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Year-end book recommendations that are not about compliance (but will make you better at compliance).

2 minute read ·

Year-end book recommendations that are not about compliance (but will make you better at compliance).

We're finally winding down 2020, and that means getting ready to spend time with our families over the holidays. And, you know, given the events of 2020, you might need a little break from Uncle Gary talking about the election and masks and just UGH.

Don't worry: we've got you covered with some book recommendations that aren't directly about compliance but will make you better at it nonetheless. This means you can enjoy reading them while also excusing yourself from holiday strife by saying, "Oh, actually I need to go read something for work ..."


1. Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman

I first read this about twenty years ago and still think about it today. It's an amazingly accessible introduction to media theory—specifically centered on the idea that the medium we use to communicate a message shapes (and even overrides) the actual message itself. And by "amazingly accessible," I mean it's a pretty fun read; it'll give you language to think critically about "edutainment" and avoid some of the more problematic trends in compliance training.


2. Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb

I’m not 100% sure how to categorize this book and do it justice, so let me just say that it is a collection of essays about risk and ethics and … like a lot more. You will either love it or hate it; it is written by the type of guy who regularly offends you but is still so charming that you’re like, “oh, that’s fine.” I read it this fall, and my wife walked in on me eating my lunch standing up in our kitchen because I didn’t want to put the book down long enough to go sit down.

Here’s a sample compliance application, from the chapter Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons: Assuming similar credentials, don’t hire a compliance professional who looks like a “compliance professional,” because someone who doesn’t look the part (and has still survived in the field) is more likely going to be competent than someone who looks like what you expect—otherwise, they would have been filtered out for not looking the part. 


3. How People Learn, National Research Council

I read this when I first started Broadcat, and it informed a lot of our early work. It’s a nice, readable overview of the research into how people actually learn things, and it’s available for free online. It’s the empirical counterpart to adult learning theory (see below) and knowing both sides of that coin helps quite a bit. That said, heads-up that I read studies a fair amount, so my definition of “readable” might be a little different. But it’s free, so at least give it a try.


4. The Adult Learner, Malcolm Knowles

Finally, the core text on adult learning theory. It’s kind of a slow read in parts, but it’s pretty obvious which parts you can skim, and reading this will do you a huge amount of good in understanding how to sort out actual “adult learning” from people just calling whatever they want “adult learning” because they made it for adults.

You’ll learn why “adult learning” is a kind of a misnomer (age is just a proxy for the real issue) and why pretty much all “compliance” training is designed as if it's for children. When you combine this with Amusing Ourselves to Death and How People Learn, you’ll be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff like a boss.

(I also quoted from it in one of our earlier blog posts.)


Bonus recommendation! Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger

Jaycee got in on the recommendations, too, and sings the praises of Contagious. Easy to read, it does a fantastic job of explaining the science behind how people can be triggered to think or behave a particular way. Your compliance messaging isn't the end unto itself—it needs to stick. This book unpacks why things "go viral," which is incredibly useful for strategizing how you can influence ethical behavior at your org.


Happy reading!