tim Harford – I’ve seen TIm speak a couple of times as well as following his writing online. Adapt has some wonderful reflections on business, life and complexity
  • Bad Science and others by Ben Goldacre – a really good handbook to not believing everything you are told
  • Malcolm Gladwell – There is lots of kickback towards Glawell currently, but there is no doubt that he is a supreme storyteller and he makes you think. I talked about people falling in love with data and enquiry – Gladwell helped me do that. I’d maybe start with Outliers or dip in and out of What the Dog Saw if you are time poor. Spaghetti sauce and corporate culture are interesting combos
  • Influence, The Small Big and Yes by Cialdini/Peters – Great format, great examples, makes it really clear how much our choices are influenced by environment and architecture. Understanding the ethics behind being able to influence this easily is a key part of the role of HR going forward. “With great control of the environment goes great ethical accountability” as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman
  • The Drunkards Walk by Leonard Miodinow – will make you doubt eveything above and cry out ‘that’s just not true’ next time somebody says ‘that can’t just be coincidence’. There is a summary here
  • The Invisible Gorilla – will make you doubt everything, including your own memory and reliability. I’ve never felt more fallible than when I had just finished this book
  • The Why Axis by Uri Gneezy and John List – if you are at all interested in diversity or education then read this. If there is one book to buy it is this.
  • Bounce by Matthew Syed – everything  you know about talent is wrong. If you work in Talent Management or L&D it is hard not to make an ‘oops’ noise whilst reading this
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis – you don’t need to know anything  about baseball to understand that if you want to grasp how competitive advantage through people is possible this is an intriguing approach.I wrote a summary here and long before most of you knew me I also made this video  
  • It isn’t often that you click on a website, but this list of nudges hosted by the University of Stirling may get your interest levels up
  • Other notable mentions (now that I’m getting bored of typing) include Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres, The Armchair Economist by Steve Landsburg, Drive by Dan Pink, Elephants on Acid by Alex Boese, Mistakes were made (but not by me), The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein, Thinking Fast and Slow by Kahneman, Economyths by David Orrell,

This isn’t an exhaustive list and if you are interested in a certain area get in touch and I’ll give you my tips. It will however get you started. Remember: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing & just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. If you think I’ve missed anything obvious please add it to the comments.

I’m gradually running down this blog (I think) as part of a well thought through contact strategy that involved me forgetting that it existed. In an attempt to get my mojo back I’m going to try splurging some pieces out and seeing where I end up. This is one. there may be another tomorrow, that would be prolific.

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