I talk a lot about neuroscience and psychology as it relates to Agile methods and the question everyone asks is “what books do you recommend as an introduction?” There is no single best book to start with so I’m giving you a bunch of categories to pick from.
Note that none of these books are written specifically for agile coaches and few are written for coaches of any kind. Also, as I write this I’m already about six years down this rabbit hole and things I find very approachable may well be difficult for someone just starting out.
The more feedback you can provide me, the better I can make the list. Which did you find to be just the right level of content to get started? What was too advanced for a beginner? What did you find was a good intro that’s not on the list?
The categories themselves are not ordered. Pick the one that sounds most interesting and start there.
- Influence: The power of persuassion (Robert Cialdini) This is one of the classic books of psychology and was the very first book I’d ever read on the topic.
- Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Leonard Mlodinow) I’m not sure how many practical tips you’ll get out of this but you’ll be entertained and astounded by what he has to say. A thoroughly enjoyable book.
- Healthy Parts, Happy Self (Gordon Emmerson) A healthy person has about 150 distinct personalities that take charge at different times. These are called ego-states (or resource-states) and Emmerson is a leading authority on this topic. Of all his books, I’ve found this one to be the most approachable.
- Keeping the Brain in Mind: Practical Neuroscience for Coaches, Therapists, and Hypnosis Practitioners (Shawn Carson, Melissa Tiers) So much good content in this book. I’ve read it multiple times and pick up new things each time that I’d missed the first time through.
- Habits Of A Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels (Loretta Graziano Breuning) Focused very specifically on the neurobiology around four specific neurotransmitters, this book is full of fascinating tips. These four drive so many of the behaviours that we see in a business setting.
- Neuroscience for Coaches: How to Use the Latest Insights for the Benefit of Your Clients (Amy Brann) One of the few books on the list that’s actually targeted to professional coaches. Lots of fascinating neuroscience in here.
- mBraining: Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff (Grant Soosalu, Marvin Oka) If you’ve been to my BrainTalk session, you’ve heard me talk about the fact that we have three different brains. This is the science behind that.
- The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe (Stephen W. Porges) Not the first book I’d recommend as it goes deeper than you might want for an introduction. Polyvagal theory is the explanation behind so many behaviours we see and talks about the two very different responses we have to unsafe conditions.
- Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain (Lisa Feldman Barrett) In this excellent book, Prof Barrett explains how our brains have evolved and what implications that has for everyday life. She also debunks some widely held, but incorrect, understandings of the brain.
- Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions (Stephen Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde, Sandra Blakeslee) I’m adding this one just for fun. A delightful read about a pair of neuroscientists who decide to study magic professionally to discover why illusion works as effectively as it does. Warning: This book does spoil the surprise behind several magic tricks so don’t read it unless you really want to know.
If you’re interested in understanding body language then I’ll send you directly to Joe Navarro’s work. Navarro is a former FBI profiler who has devoted his career to studying body language and who is now sharing that with the rest of us.
- What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People (Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins) The introduction to the topic.
- Louder Than Words: Take Your Career from Average to Exceptional with the Hidden Power of Nonverbal Intelligence (Joe Navarro, Toni Sciarra Poynter) Applying it in a business context.
- The Dictionary of Body Language (Joe Navarro) The reference material.
This may seem like an odd category to have here but handwriting is just another way to understand and change unconscious behaviour. We can observe and change behaviour through handwriting, just as we would through hypnosis or body language.
- Sex, Lies, and Handwriting: A Top Expert Reveals the Secrets Hidden in Your Handwriting (Michelle Dresbold, James Kwalwasser) I found this one to be the most approachable introduction to the topic, filled with amusing storytelling and anecdotes.
- Between the Lines: Understanding Yourself and Others Through Handwriting Analysis (Reed Hayes) This is what my graphology instructor recommends for people serious about learning the topic.
These are probably the most immediately applicable books for agile coaches. Each of these authors has spoken at agile events and the topics are easily translatable to what we do.
- Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say–and What You Don’t (L. David Marquet) An introduction to the power of language, specifically in the context of leadership.
- Clean Language:Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds (Wendy Sullivan, Judy rees) Clean language is a hypnotic language pattern (although it’s rarely introduced that way) that can be used effectively in a coaching context.
- From Contempt to Curiosity: Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate Using Clean Language & Systemic Modelling™ (Caitlin Walker) Taking clean language and using it in a group context. Caitlin has a TED talk on this subject if you want to get a taste of what she does before buying a book.
General note: Hypnosis is highly experiential and it’s unclear to me how much value you’ll get from these if you’ve never done hypnosis in a structured setting before. I’d already taken many weeks of formal hypnosis training before reading any of these.
- Hypnosis Without Trance: How Hypnosis Really Works (James Tripp). This isn’t the overt style of hypnosis that you may have seen in a stage show or in a movie. This is the part of hypnosis that is more directly useful for coaches. The first half is an understanding of what hypnosis is and then in the second half he dives into many of the subtleties.
- The Hypnotic Coach: A Conversational Hypnotherapy Tool Kit (Jess Marion). Coaching at a deeply unconscious level using conversational hypnosis and NLP techniques. I’ve been a fan of her writing for a long time and this book is her best, by far. It’s also the most immediately relevant for coaches, who want to make unconscious change without getting into formal trance work.