Resources

Have fun exploring our resources page – useful tips, books that have inspired us, links to interesting places on the web, and our newsletter archive

Newsletter Archive

The Ponder newsletter is where we share links, resources, ideas, insights, tips, tools, examples, stories and recommended reading about ways to grapple with complex problems. Issued monthly (or thereabouts).

A printable version of

20 Questions for complex problem solving & strategy development

is available here: Ponder flyer v17

Books and links

Here are a selection of some of the books, papers and places on the web that informed, inspired or interested us…

Complexity

  • Chaos, James Gleick, 1987  I’ve had my copy since 1993 but it’s still a fascinating read.
  • Complexity Explorer  An initiative from the Santa Fe Institute.  A great (and free) way to get acquainted with the mathematical side of complexity.  To do the free courses properly requires quite a time investment (~ 6 hours per week for ~10 weeks)
  • Complexity, Melanie Mitchell  This book is written by the founder of Complexity Explorer.  A mathematical and scientific perspective of complexity, but those of you who like science, maths, or history, an interesting read for more reasons than understanding what we know about complexity so far.  Important for realising how complexity manifests itself at different scales, from cellular biology to societies.

Strategy

Public Strategy

  • The Art of Public Strategy, Geoff Mulgan  This book gives a useful overview of many important concepts for contemporary public strategy.
  • System Failure:  Why governments must learn to think differently, Jake Chapman, DEMOS, UK  A paper recommended to me in 2009 and was the first to open my eyes to systems thinking in sectors other than engineering

Systems Thinking

  • Thinking in Systems – A Primer, Donella Meadows, edited by Diana Wright.  A wonderful introduction to systems thinking by one of the great systems thinkers.
  • The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge  Chapter 5 in particular is also a great introduction to what systems thinking means and why it is important
  • System Failure:  Why governments must learn to think differently, Jake Chapman, DEMOS, UK  A paper recommended to me in 2009 and was the first to open my eyes to systems thinking in sectors other than engineering
  • Freakonomics, Steven D Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner  Many of the phenomenon these famous economists explore illustrate system dynamics concepts – feedback, time delays, incentives and goals.
  • The Why Axis, Uri Gneezy and John List  Another ‘economics’ popular read, that also illustrates some important systems thinking concepts.  Their main point – the importance of understanding ‘why’ (the reason behind things), is what makes knowledge durable and transferrable, is fundamental.
  • For systems dynamics fans (let me know who you are!), visit Tom Fiddaman’s blog
  • For many other great systems dynamics resources, visit the System Dynamics Society

Design Thinking

Evidence-based policy

  • Evidence-based policy: What is it? How do we get it?  Gary Banks, 2008.  An easy-to-read and useful overview on the topic
  • Evidence-based Policy – A Practical Guide to Doing it Better, Nancy Cartwright and Jeremy Hardie  This book labours the main point (that what works in one context doesn’t necessarily work in another), but it remains one of the most important books for policy-makers to read in Ponder’s opinion.  It describes very well the very important point of necessary conditions for policies to work (they refer to the concept as ‘supporting factors’)

Behavioural Insights

  • Thinking: Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman  A wonderful account of what we think we know about how we think
  • Behavioural Insights team, UK
  • How not to be ignorant about the world,  Hans and Ola Rosling  This TED Talk, June 2014, Berlin. An amusing talk that illustrates the limitations of our intuition
  • Blink, Malcolm Gladwell  The counterpoint to the limitations of intuition

Data and Statistics

Data can be used to reveal powerful new insights, but we also know how easy it is to misinterpret it.  Here are some useful references on doing the former and avoiding the latter.

  • How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff  In print since 1954, this is an easy read about how data can be used to reveal insights (correct or incorrect!)
  • The Tiger that Isn’t:  Seeing through a world of numbers, Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot  A similar book pointing out the susceptibility of data to ministerpretation
  • Any talk by Hans Rosling (mostly on TED, but also on his Gapminder site), but start with this one:  The best stats you’ve ever seen for an insight into how data can be used to reveal new insights and stories.
  •  ABS understanding statistics page  A range of resources from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Creativity, Agility

Compelling Communication

  • The Pyramid Principle, Barbara Minto.  A well-respected book on incorporating logic into thinking and communication.
  • Made to Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  Recommended to me in 2009 but I didn’t get around to reading it until 2014.  I wish I’d read it in 2009!  It will change the way you think about how you communicate in all media.

Other good stuff we’ve come across….

  • Farnam Street Blog  a philosophical blog that is interested in a lot of the same things that Ponder is
  • Read this Thing.  If you don’t have hours a day spare to trawl the internet for interesting stuff, subscribe to Read This Thing, for a daily link to ‘a fascinating piece of journalism’.
  • Espresso, by The Economist.  A brief, daily distillation of current affairs via app.
  • Vox  a US-focused, but nonetheless interesting, take on news and current affairs.  We like it because of its focus on explanation (see their explainer articles and  cardstacks)
  • The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley, a compelling exploration of different education systems that argues that higher-level thinking is the most important skill for the future

Know of another great book or link that you think should be on this list?  Please visit the Contact page to let us know about it.