Nonfiction Roundup June 2007

As usual, I’ve been reading lots of books, and haven’t been writing them up, so it’s time for another round of short reviews.

The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

I’ve already mentioned Tharp’s ideas in my posts on discipline and laying the foundation, but this is a record that I did eventually finish the book. Tharp is the well-known choreographer, and this is her book on sharing where ideas come from and what it takes to be creative. Her main thesis is that creativity is not a bolt from the blue – it requires disciplined routine and the courage to face the blank page again and again. It requires ruthless self-editing, and an unwillingness to accept anything less than your best. She includes several useful exercises to shake up one’s thinking and get one thinking in fresh patterns of thought as a start to creativity.

The Brazen Careerist, by Penelope Trunk

I came across the Brazen Careerist blog a few months ago. I liked it because it advocated attitudes that are antithetical to my parents’ generation but make sense in today’s world (e.g. that it’s okay that “the average 30-year-old has had 8 jobs since college”). She’s got some interesting points, but I think following all of her advice would require being relentlessly ambitious and self-involved. I wouldn’t recommend the book – it’s mostly republishing of posts from her blog, so just read those instead.

The Dip, by Seth Godin

I like Seth Godin’s work, so I was excited to get his latest book The Dip. Unfortunately, there’s not much there. It’s a two sentence idea expanded out to a 80-page mini-book. Here’s the idea – when trying a new venture, you’re going to run into hard times aka The Dip. You need to either have the discipline to push through The Dip because the rewards on the other side are worth it, or to quit because they won’t be, and the key to success is quitting early in The Dip rather than wasting your time if it’s the latter. Because each case is so different, he can’t give general advice on how to make the determination of whether sticking is worth it, so he cites a couple of cute stories and calls it a day. Don’t bother buying this book.

Bit Literacy, by Mark Hurst

I’ve been reading Mark Hurst’s Good Experience newsletter for years now, as he’s an articulate advocate for the centrality of customer experience as an evaluation metric. He’s been pitching bit literacy for a few years now, with the idea being that we need to learn habits of success in a fast-changing all-digital world. Bit Literacy is a book summarizing what he recommends.

The main thing I took away from this book was his contention that bits are no longer valuable – they are a torrent that we should let pass us by rather than trying to capture. To make a strained analogy, his perspective is we should stop trying to control this torrent with the equivalent of a dam and instead use a net to fish out the useful bits. In a specific example, he recommends against being a packrat with email – either deal with it immediately, or delete it. You won’t get to it later, because there’s always more email arriving. He recommends getting the inbox down to 0 messages at least once a day. He makes similar recommendations for all aspects of your digital life.

Decent read, some good ideas, but I’d recommend it only if you’re feeling overwhelmed by digital inputs and are ready to make a change (my inbox still has 1370 messages in it, so I’m not quite there yet).

Maverick, by Ricardo Semler

I’ve been seeing references to Semco for a while now. It’s a Brazilian manufacturing company that is run in an almost anarchistic way. Employees set their own hours, dress however they want, interview their own managers, set their own salaries, etc. The financial books are completely transparent – everybody knows what everybody else is making. And yet despite this seeming chaos, they’ve been successful at weathering the dips of the Brazilian economy over the past twenty years.

This is the book by the leader of Semco, and how they got to this point. He didn’t start out intending to be a radical. He was just trying to get through one crisis at a time. Each time he gave more autonomy to his employees good things happened so he kept on doing it. It’s a pretty inspiring tale if you’re a closet anarchist like myself. Very quick read – I’d pick it up from the library if you’re interested.

Coffee at Luke’s, ed. by Jennifer Crusie

Subtitled “An Unauthorized Gilmore Girls Gabfest”, this is a collection of essays devoted to the world of the TV show Gilmore Girls. I’ve got three such books for Buffy, plus the one for Serenity, so I thought I’d try this one as well. A pleasant distraction, nothing too deep, but mostly it made me want to go back and rewatch my DVDs to revel in the referenced dialogue again.

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