I was watching a segment from The Stephen Colbert Show, where Malcolm Gladwell visits to promote the launch of his podcast Revisionist History. Colbert asks him why he wanted to create a podcast and Gladwell replies:
This is what my friend Charles always says, ‘You think with your eyes and you feel with your ears.’
After a quick Colbert joke he continues:
If you write a book, you can communicate very complicated ideas and people will grasp them, but you can’t move people emotionally…it is very hard.
The whole segment is great, but it kicked off me thinking a bunch of things.
How true is that? Memoir is a pretty effective at generating emotion and connection in readers.
This American Life, The Moth, RadioLab, WTF and Revisionist History all generate emotion with their amazing auditory storytelling.
Aren’t photographs good at conveying emotion visually?
Does this push even further towards the power of having the author narrate their audiobooks?
Should books and audiobooks have the same content?
I am convinced that good books draw us in using both thinking and feeling, but now I am thinking about what makes one form working better than another for certain kind of material.
In the final weeks of being seventeen, I moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to start college as a mechanical engineering undergrad.
In the final weeks of being twenty-seven, I was working on the last details of my wedding in Columbus, Ohio.
By thirty-seven, we were living outside Milwaukee, had three kids and I was turning in the manuscript for The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.
Today, I turned forty-seven. This last decade has been defined by our move to Portland, Oregon. Amy went back to school, graduated and started her energy medicine practice. Our kids grew up here. I started a publishing practice. I started a zen practice.
Been wondering today what I’ll be writing when I turn fifty-seven.
A few months ago, I noticed the songs I listen to give a view into how I am seeing the world. For a long time, I loved a good song about self-doubt. Lately the mix has been around positivity and growth. It’s interesting seeing myself drawn unconsciously to music ahead of the work I need to do in my life.
That insight about my listening habits lead me to look around at other parts of my life and what clues might be hiding in plain sight.
With my reading lately, I didn’t notice how much I was reading female authors. There was no plan for this curation, but it is again interesting to see.
Among recent reads are:
Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin – A recent NYT article pointed me to the book and its update this year. The book does a fine job of talking about managing your money and managing the emotions that arise. Both matter.
Powerful by Patty McCord – As the former Head of People at Netflix, Patty had a front row seat for the growth and amazing change at the entertainment giant. I believe this is the first book from an executive at Netflix and you get a view into the company.
Advice for Future Corpses by Sallie Tisdale – You may not want to read a book about death, but you should. Sallie is a great writer.
Business of Being A Writer by Jane Friedman – So much has changed about being a writer and how to pursue it as a profession. Jane’s book is dense with wonderful advice.
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski – This is the best book I have ever read about sex. It’s not scintillating or racy. It covers the biology, the physiology, and the psychology in a positive, clear way.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat – A wonderfully different approach to cooking and the book is beautiful.
Pencil Me In by Christina Wodtke – I have never met a sketch note / visual thinking book I didn’t like. This book is a wonderful compilation of original and complied material from other experts.
Have you noticed anything in what you have been reading lately?
Visuals play an important part of the presentation of books.
One of the interesting problems is how you handle an author with multiple books.
There are advantages to readers being able to recognize titles from a given authority, but that can also introduce a symmetry which makes the books seems like copies of one another.
I noticed recently that Tor chose to rebrand all the books by Cory Doctorow. I honestly can’t decide if I like the decision or not. I remember the books by their original covers and I like these too.
Here is the catalog of books from Pat Lencioni.
The covers are smaller here but you can see how across the room you can identify his books.
My designer Joy pointed me to Marilynne Robinson’s books and how they have pulled them together. The balance of difference and sameness feels best to me in this series. The typography creates consistency but its placement and the images makes them feel like different books.
So, this is just three examples. Cover consistency is an interesting question because there is no magic answer, but it is interesting to see how different publishers approach it.
Early in her career, she was a copywriter and then worked in PR for the San Francisco Zoo. As a freelance writer, Mary found the stories about science were always interesting. For the books she writes, she looks for a combination of science, history and humor. She also says she had no idea she’d have a career writing about science.
What can we learn?
The titles are crystal clear and memorable.
Each topic of each book is universally human and a little surprising.
The utility the reader gets is entertainment for the curious mind.
The books she writes are uniquely her. Do same in your books.
I have this long-term desire to find good fiction that takes place in a business setting. When you find the workplace in a story, the boss is mean or the characters are depressed or someone has cheated another out of something they deserve. Business and greed are a good pairing, but I would like to see stories with less suffering.
