Books are important to me. Growing up, almost every free wall in my parents’ house was lined with bookshelves, some of them stacked two deep. I spent most of my pre- Red Hat career in book publishing, first working during college at The University of North Carolina Press. After college, I went to work for a literary agent named Rafe Sagalyn in Washington DC. Working for Rafe was a great experience because he built his reputation on big think/idea books and business books.
His first big book was the huge bestseller Megatrends by John Naisbitt back in the early 80s. When I was there, I personally got to work with, among others, Bill Strauss and Neil Howe on their great books about generational patterns in society (check out The Fourth Turning… very prophetic these days) and Don Peppers, author of some books back in the 90s like The 1:1 Future about relationship marketing that were the grandparents of today’s books on social media marketing.
I also got to play agent and author myself too. As an agent, I represented some of Tom Bodett’s work (yes, he is the Motel 6 guy, but was also a commentator on NPR) and sold a wonderful novel called The Frequency of Souls to FSG. As author, I helped Rafe write two “cutting edge” books about getting free and open access to government information (they have not aged well, I’m afraid).
After I left book publishing, reading became fun again. I read novels and travel literature for a while, nothing that made me think too much. But when I got to Red Hat, I relapsed and started reading the big think books like the ones I used to work on with Rafe. I thought it might be worth taking a few minutes to try to remember the books that have been the biggest influences on my thinking, and get them all down in one place, so here goes:
Without these ten books, Dark Matter might not even matter to me.
A good friend told me a few weeks ago that I should write more about music here, since music is such an important part of my life. So I thought I’d give it a go.
I play bass in a band called The Swingin’ Johnsons. Yes, that’s right.
Occasionally, we call ourselves a Lyndon Johnson tribute band, when we need to water down the story, and most of our show posters have pictures of Lyndon Johnson on them. I don’t know exactly how we are paying “tribute” to Lyndon Johnson by what we do, but there it is.
Last weekend I read a book that Jonathan Opp recommended called In-House Design in Practice. It’s a bible for people who work as part of an internal creative agency within a larger corporation, which is one of the key roles of our Brand Communications + Design group at Red Hat.
In some ways, this a self help book, maybe even a support group, for creative types. I learned many things about what others in internal agency roles go through, but if I was to sum it up, I’d say I learned that I am not alone. There are others out there operating in internal agencies at corporations all around the world, and they have the same issues and opportunities we have. While the book is focused on graphic design, many of the lessons apply to other internal agency roles– editorial, web, video, you name it.
The book starts with what the authors call a “jaded” definition of an in-house designer:
…a creative person who finds him- or herself–by choice or circumstance– in an alien world ruled by left-brain-thinkers who undervalue, misunderstand, and in general, do not take full advantage of the benefit design can bring to business.
Ok, I’m listening…
As a creative person lodged firmly in a business world, you are a unique character. It can be a lonely post, but you have exactly the same goal as the people who so often disrespect, misunderstand, or step all over your work; you all want the larger organization to succeed.
Yes! (maybe ratchet down the empathy a bit though, people.)
And then comes the key theme of the book:
Chances are… you are never going to transform those people into the same kind of creative person that you are. But you can transform yourself into the kind of businessperson who can very adeptly speak their language.
What a perfect way to start a book about creative work! With some humility.
A great brand can seem from the outside to be an awesome speedboat, like the kind they rode around on Miami Vice… Just grab the wheel, hit the throttle, and send it screaming through the water to wherever you want to go. He who controls the brand has all of the power to steer and go wherever he wants… right?
I’ve always envied those brand managers (kind of…) who have a marketing budget of millions and can go out and “buy” an image for their brand using advertising. They are driving the speedboats. If they want, they can associate their brand with skydivers and bungee jumping (Do the Dew, man!) or whatever they choose.
But the reality is that a brand like Red Hat is more like a Viking longship. Here’s what Wikipedia says about how longships moved: