brand, community, culture, dark matter

The top 10 books behind Dark Matter Matters

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).

Fast forwarding to today, Rafe actually was the agent for two recent big think books that I love, Authenticity and A Whole New Mind, so he is still making things happen.

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:

Top 10 Dark Matter Matters books

Without these ten books, Dark Matter might not even matter to me.

newbrandworld10. A New Brand World by Scott Bedbury: One of the first books on brand management that I read, very early in my time at Red Hat. Scott was one of the leading thinkers behind the Nike brand during the 80s and the Starbucks brand during the 90s. This kind of painted the dream for me of the kind of brand you could build if you knew what the heck you were doing.

leaderbennis9. On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis: Probably my favorite book on leadership. I received this as a gift from Matthew Szulik, again very early in my time at Red Hat. Shaped some of my thinking about the importance of leadership as a separate discipline from management. Hadn’t even really considered that there was a difference before.

artinnovation218. The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley: David Burney showed me this book for the first time. Blew my mind. The book to read on design thinking and the creative innovation process, from the guys at IDEO who pretty much figured it all out. Really crystalized the power of design for me as a process way more powerful than simple aesthetics.

built_to_last 7. Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras: I was first introduced to the work of Jim Collins by former colleague Paul Salazar, who had met Collins while teaching at Stanford. We used many of Jim Collins’ ideas as the construct for the values, mission, and culture of Red Hat. This is also the book where Collins and Porras introduce the concept of the “Tyranny of the Or,” the trap that snares most good companies, in my opinion.

reimagine 6. Re-Imagine by Tom Peters: Lots of people must think Tom Peters went insane when they read this book; I don’t think he’s ever seemed more brilliant. If you can make your way through the crazy design, terrible printing job, and endless exclamation points, you’ll find some of the most interesting ideas on re-inventing business I have ever seen. I took a day off, read this book in one day, and then promptly ordered copies for our entire department. Life changing.

futureofmanagement 5. The Future of Management by Gary Hamel: See my review of this book here. For me, it was almost like Red Hat was the lost 4th case study for this book (he uses Google, Whole Foods, and W.L. Gore & Associates). Hamel talks about the need for re-inventing the management model of the 2oth century for the 21st century, using principles like open source, meritocracy, transparency, leadership culture. One of my dreams would be to some day have lunch with Gary Hamel and tell him stories about what we have accomplished at Red Hat. I think he might think it is pretty cool.

positioning4. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Jack Trout and Al Ries: Jack Trout was another tip from Matthew Szulik, who first introduced me to the idea of brand positioning, a term Trout & Ries invented. I’ve read almost all of Jack Trout’s books, and they each have something different and valuable in them. But if you have to choose one, this is the original. It’s beauty is in its simplicity, makes it easy for anyone to understand what positioning is all about. I’ve payed this book forward many times since it was originally given to me.

strategicbrandmanagement3. Strategic Brand Management by Kevin Keller. Dr. Keller is a professor at Dartmouth who has been working with us on Red Hat brand projects since about 2002. He has been one of my biggest brand influences, and I almost always have this book open on my desk at work. An absolutely brilliant and comprehensive look at brand management. This book is the textbook used at most business schools in courses on brand management, so save the five or six figure tuition fees and go buy a copy for yourself.

the_brand_gap2. The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier: Marty’s been getting some good play in this blog already, here and here, so y’all know I love his books. As I’ve said before, this book greatly influenced the structure of the Brand Communications + Design group at Red Hat, but has also been a huge influence on my thinking regarding the power of brands. I’ll also point out that Neumeier is humble enough to include a reading list at the end of each of his books documenting many of the books that influenced his thinking, so this list is my shout out back to him.

goodtogreat1. Good to Great by Jim Collins: Jim Collins is the only guy to appear twice in this top ten list. He totally deserves it. This book has had a huge influence on me in ways I sometimes forget until I re-read sections of it. The first line of this book is “Good is the enemy of great.” I love that line. It encapsulates the thinking of this book in a few short words, and it is also a sentence that I repeat to myself when I am trying to decide whether to settle for an idea or continue to forge ahead looking for the great one. This book should be required reading for anyone being promoted into senior management positions. It’s that good… uh, great.

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’ll follow up sometime in the next couple of weeks with a more complete list of other books that I love that didn’t quite make the top 10. Happy reading, people!

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About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


14 thoughts on “The top 10 books behind Dark Matter Matters

  1. Looks like someone is trying to earn some Amazon points!!!

    Totally agree with #1, #2 and #6 (the only 3 I’ve read on your list!)
    Gonna add #4 to my “to-read” shelf though.

    Thanks for the tips.

    Posted by MP | April 13, 2009, 5:35 pm
  2. Hi Michael! Dude, you have no idea what a windfall I am getting from Amazon. I’m going to try not to spend all $4.32 in one place. Maybe next year I’ll even earn enough to buy a book!

    Posted by cdgrams | April 13, 2009, 6:23 pm
  3. This is a really great top ten list. Good To Great and Built To Last are excellent picks, I have gained so much insight from Jim Collins. I can apply a lot of the findings in their books to our own company and have seen better results when following the advice. You can post this to our site and then link back to your site. We are looking for top ten lists and our users can track back to your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

    Posted by Vince | April 14, 2009, 1:44 am
  4. Bedbury’s “A New Brand World” is an eye-opener. An excellent book an what branding really means.

    Posted by mvs | June 30, 2009, 12:54 pm
  5. Take a look at Mark Earls “Herd” when you get a chance. (Also Mark has a couple blogs that are pretty interesting)

    Posted by DFinSea | December 13, 2009, 5:37 pm


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