I just got done reading Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw. I got this book after seeing a review describing it as a good portrait of modern life in China. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga did a good job of that for modern-day India.
One of the main characters uses personal development books to learn the rules of the go-go world of 21st century China. The chapter titles read like self-help tomes: “Move To Where The Money Is”, “Choose The Right Moment To Launch Yourself”, “How To Achieve Greatness.” I’ll admit this pulled me in. Aw’s observations describing Shanghai and rural Malaysia also drew me into the book.
The narrative is an intertwining story of five loosely connected characters who all want more, are at different stages of getting it, and the circumstances that intervenes. Those circumstances are slow to develop across more than 400 pages and the book loses momentum early in the book. I stayed with it though, because I wanted to see how it turned out.
For me, Five Star Billionaire is sad book about the tragedy of growth, greed and everything we’ll do to get what we want. Others will disagree and see instead the power of motivation to change your circumstances. Both exist in this book.
A common problem in the manuscripts I look at is the author moving too fast through the opening section. Like screenplays for movies, business books should have three distinct acts.
Authors too often want to go running through the opening of the book. They assume the reader is with them based on the fact they opened the cover. Authors forget that no one will be there is explain why this book is important. The reader only has what is written on the page.
I like how Michael Arndt, the screenwriter behind Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, describes what the beginning of a film needs to do. He says writers should:
Show the main character
Show them in their environment
Show them doing what they love
Then show them their biggest flaw based on their love
If we translate Arndt’s ideas to business books, the author needs to throughly describe the world the reader lives in. What sort of problems are they working with? What is the reader afraid of? What do they want more than anything? And finally, what does the author believe is keeping the reader from their goal?
Readers are coming to your book already with the sense that they have a problem and are not sure how to solve it.
Make sure you are clear about the problem and they will trust you to lead them to a solution.
Today is Independence Day in the United States. Flags and fireworks fill stores ahead of the holiday.
For Valentine’s Day, we buy cards and roses.
For Halloween, we purchase costumes and candy.
My family baked me a chocolate cake for Father’s Day (the perfect gift this year).
All of those holidays were triggers for something else.
Jonah Berger talks about the power of triggers in his book Contagious. He says triggers work best when they are frequent and there is a strong link between trigger and the desired action.
The folks at Kit Kat found that people eat the candy bar during a break and with a hot beverage. They built an ad campaign called “a break’s best friend” that connected coffee and Kit Kats. The campaign was a hit and took the brand from $300 million to $500 million a year in sales.
Book publishing uses triggers too. In January, you will see publishers release titles that fit a “New Year, New You” themes like diet and personal empowerment. “Summer Reads” start to appear in May as readers make book picks for mid year vacations to the beach. And in September and October, the “big” books are released as everyone heads into the holiday gift giving season.
More and more, I am convinced that books need time stamps.
You can’t look at a book to see you it fits into your life. And that matters more as we measure our lives in smaller and smaller slices of time.
I found this image on Alexis Ohanian’s book Without Their Permission:
I liked that the image marks how much time it would take to read and when it might fit into the reader’s life. Youtube videos, Audible audiobook tracks, and Netflix movies each tell us total time for that piece of content.
With digital content, we also know how far we are with the elapsed time marker. As we approach a point in time when we need to move to something else, we can easily decide if we should pause or continue.
Books are bad at both of these concepts because books vary so much. It is easy for publishers to shrink or expand the number of words on a page through line spacing or font size. The size of the page can vary too with big implications across hundreds of pages. The language the author uses can affect the speed of reading. Let’s not even talk about how pictures and photos have no real standardization. The bottom line is the physical appearance of a book is not a good way to judge how long it will take to read.
Medium estimates the time it will take to read their articles. This function also available as a plug-in for blogs and others forms of online publishing. Maybe our devices should tell us how much time is left in a chapter based on the data it has collected, based on our reading rate and the reading rate of others for our current book, other books in the genre and all books collectively. This would be a welcome replacement to our old method of paging ahead to find the chapter’s end.
I have been wondering if we should display the time length of the audiobook alongside the page count of print books or maybe even next to the price of the title. This information is more easily gotten as audiobooks are becoming more common. This could be another useful marker for a reader to determine if they want to buy that particular book.
Smart book publishers might even help readers get over the attention anxiety by providing time estimates for each chapter:
“You can read this book in ten easy installments of 17 minutes each!”
Books definitely fit into our lives. Let’s just do a better job of showing customers how.
We all have notions in our heads for how much things cost.
