The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking

Olivia Fox Cabane and Judah Pollack

Portfolio, 288 pp., $27

Do you know why Thomas Edison habitually napped with a cluster of marbles in his hand, expecting the sound of their fall to stir him after only a few minutes? His great mind, like many before and after it, was trying to capture breakthrough ideas, the thoughts that drive innovation.

Like butterflies, these ideas are beautiful and elusive, but Fox Cabane and Pollack show that you don't have to be a generational talent like Edison to ensnare them. All you need to do is train your brain to become a better net.

What can readers expect when they open The Net and the Butterfly? They'll find 10 chapters grouped into two sections: The Butterflies and The Blockers. The first six chapters define breakthrough thoughts, teach you to recognize what they aren't, and show how the human mind works to produce them. The next four chapters focus on helping you curb the forces that prevent breakthrough ideas. Each one is filled with a mix of historic and contemporary anecdotes, explanations of brain science, and activities designed to stimulate the mental patterns needed for breakthrough thinking. The activities add special value to the text.

Take "Waking Up: Accessing the Hypnopompic State," from chapter 2 as an example. The chapter, which discusses how switching between the neural networks in your brain enables the discovery of new ideas, says that one of the best times to capture creative thoughts is when you're "between rising out of sleep and coming into consciousness." In that moment, your mind is in a hypnopompic state, which is what Edison hoped to achieve when his marbles crashed onto the floor, rousing him from sleep. Accessing this state is simple if you follow the book's instructions: Take some steps to prepare yourself the night before, set an alarm that gradually brings you into consciousness in the morning, and record your thoughts as you rise.

The book abounds with other useful exercises as well. In fact, the authors make it easy for readers to sort through all of them with a dedicated section in the appendix. Here, readers also can find a list of information and resources to facilitate deeper dives into the research underpinning the volume's lessons.

Overall, The Net and the Butterfly is a great read for talent development professionals who want to instill greater creativity in their organizations. With its easy-to-read writing style and wealth of constructive activities, it will make teaching employees to unlock patterns of thinking that lead to "Eureka!" moments easy. And in this age of rapid, digital innovation, those moments matter more than ever.

 

Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work

Andrea S. Kramer and Alton B. Harris

Bibliomotion, 218 pp., $15.25

The stats are clear: Despite entering the workforce in similar numbers as men, women systematically exit it faster, get fewer promotions, and earn less. According to the authors, those are largely symptoms of stereotypes held (consciously or not) by "the people who control the check-points and gatehouses on women's and men's career paths," often men. Surmounting those challenges is difficult, but the set of communication techniques presented in Breaking Through Bias certainly will help. Broken into four sections, this book will help female and male readers alike understand gender stereotypes, how people interact with them, and how to communicate in a way that mitigates their effects.

 

Truth at Work: The Science of Delivering Tough Messages

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Mark Murphy

McGraw-Hill Education, 224 pp., $30.95

We all know the truth isn't easy—people have denied, resisted, and even punished some of the brightest minds in history for telling it—but Murphy believes we can learn from our mistakes. In Truth at Work, he introduces a conversational process that will help you keep people focused on the facts, one "that reduces the listener's psychological barriers to hearing, accepting, and acting upon hard truths." Comprised of eight steps, these truth talks, as Murphy calls them, are fact-based approaches to difficult conversations. Readers will learn why people resist truths, how to prevent conversations from becoming confrontations, and how to achieve consensus on facts by removing subjectivity.

 

Wait, What? And Life's Other Essential Questions

James E. Ryan

HarperOne, 144 pp., $13.18

In his book's introduction, Ryan says he has "always been fascinated, bordering on obsessed, with questions." That led him to become a lawyer, then a law professor, and now the dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Perhaps it's unsurprising then, that Ryan decided to make his first graduation speech as a dean about the power of questions, and it went viral. Wait, What? is an extended adaptation of Ryan's famous speech, and it discusses the five questions he believes everyone should ask every day. Short yet satisfying, this book is the perfect read for talent development professionals who want to improve their inquisitive superpowers in a hurry.

 

What's on Britt Andreatta's Bookshelf?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. This book was a gift from my productivity coach, Sara Caputo, and boy, did I need it. I don't have a problem getting things done, but I can get swept up in pursuing lots of great opportunities. This book is helping me stay focused on what really matters so I don't dilute my impact over too many options.

Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson. When I started studying neuroscience, I quickly discovered Richard Davidson's work on mindfulness. The data was so compelling that I (reluctantly) began a daily 10-minute practice, and it changed my life. This new book has more mind-blowing research on the value of meditation. Good stuff.

The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting by Shefali Tsabary. My husband and I are reading this together and it's just a wonderful guide to parenting. We have a spirited, yet sensitive 10-year-old daughter, and it's really helping us see how she mirrors or reflects stuff that is going on with us. It's deep and so right on.