Today on Twitter I was asked for a reading list on cognitive productivity:
That's a great point!
What are your favorite cognitive productivity books?
— Cortex Futura (@cortexfutura) February 5, 2023
Here’s a quick answer in four parts.
First, I’ve written two books on “cognitive productivity”:
- Cognitive Productivity: Using Knowledge to Become Profoundly Effective
- Cognitive Productivity with macOS: 7 Principles for Getting Smarter with Knowledge
Second, “cognitive productivity” is an expression and concept meant to get the reader into the general ballpark of my main interest, which is the subtitle of these two books:
the skills, dispositions and manifold underlying information-processing mechanisms [mindware] that enable and drive people to improve themselves.
I call that “meta-effectiveness”. But if I opened with the term “meta-effectiveness”, I’d lose my audience.
They are, of course, the first books I would recommend reading on the subject.
Third, at Simon Fraser University I published Meta-effectiveness, Effectance, Mindware and Other Key Concepts for Understanding the Development of Adult Competence. That brief document includes some references.
Fourth, when time permits, I would like to update that document with additional references. For now, just a couple of pointers:
A few months before the first “edition” of my first Cognitive Productivity book was published, another Canadian 🇨🇦, Clive Thompson, published Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. I only read that book after publishing mine. I like his book, and his later book, Coders. Both Clive’s first book and mine are (partly) responses to The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. Clive and I both struck a middle ground between naive pessimism (Carr’s book) and naive optimism. (Read between the lines of the introduction to my first CP book for a prominent example of the latter). Clive’s book was more expository and journalistic. The first two parts of mine were expository; the third part of my first book, and most of my second book were practical.
Our books were published before Daniel J. Levitin’s The organized mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload. Although we are both cognitive scientists, my approach to the problem was very different. I did a very deep dive into the problems and opportunities we face. I looked at the relevant science in an integrative design-oriented fashion. And my book contained many more practical recommendations for people who want to develop competence.
A book I would highly recommend is Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are by Kevin J. Mitchell. In my opinion, when someone applies to be a professor at a university, they should be quizzed about this information. Bad things happen to students and society when professors are ignorant of fundamental psychology. My first CP book does cover some of these issues, but not in as much depth. For example, I criticized Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, and I presented research by David Z. Hambrick, such as Deliberate practice: Is that all it takes to become an expert?
Obviously there are many other relevant books, and I haven’t read them all!