My default mode for personal development books is skepticism, because it's not really hard to invent a philosphy, tell a few stories, and string together sentences logically enough that your ideas seem plausible. The problem for the reader is distinguishing the really genius approaches and advice from the steaming piles of personal theories. Dang, if only someone would write something with actual research to back it up!
Enter David Rock and hundreds of studies about parts of the brain and how they work together (or don't).
Every chapter has one big idea (for instance, that status is very important to the brain). The chapter opens with a real-world scenario in which someone doesn't understand the big idea, explains the idea in detail, and then concludes with a replay of the scenario but with the idea in use. It makes it very easy to understand the concepts--Rock himself mentions that the brain loves stories, and these are used to great effect in the book.
Some of the most important ideas aren't very shocking. For instance, if you notice yourself getting emotional about something, Rock says you should mentally label the emotion and, if that doesn't help you calm down, try to reappraise the situation by finding a positive way to think about it. I think that most people already know to do this, or at least have done it once or twice. The difference is that Rock knows why to do this, and he explains it well.
There are, however, some real surprises. It turns out that just being worked up really reduces your ability to think clearly, and it happens whether you're worked up about something negative (such as an unpleasant meeting) or something positive (such as being dealt a pair of aces). I always thought that when I was feeling excited in a positive way that my thinking was clear as a bell. Nope.
And there's some good advice, too. Another surprising insight is that you don't get all that much hard thinking time in a day, because it requires a lot of resources to think hard. So Rock suggests starting the day by prioritizing your tasks, since that is often a hard job and you want to do it with a fresh brain. Not rocket science, but immensely helpful.
This book earns a 5-star rating from me--not because it's absolutely perfect but because I can't remember the last time I read a business book that was so well supported by science and that contained so many actionable insights.