If art is to deserve its privileges (and it does), we have to learn how to state more clearly what it is for and why it matters in a busy world. I would argue that art matters for therapeutic reasons. It is a medium uniquely well suited to helping us with some of the troubles of inner life: our desire for material things, our fear of the unknown, our longing for love, our need for hope.
We are used to the idea that music and (to an extent) literature can have a therapeutic effect on us. Art can do the very same thing. It, too, is an apothecary for the soul. Yet in order for it to act as one, we have to learn to consider works through more personal, emotionally rich lenses than museums and galleries employ. We have to put aside the customary historical reading of works of art in order to invite art to respond to certain quite specific pains and dilemmas of our psyches.
Continuing my suggestions of books to read this summer I share with you the novels of Max Barry.
I'm always fascinated by people in creative fields that are adamant to the idea of reading fiction. There you are having a casual conversation, you suggest a novel you think they will find interesting and they strongly oppose the idea. They don't read fiction (often they also say they never watch tv or attend any live performances.)
And while I can see why anyone would think that somehow things like reading fiction are just entertainment and could not possibly lend themselves to teach us anything, what kind of creative work could they be creating when they deprive themselves of the enjoyment (and education) of watching someone manipulate language to convey messages in ways that are often profound and revealing.
Besides, the more we study the brain, they more we learn how important fiction can be in neurological development.
This is why I am recommending the novels of Max Barry. He is an astute observer of life and has tackled subjects dear to me (and this blog) in his novels. From marketing, advertising and branding to management, leadership and productivity to, in his latest novel, released today, poetry, language and influence. Each written with clear insights and full of enjoyable surprises. If you are interested in those areas there is much to be learned from his novels, while having a great deal of fun.
At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematics—at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as “poets”: adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization’s recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school’s strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Brontë, Eliot, and Lowell—who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.
Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he’s done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.
As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry’s most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love—whatever the cost.
Scientist Charles Neumann loses a leg in an industrial accident. It's not a tragedy. It's an opportunity. Charlie always thought his body could be better. He begins to explore a few ideas. To build parts. Better parts.
Prosthetist Lola Shanks loves a good artificial limb. In Charlie, she sees a man on his way to becoming artificial everything. But others see a madman. Or a product. Or a weapon.
A story for the age of pervasive technology, Machine Man is a gruesomely funny unraveling of one man's quest for ultimate self-improvement.
Stephen Jones is a shiny new hire at Zephyr Holdings. From the outside, Zephyr is just another bland corporate monolith, but behind its glass doors business is far from usual: the beautiful receptionist is paid twice as much as anybody else to do nothing, the sales reps use self help books as manuals, no one has seen the CEO, no one knows exactly what they are selling, and missing donuts are the cause of office intrigue. While Jones originally wanted to climb the corporate ladder, he now finds himself descending deeper into the irrational rationality of company policy. What he finds is hilarious, shocking, and utterly telling.
Taxation has been abolished, the government has been privatized, and employees take the surname of the company they work for. It's a brave new corporate world, but you don't want to be caught without a platinum credit card--as lowly Merchandising Officer Hack Nike is about to find out. Trapped into building street cred for a new line of $2500 sneakers by shooting customers, Hack attracts the barcode-tattooed eye of the legendary Jennifer Government. A stressed-out single mom, corporate watchdog, and government agent who has to rustle up funding before she's allowed to fight crime, Jennifer Government is holding a closing down sale--and everything must go.
A wickedly satirical and outrageous thriller about globalization and marketing hype, Jennifer Government is the best novel in the world ever.
When Scat comes up with the idea for the hottest new soda ever, he's sure he'll retire the next rich, savvy marketing success story. But in the treacherous waters of corporate America there are no sure things--and suddenly Scat has to save not only his idea but his yet-to-be-realized career. With the help of the scarily beautiful and brainy 6, he sets out on a mission to reclaim the fame and fortune that, time and again, eludes him. This brilliantly scathing debut is a hilarious send-up of celebrity, sexual politics, corporate America, and the fleeting status that comes with getting to the table first--before the other guy has you for lunch.
Whenever I meet someone new one question almost always comes up: What do you do for a living? Depending on the circumstances I tend to adjust what I say to make it clearer. If I'm talking to people in the arts I explain that my work is creative direction, marketing and operations. If I'm talking to people in marketing and advertising they understand when I say that I am a creative services director. If I'm talking to technologists I say I am a digital producer. I then try my best to explain how all those things complement each other.
But more often than not, especially with people outside the industries I work in, I introduce myself as an independent graduate student, always in the process of learning something new.
It is in that spirit of independent learning that I present a list of great summer reads to encourage you to learn something new. Starting with Kio Stark's Don't Go Back To School: A Handbook for Learning Anything.
In her own words:
This book is a radical project, the opposite of reform. It is not about fixing school, it's about transforming learning - and making traditional school one among many options rather than the only option. I think all the energy and money reformers spend trying to fix school misses the real problem: we don't have a good alternative for people who want to learn without going to school, for people who don't learn well in school settings, or for those who can't afford it.
Add to that list, people who want to continue to learn how to improve the work they do every day while satisfying their curiosity.
Learning outside school is necessarily driven by an internal engine. I heard about how this works from people who follow their deep curiosities and immediate needs for knowledge and skills to reach personally set goals. You'll see in the chapters ahead how independent learners stick with the reading, thinking, making and experimenting by which they learn because they do it for love, to scratch an itch, to satisfy curiosity, following the compass of passion and wonder about the world.
So, go ahead, this summer, read some books and wonder about the world.
