The Importance of Structure

An enormous amount of work in business book publishing goes into developing the title for a book and this is understandable. The title in a few of words needs to successfully convey the contents of the book and act as branding message for every interaction someone has with the book. Good To Great, Never Eat Alone, and The No Asshole Rule are great examples of how a few words can deliver the precise direction and promise of a book.

Steven Johnson talks about in a recent blog post the importance of another element: structure. Authors send very specific messages when they choose chapter topics. The framing determines what stories will be told and which one will be emphasized. It tells the reader how to rank the importance of the material through what is included and the order in which it is presented.

Johnson says developing the deep structure for his latest book Where Good Ideas Come From was particularly challenging.

All of which meant that in the end, the biggest challenge for this book was not finding interesting stories to tell (there was an endless supply of them) but rather figuring out how to structure the whole thing. The logical, but less interesting way would just be to create a bunch of chapters organized by discipline: great ideas in the arts, in science, in nature. For a while, I contemplated organizing by different scales, given the book's Long Zoom approach: a chapter on creativity inside the brain, on the screen, in your immediate work environment, in your city. But about halfway into the research, I started thinking about a structure where each chapter would be a distinct pattern that recurs in all these innovative environments, at all those different scales.

Most authors I know have this problem of too many things to say and not a clear way to communicate. Johnson likens structure to the chord progression of a song and how while not in the foreground provides context for how we perceive an author's work.

So, think back on the really great business books you have read. Is there some deep structure that the author successfully used to enhance the overall work?

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