Sometimes, they are right and sometimes, they can be very wrong.
I am a big fan of comic books, so I have a good sense that single issues cost around four dollars and the complied paperbacks are roughly seventeen dollars.
Would you pay $140 for a comic book?
On first thought, you probably wouldn’t.
Or you might if it was issue #1 collector’s edition signed by the artists.
I Am Built created a comic book to illustrate the 12 week training program that Josh Brolin used to prepare for his role as Cable in Deadpool 2. The comic book called CableBuilt covers staged workout routines and diet regiments for the program.
The description doesn’t say how long the book is or show any samples what it looks like inside.
So, would you pay $140 for that comic book?
With the right felt need, you might.
If you live at the intersection of gym rat and cosplay, you might.
P.S. Did I mention it is electronic? So it’s a $140 ebook.
My Notes posts are the key ideas I jot down about books after I read them. They capture what caught my attention and I want to remember. I post them here to share them with you.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Notes from Sept 19, 2016
Consistent theme in success:
“In sum, no matter what domain, the highly successful has a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways,. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction.” p8
Specific domains need other things –
Green Berets->physical fitness
BUT grit still mattered for all of them
Talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = achievement or talent x effort x effort = achievement
In the book Gamestorming, Dave Gray and his fellow authors make the argument that if you know Point A and you know Point B, it is very easy to plot the steps necessary to get between the two points. And they ask the more important question – what happened when you don’t know what Point B is? They argue you need a completely different set of tools to make that journey into uncertainty.
Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero or “Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future.” We rarely hear the 2nd half of that.
Daniel Cates is 21 years old and in 2010 he earned $5.5 million playing poker online, a million dollars more than his nearest competitor. Journalist Jay Caspian Kang, in his profile of Cates for New York Times Magazine says ” If an 18-year-old online whiz can play 12 hands at once, then by his 19th birthday, he is no less experienced than a career gambler who has sat for a dozen years at the big-money table at the Bellagio.”
TED conference curator Chris Anderson believes online video is accelerating innovation. He points to Jon M. Chu and his dance troupe Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. “Because of the web, specifically online video, dance [is] evolving in Internet time. A series of challenge videos by rival groups of street dancers had created an upward spiral of invention as they strove to outdo one another. The best videos were attracting tens of thousands of views. Much more than pride was at stake. Chu knew something weird was happening when he saw a YouTube video of Anjelo Baligad, a 6-year-old boy from Hawaii who had all of the moves of a professional.”
The Lean Startup movement, started by Steven Blank and now being taking to a whole new level by Eric Ries, combines the philosophies of agile programming with the methodologies of the Toyota Production System. In relationship to failure, Ries argues that projects that that require extensive specifications, months long development, and follow-on quality checking acquire ever increasing amounts of risk the longer the time between the idea and its release. “Minimum viable product” is the lean startup term for putting out only what is necessary to gather customer feedback. This eliminates the risk early in the process and with frequent iteration the product is never far from the (paying) customer and his wants.
FailCon(yes, this is a real conference)
Cursor founder Richard Nash asked me the other day what the implication of 3-D printing is for publishing. The direct corollary is print on demand. To this point, publishing has looked at POD technology, whether Espresso machines or Ingram’s buildings full of HP printers, as a mechanism to mitigate inventory risk. That is certainly important, but what if these “batches of one” technologies could be used to make publishing more innovative?
In The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, Dan Pinkuses Diana the chopstick evoked genie to deliver Lesson One : There is No Plan. He distingishes between Intrumental Reasons and Fundmanetal Reasons for career choices. Instrumental reasons are one that imply that it will lead to something else. Fundamental reasons are “inherently valuable, regardless of what it may or may not lead to.”“[Sucessful people] take a job or join a company because it will let them do interesting work in a cool place–even if they don’t know exactly where it will lead.
Another term from the lean startup methodology is pivoting, the practice of changing a component of your business model to improve your chances of overall success. In the startup phase as a company searches for a business model, a company may pivot several times.While this might be viewed as failure, the opposite viewpoint would be that this extends the life of a young company as it adapts to better suit the needs of customers. Twitter was a side project after the primary product – a tool for podcasting called Odeo – was made obsolete when Apple added podcasts to iTunes.
US Air Force Colonel John Boyd referred to the iterative process as the OODA Loop – Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Boyd believe the person who could complete the loop faster and more often would win the battle. Boyd never wrote a book, but many including Tom Peters have seeked to apply his theories to the business setting.