Here is a radical truth: school doesn’t have a monopoly on learning. More and more people are passing on traditional education and college degrees. Instead they’re getting the knowledge, training, and inspiration they need outside of the classroom. Drawing on extensive research and talking to over 100 independent learners, Kio Stark offers the ultimate guide to learning without school. Don’t Go Back to School tells you how to learn what you need to learn in order to do what you need to do, without having to bend your life or your finances to fit into traditional schooling. This inspiring and practical guide provides concrete strategies and resources for getting started as an independent learner. Don’t Go Back to School is essential reading if you’re considering traditional higher education—and if you’re ready to become an independent learner.
Featuring 161 inspired—and inspiring—minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks.
The world has changed and the way we work has to change, too. With wisdom from 20 leading creative minds, Manage Your Day-to-Day will give you a toolkit for tackling the new challenges of a 24/7, always-on workplace.
Featuring contributions from: Dan Ariely, Leo Babauta, Scott Belsky, Lori Deschene, Aaron Dignan, Erin Rooney Doland, Seth Godin,Todd Henry, Christian Jarrett, Scott McDowell, Mark McGuinness, Cal Newport, Steven Pressfield, Gretchen Rubin, Stefan Sagmeister, Elizabeth G. Saunders, Tony Schwartz, Tiffany Shlain, Linda Stone, and James Victore.
In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in which he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength. He encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to break rules and think outside the box. Most of all, he encouraged them to make good art.
The book Make Good Art, designed by renowned graphic artist Chip Kidd, contains the full text of Gaiman’s inspiring speech.
You don’t need to be a genius, you just need to be yourself. That’s the message from Austin Kleon, a young writer and artist who knows that creativity is everywhere, creativity is for everyone. A manifesto for the digital age, Steal Like an Artist is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises, and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side.
When Mr. Kleon was asked to address college students in upstate New York, he shaped his speech around the ten things he wished someone had told him when he was starting out. The talk went viral, and its author dug deeper into his own ideas to create Steal Like an Artist, the book. The result is inspiring, hip, original, practical, and entertaining. And filled with new truths about creativity: Nothing is original, so embrace influence, collect ideas, and remix and re-imagine to discover your own path. Follow your interests wherever they take you. Stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring—the creative you will need to make room to be wild and daring in your imagination.
Research in psychology has revealed that our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities: We’re overconfident. We seek out information that supports us and downplay information that doesn’t. We get distracted by short-term emotions. When it comes to making choices, it seems, our brains are flawed instruments. Unfortunately, merely being aware of these shortcomings doesn’t fix the problem, any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see. The real question is: How can we do better?
In Decisive, the Heaths, based on an exhaustive study of the decision-making literature, introduce a four-step process designed to counteract these biases. Written in an engaging and compulsively readable style, Decisive takes readers on an unforgettable journey, from a rock star’s ingenious decision-making trick to a CEO’s disastrous acquisition, to a single question that can often resolve thorny personal decisions.
Along the way, we learn the answers to critical questions like these: How can we stop the cycle of agonizing over our decisions? How can we make group decisions without destructive politics? And how can we ensure that we don’t overlook precious opportunities to change our course?
The notion of the brand, like any concept that dominates markets and public consciousness, is a challenge to define. Is it a simple differentiator of the cereals in our cupboards, a manipulative brainwashing tool forced on us by corporations, or a creative triumph as capable as any art form of stimulating our emotions and intellect?
For those of us who grapple with these questions on a daily basis, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits elevates the discussion to the level of revelation. Each chapter is an extensive dialogue between Debbie Millman, herself a design visionary, and a different leader in the field. By asking questions deeply informed by her own expertise, Millman coaxes lucid, prescient answers from twenty-two interview subjects, among them Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Peters, Seth Godin, and godfather of modern branding Wally Olins.
This engaging and enlightening book is an unprecedented forum on the state of modern branding and how companies and consumers can best understand the behavior behind why we brand and why we buy.
This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, explains award-winning media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, but we don’t seem to have any time in which to live it. Instead we remain poised and frozen, overwhelmed by an always-on, live-streamed reality that our human bodies and minds can never truly inhabit. And our failure to do so has had wide-ranging effects on every aspect of our lives.
People spent the twentieth century obsessed with the future. We created technologies that would help connect us faster, gather news, map the planet, compile knowledge, and connect with anyone, at anytime. We strove for an instantaneous network where time and space could be compressed.
Well, the future’s arrived. We live in a continuous now enabled by Twitter, email, and a so-called real-time technological shift. Yet this “now” is an elusive goal that we can never quite reach. And the dissonance between our digital selves and our analog bodies has thrown us into a new state of anxiety: present shock.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in nine Americans works in sales. Every day more than fifteen million people earn their keep by persuading someone else to make a purchase.
But dig deeper and a startling truth emerges:
Yes, one in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight.
Whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest, or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.
To Sell Is Human offers a fresh look at the art and science of selling. As he did in Drive and A Whole New Mind, Daniel H. Pink draws on a rich trove of social science for his counterintuitive insights. He reveals the new ABCs of moving others (it's no longer "Always Be Closing"), explains why extraverts don't make the best salespeople, and shows how giving people an "off-ramp" for their actions can matter more than actually changing their minds.
Along the way, Pink describes the six successors to the elevator pitch, the three rules for understanding another's perspective, the five frames that can make your message clearer and more persuasive, and much more. The result is a perceptive and practical book--one that will change how you see the world and transform what you do at work, at school, and at home.
This week This American Life takes a look at patents. In particular Host Ira Glass and Zoe Chace from NPR’s Planet Money talk with Jim Logan and Richard Baker of Personal Audio, which claims it holds a patent used by all podcasters. This episode is a continuation of a previous episode aired in 2011. To find out more about how you can help the efforts to save podcasting visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF.)