What we’re reading – Alliance book recommendations

As we shared book recommendations with each other after the Easter break, we realised that between us, we in The Alliance read a lot! Inspired by this, we decided to share with you brief reviews of some of the books that have made an impact on us, whether work-related or just for fun. This post is the first in a short series of two, so we hope it whets your appetite for future tips. And if you’ve read any books lately that have made an impression on you, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Ann Orton reviews Presence by Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy’s TED talk ‘Your body language shapes who you are is the second most viewed TED talk, after the first placed ‘Do schools kill creativity? from Sir Ken Robinson.  A while ago, along with several of my Alliance colleagues, I attended a How To Academy lunchtime talk in London where Professor Cuddy discussed her research as part of the UK launch tour for her book, Presence.  She’s as impressive in person as on the screen, with an inspiring personal story and an engaging proposition.  She talked in detail both about the research behind the theory and the many stories of those helped with their confidence and presence.

Cuddy defines presence as ‘the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential’The book explores various components of presence and how to achieve it, drawing on the research of Prof. Cuddy and others. It includes plenty of practical exercises (chapter headings include: Slouching, Steepling, and the Language of the Body; Surfing, Smiling, and Singing Ourselves to Happiness; and The Body Shapes the Mind (so Starfish Up!) along with lots of stories and examples.

There’s much to admire and reflect on about Prof. Cuddy’s central tenet: that our thinking and emotions are directly influenced by the openness and space taken by our bodily stance, and that we are able to increase our presence by paying attention to our body positions (the famous ‘star’ power pose of the TED talk is an example).  Cuddy’s proposition is backed by her own extensive research and that of others.  One startling research project considers the impact of technology on the openness of our bodies and links the hunched and head-down position often assumed with smart phones to a more passive and less ‘present’ approach.

I’ve introduced many of my coaching clients to Prof Cuddy’s ideas and in general they have found them helpful. But, as with many areas of research, her results have been challenged.  The University of Zurich, in a more expansive study than Prof. Cuddy’s, reports that researchers were unable to reproduce the findings that testosterone increased and cortisol decreased with power poses, as reported in the original research.

Others (for example Andrew Gelman) have challenged her findings and raised the issue of the time-reversal heuristic (what would happen if the timing of key studies were reversed).  As a scientist by training, I’ve a healthy scepticism about many scientific / psychology results (particularly in a publish-or-perish world), and this challenge intrigues me.  But the book is worth reading nonetheless!

Linda Woolston reviews: An eclectic mix… 

My recent reading has been varied but mainly in the ‘holiday read’ category. My loyalty to our publishing client, Pan Macmillan, meant that I read two of their novels (The Muse by Jesse Burton and The Olive Tree by Lucinda Riley). They are both rather large and took up quite a bit of my suitcase to and from Cape Town. But they were certainly good holiday reads. I also couldn’t resist reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I think when you find yourself shouting “Nooooo” at a book then it’s a sign that you are completely absorbed in the story and Harry worked his magic on me again!

While we were in Hermanus, a beautiful place nestled between the sea and mountains, we went in to the whimsical and wonderful Hemingways’ Book Shop.  I emerged with three books. The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sanchez, a quirky book with characters I became very fond of, and apparently a best seller in Spain. How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton – still to be read. And finally a 1971 edition of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

The Prophet is a book to be savoured and picked up again and again over time. As I thought about returning to London and re-connecting with my Alliance friends and colleagues, one quote in particular resonated with me, so much so, that I used it as a header for the agenda for our first Alliance meeting of the new “term”.

‘And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter.  And showing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed’

Khalil Gibran

If you liked this, you might also like some of our other book reviews:

Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, by Herminia Ibarra

Time to Think, by Nancy Kline

The 100 Year Life, by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, reviewed by Alliance Partner Liz Gooster on her own website