"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something," said the great scientist Thomas Huxley.
And you can hardly argue with that.
Like most business owners, I'm constantly milling through articles, journals, books, videos and podcasts with the aim of improving our agency and our services.
But here's the funny thing: sometimes, the best way to learn about marketing is not to learn about marketing at all. Instead, focusing on related disciplines – such as psychology, history, economics, maths, strategy or even physics – can lead to the real lightbulb moments.
While all of these topics may be touched upon in your average marketing book, taking the opportunity to deep-dive into a separate topic can really give you (and your business) a special edge.
Here are four that have stuck with me along the way.
Misbehaving – Richard Thaler
Traditional economics assumes rational actors. Early in his research, Thaler realised these Spock-like automatons were nothing like real people. Whether buying a clock radio, selling basketball tickets, or applying for a mortgage, we all succumb to biases and make decisions that deviate from the standards of rationality assumed by economists. In other words, we misbehave.
You might be familiar with Richard Thaler thanks to his earlier book, Nudge, which brought behavioural economics into the mainstream – and precipitated the author's Nobel Prize win earlier in the year.
This work, though, is a semi-autobiographical account of how the discipline came to be – including his early collaborations with Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Taversky, his battles for credibility against the 'classical' economists who dogmatically dismissed his approach, and heaps of practical examples that bring his thinking to life.
Misbehaving is a book that not only brings you to the very heart of human behaviour, but also lays bare the dangers of taking (or assuming) an overly rational approach to decision-making; a book that reminds us that we're people, and not robots.
The Choice Factory – Richard Shotton
Before you can influence decisions, you need to understand what drives them. In The Choice Factory, Richard Shotton sets out to help you learn. By observing a typical day of decision-making, from trivial food choices to significant work-place moves, he investigates how our behaviour is shaped by psychological shortcuts.
Keep a notebook on hand if you're going to tuck into this one – because every few pages, you'll come across an insight or theory that will spark a bright new idea for your business.
The book is broken down into 25 concise sections, with each covering a single behavioural bias – from the ones you've heard of (Confirmation Bias, Social Proof) to ones you probably haven't (the Pratfall Effect, Veblen Goods).
Shotton blends theory, experience and original research to explain how and why consumers make decisions in the way that they do, always demonstrating how we can put this knowledge to practical use.
Scannable, practical, and readable from cover to cover in a single sitting, this one will send you into 2019 absolutely bursting with new ways of thinking.
Good Strategy / Bad Strategy – Richard Rumelt
Developing and implementing a strategy is the central task of a leader. Good Strategy/Bad Strategy clarifies the muddled thinking underlying too many strategies and provides a clear way to create and implement a powerful action-oriented strategy for the real world.
In a world where the word 'strategy' is used to mean 'a collection of tactics' or 'vague description of our overall approach', far more of us could do with reading this book.
By stripping the concept back to what it really is – a specific plan to harness and apply power where it will have the greatest effect – Rumelt lays out how we can tune out the noise, avoid overtly tactical thinking, and develop a strategy that allows us to really capitalise on the opportunities that lie before us.
I read this two years ago, before we'd even started Far From Avocados. But while fads will come and go, the principles of strategy are eternal; and this is the one I'm going to re-read over the holiday (then again in another year!).
It may not be a marketing book – but it's certainly one that marketers need to read.
Sales Mind: 48 Tools To Help You Sell – Helen Kensett
We're all selling something every day, whether at work or closer to home. But with advanced technology and mass competition, it's never been harder to capture people's attention. That's why we need to develop our sales mind: mastering our innate selling skills will help us cut through the noise in any situation.
(Finally, a book not written by someone called Richard!)
Much like The Choice Factory, this book is broken down into a series of individual tools, theories or frameworks – making it super-scannable and easy to digest – while its basis in psychology will mean that you'll enjoy plenty of takeaways as a marketer, despite its focus on sales.
And hey – if you believe in the value of sales and marketing alignment, then it can't hurt to get an insight into how the other half lives!