Recommended Resources: Understanding Humans

3D and UX Design for Games, VR and Animation

Recommended Resources: Understanding Humans

December 15, 2011 Uncategorized 1

In November 2011 I spoke at Game Connect Asia Pacific about what our most successful studios have in common: a culture of open and honest communication where critical issues get talked about and new ideas are constantly being generated. I dug into the science behind why communication breaks down at crucial moments and shared a series of tools to help make it easier for people to talk openly and honestly. Since then I’ve adapted and expanded the original presentation in a series of articles for the “Crafting a Studio Culture of Easy Creativity” series which starts with the question Why Do Some Companies Succeed Where Others Fail?.

I recommend the following books for anyone with an interest in human psychology and the way the brain works!

Besides influencing much of the material in the Working with Humans category, these books have been invaluable to me at many stages in my professional and indie career when:

  • Learning how to manage teams and deal with difficult employees;
  • Becoming more effective at winning business with the clients I want to work with;
  • Influencing user experience design in both game and tool development;
  • Designing better learning experiences and training programs;

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
As many times as I’ve read this book I could never remember all the steps when I needed them! What stuck with me though, in even the most crucial moments, was the need to “create safety” before sitting down to have a difficult conversation and to remind myself that I don’t have all the facts until I’ve heard theirs! My emotions may be telling me that a team member is lazy or doesn’t care about the project when he comes in late every day – but I don’t know what I don’t know; there could be troubling family issues at home, or maybe he negotiated different hours in his contract? It’s important to always ask yourself “Why would an otherwise normal and rational human being be acting this way?” before reacting to the stories your emotions have conjured up!
The greatest “ah HAH!” moment I had from reading this book was from one of the author’s case studies on how powerfully convincing the human imagination can be: A group of witnesses gave their report on the same accident immediately after the event – with the usual amount of discrepancies in the details. Weeks later they were questioned again about the same event and recalled dramatically different details from the account they gave before! What was amazing though was not the difference between how they recalled the event, but how convinced they were of the truth of their recollection. In fact, the further from reality their story got the more convinced they became! This is why separating stories from facts is such a critical step in crucial conversation – for you and everyone involved in the discussion. Until all facts are on the table everyone runs the risk of making decisions based on those terribly convincing stories.

How We Decide

by Jonah Lehrer
A very recent addition to the collection, I tracked this one down when preparing material for the science behind why we react the way we do. Jonah provides more stories like the example given above on the power of imagination as well as illustrating the importance of EVERY aspect of the human brain in decision making. How the prefrontal cortex determines which part of the brain is going to react to any given situation; why the neocortex, as the more logical and rational side of the brain, can influence disastrous decision making and what makes the limbic “Lizard” brain decide when an action should become instinctual. As much as Plato would have had us rule with our heads and not our hearts, we need the coordinated judgement of both to be effective decision makers!


Okay, the brain is just plan COOL! For the longest time we believed it functioned like a computer – individual parts filling very specific functions. What we’re realising now is that the brain is far more changeable, more “plastic”, and can redesign itself! In one story a man developed the ability to “see” through his skin as his brain learned to translate the electric signals along his arm (data fed from a webcam) into a spatial understanding of the room around him. He could recognise people as they came into the room and tell you how near or far an object was, all without the use of his eyes – how amazingly cool is that?!? This is the physical science behind Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule” and the concept of “muscle memory” – the more you do something the more opportunities you give your brain to develop “hardwiring” around that activity. This is how the limbic brain decides when an action should become an instinctual response, something you can do without thinking about it.



I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have! They’re well used and spend more time on my desk than in the bookshelf.

Have you read any good books on psychology or the way the brain works? How have they influenced your approach to business and game design?

One Response

  1. Alan White says:

    “Have you read any good books on psychology or the way the brain works? How have they influenced your approach to business and game design?”

    Your writings actually. I decided to read your blog “cover to cover”, or in a proper sense, last page to most recent. Why? mostly because I havnt had a chance to buy another book and thought maybe reading one of your articles each class might compensate.

    What I feel like I’m learning more and more from you is “create safety”. I’m quite a friendly person, but even so I have my moments with interactions among individuals and groups.

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