The New York Times Magazine on their September 14, 2011 in their education issue asked “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” According to research- zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity are the keys to success.
Authors are starting to test titles and subtitles using Google Adwords. They create ads with their titling and then test various iterations against keywords that match with the contents of the book. Measuring the click through rates shows which titles produce better response. This ability to acquire feedback instantaneously and in large quantity is changing the way we develop products.
Etsy is creating a marketplace for small batch arts. Kickstarter is funding small projects with patrons acting as investors; projects that couldn’t be created through commercial sources. Startup incubators like Y Combinator and Techstars are combining small sum angel investing, compressed development cycles, and high touch mentoring to produce a whole new set of startups. Grameen Bank has created microloans for people in developing countries to pursuit their dreams. These are all incredible examples of how the scale necessary to launch new products has dropped by two to four orders of magnitudes.
“It’s better to fail spectacularly than to succeed tenatively.” –Roshi Jiyu-Kennett
Derek Sivers, in his new book Anything You Want, says he misunderstood persistence: “Success come from consistently improving and inventing, not persistently doing what is not working.”
Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainity, Create The Future by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer & Paul B. Brown. The book was originally published as Action Trumps Everything: Creating What You Want in an Uncertain World advocating a simple three step process:
Step 1. Make sure what you are about to do is something you really care about. It’s silly to launch into the unknown if you don’t.
Step 2. Don’t over-think. Don’t imagine what might happen. Get started with what you’ve got in hand and take a small, start step toward your goal and find out.
Step 3. Evaluate what you learn, and if you like the results take another step. In other words: Act. Learn. Repeat.
Paul Graham says “Being relentlessly resourceful is definitely not the recipe for success in big companies, or in most schools. I don’t even want to think what the recipe is in big companies, but it is certainly longer and messier, involving some combination of resourcefulness, obedience, and building alliances.”
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (Crown, Sept 2011)– In my opinion, this is the most important book of the Fall 2011 season.The idea of iteration is one of several points in the book. I believe this book is the roadmap for how entrepreneurship will practiced.
Little Bets by Peter Sims (Free Press, April 2011) – Sims writes a whole book on the idea of making lots of little bets, rather than focusing on a few big ones. He uses stories from Pixar and Frank Gehry as well as research from Carol Dweck and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is a good book that pulls together a bunch of ideas around how it is less risky to more chances.
Obliquity by John Kay (Penguin, April 2011) – The subtitle is “Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly.” This book makes the clear case that our lives our full of “pivots.” The book description makes the case very well: “The best way to achieve any complex or broadly defined goal-from happiness to wealth to profit to preventing forest fires-is the indirect way. As Kay points out, we rarely know enough about the intricacies of important problems to tackle them head-on. And our unpredictable interactions with other people and the world at large mean that the path to our goals-and sometimes the goals themselves-will inevitably change. We can learn about our objectives and how to achieve them only through a gradual process of risk taking and discovery-what Kay calls obliquity.” This is fun, big idea book.
Do More Faster by Brad Feld and David Cohen (Wiley , Oct 2010) – This is written by two of the founders of startup incubator TechStars. It might be better described as an anthology of writings of startup CEOs, mentors, and other associated with TechStars. This format normally worries me, but in this case the book really works.
Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo (O’Reilly, July 2010) – This book is 70+ tools that can be used in group setting for generating and evaluating new ideas. I have not seen a collection of tools like this all in one spot. For the iteration trend, this is a very tactical book for people who are doing the work.
Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky: How the Top 1% of Entrepreneurs Profit from Global Chaos by Sarah Lucy – Lucy is a journalist who has written about technology for BusinessWeek and now the website TechCrunch. In this book, she examines what is going around the world in countries like Israel, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Rwanda and why startups are thriving in these developing regions.
Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (Wiley, July 2010) – This book is being held up by the leaders of the Lean Startup movement as a critical book for formulating business models. This project started as a self-published experiment that has gone on to be commercial published with great success.
SuperCrunchers by Ian Ayres (Random House, 2007) – The argument here was using vast sets of data to make decisions is vastly superior to experts. If you have the datasets, regression is the tool of choice as Netflix does when they make recommendations. If you need to generate datasets, randomization or A/B testing fills in the blanks. The book contains straight forward explanations and examples of both methods.
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers (Domino Project, June 2011) – Sivers shares 40 lessons he learned through the creation, growth, and sale of CDBaby, a retailer that specializes in selling music for independent musicians.
Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford
Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas by Grant McCracken (my review here)