Tag Archives: books

A tale of two business books

Two business books I’m reading: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin.

It’s a bit unfair to compare the two, because Purple Cow was published in 2002 and Godin has gone on to create other new ideas since then. But I am still struck by how little value I’m getting from Purple Cow compared to how much I’m getting from Made to Stick.

Purple Cow is full of case studies and examples, and questions from Godin. The goal seems to be to get a business person to ask why he is doing things the old way, and to try to shake up his company to create new value. And the overall sense is that the person reading the book hasn’t quite bought into the idea that being remarkable is the path to success, doesn’t quite get it.

All well and good.

Made to Stick is full of case studies too, but the authors have taken the examples and created frameworks and guides to help a business person apply the lessons of the case studies. The overall sense is that the reader understands that sticky = good (at least, after the first chapter’s persuasive argument), so the bulk of the book is devoted to figuring out how to make ideas sticky.

I read Seth Godin’s blog, but sometimes I kind of hate it. I feel scolded by it, although I think I do "get it." I keep reading because I think he offers good ideas on creating value through community — and because I worry that I’ll miss something of value.

I’m pleased though to add the Made to Stick blog to my feedreader. Seems both friendly and informative.

You are what you buy, whether you know it or not

kickin it like an old skool iPod

kickin it like an old skool iPod, originally uploaded by kandyjaxx.

I’m reading Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, by Rob Walker (about whom I’ve written in the past). As a result, I no longer trust myself — or at least, I no longer believe I understand my motivations for the things I do.

I’d already begun having doubts about the tricks my mind plays on me, thanks to having read a bit about another current book, Dan Ariely’s Predictably/Irrational. Ariely’s book provides all sorts of evidence that people act on motivations they don’t know they have and make up plausible explanations that have nothing to do with the real causes. Seem impossible? Check out a few demonstrations, and you’ll see what I mean.

Buying In is similarly full of simple but startling revelations (although also equally entertaining). Here’s a sample:

Here, then, is the real problem with the argument that this new generation sees right through traditional advertising and therefore is not fooled by its messages: Everybody sees right through traditional advertising. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognize that you’re being pitched to when watching a thirty-second commercial.

But recognition is not the same thing as immunity. And what’s striking about contemporary youth is not that they are somehow brandproof, but that they take for granted the idea that a brand is as good a piece of raw identity as anything else. These are the consumers, in fact, who are most amenable to using brands to fashion meaning for themselves — to define themselves, to announce who they are and what they stand for.

If you’ve struggled to understand what has made the iPod such a success, why Pabst Blue Ribbon is enjoying a sudden surge in popularity despite the company never paying for television ads, and what it means for everyone to become a brand unto themselves, you’ll enjoy this book.  

Is no problem. You are funny thing.

David Foster Wallace keeps coming up in my life recently. Not in person of course, just references to him.

Here’s a video of him reading excerpts from two essays, "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All" and "A Supposedly Fun This I’ll Never Do Again." It’s a long video (27 minutes), but well worth watching.

Both essays are available in the collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, which was the first thing I read by DFW and which remains a favorite.

Once you’ve read just a little DFW, you’ll get the humor in the cartoon "David Foster Wallace Stranded on a Desert Island." Except you might not realize why the cartoon DFW has a bandanna; for that, you’ll need to review the author photos on his books.

Also, a movie version of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is scheduled to come out this year (IMDB page). I have trouble imagining how that collection of short stories will translate to cinema, but the first story in the book is my favorite short story, so I particularly hope it’s good. The synopsis does not strike me as promising:

After her boyfriend mysteriously leaves her with little explanation, grad student Sara Quinn is left looking for answers as to what went wrong. Directing all her energies into her anthropological dissertation, Sara conducts a series of interviews with men in an effort to uncover the secret thoughts that drive their behavior. As she records the astonishing and disquieting experiences of various subjects, Sara discovers much more about men and herself than she bargained for.

So, that’s just three recent references, but in the last few months DFW has come up in conversation with a range of unconnected people, and I’ve recommended Infinite Jest several times. Still waiting for anyone to finish it so we can discuss….

(YouTube video thanks to Syntax of Things; cartoon link thanks to Maud Newton.) 

Good books for kids

Pinkalicious and Purplicious in good company at Target

Pinkalicious and Purplicious in good company at Target, originally uploaded by cynthiacloskey.

On a recent Saturday I stopped at the local Target to find a birthday gift for my niece. Look what I spied in the children’s book section.

My friend (and client) Elizabeth Kann and her sister Valerie wrote and illustrated, respectively, two fine children’s picture books: Pinkalicious and Purplicious. And there they sit, surrounded by Seussian icons, Curious George, Shel Silverstein, and other classics.

I can take no credit in the creation of these great books, nor their promotion (other than working on the websites). But I’m thoroughly proud of Elizabeth and Valerie. Check out these books next time you’re looking for a great gift for a smart little lady or man.

“At the intersection of absurd and punk, Ethan is perched atop his unicycle, calmly taking notes.”

This looks interesting: Leaning with Intent to Fall by Ethan Clark. 

Ethan recounts a life on the fringes, filled with all the great punk pastimes: dodging cops, shoplifting, trespassing, drinking too much, and working crappy jobs that barely pay the rent on dilapidated houses filled with down-and-out roommates. But rather than succumbing to the jaded cynicism one might expect after an accumulation of years of discouraging predicaments and misadventure, Ethan somehow manages to find comedy in his precarious situations and retains a sense of optimism and hope in life’s endless possibilities. Ethan puts it best himself when he says, ‘Always look in the suitcase. Sure, it’s probably just full of dead cats, but maybe, it’ll be full of money and cocaine.’
— Kyle Bravo, Editor of Making Stuff and Doing Things

Find out more and buy it at the Garrett County Press website.

[The title of this post is a quote from Abram Shalom Himelstein, author of Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing.]

If you’re going to SXSW, you should be Buying In

Reading Railroad

Reading Railroad, originally uploaded by Kyle Tombstone.

I won’t be attending SXSW this year, but if I were there’s one particular talk I would be sure to attend. It’s a book preview by Rob Walker, a columnist for the New York Times Magazine and blogger at www.robwalker.net. He’s a terrific writer and a smart person. I’ve never met him, but I’ve exchanged the occasional email with him and have nothing but respect for him and his writing. He also seems very cool, in a writerly way.

The book is Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. It’s about "consumer patterns in the new economy." The book won’t be published until June, so this talk will be a special sneak preview. If you have the chance to attend, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

In six words

under waterline

under waterline, originally uploaded by Marcus Vegas.

A friend sent around an email:

There is a new book out called 6 Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Some samples are:

Steve Colbert – Well, I thought it was funny.

Elizabeth Gilbert – Me see world! Me write stories!

A.J. Jacobs – Born bald. Grew hair. Bald again.

And the very strange Amy Sedaris – Mushrooms. Clowns. Wands. Five. Wig. Thatched.

I wonder what each of ours would be.

The book is actually titled Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Amazon has a little video with additional examples of six-word memoirs — entertaining.

My first response was that I don’t feel ready to write a memoir yet — so much in process, so much to do, and so little overall clarity to what I’ve done before. So I wrote this memoir:

Not finished. Please wait. Thank you.

Then again, that makes it seem like I’m in stasis when instead I feel like I’m in constant motion. More to the point, I am constantly moving from one thing to the next. So I came up with this:

Ooh, interesting! I’ll try that too.

I’m sticking with that one. (For now….)

What’s your six-word memoir?