The Book Stack – August 2013

August 31, 2013 — Leave a comment



With August at a close, here’s a look back at the ideas I permitted a brief interlude with that squishy matter between my ears.

A few years ago I was routinely knocking out ten books a month. And while I was getting good at parroting back the thoughts of so many authors, I wasn’t creating many of my own. So I’ve cut back, raising the bar on what material gets access to this impressionable brain of mine. The quantity has dropped dramatically, but those books that make the cut tend to be there to help me learn something from someone that understands it much better than I. Yeah, it’s kind of an attempt at a learning hack…I stack several books on similar topics over a matter of weeks, then step back and try to digest them.

This month it was:

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie the founder and CEO of TOMS shoes. These stories are absolute brain candy, and I can’t get enough of them. I love the feel-good narratives of dude getting a brilliant insight, leaning hard into his idea, and sitting on the top of the corporate world as a result. I suspend disbelief about all the hairy details they leave out, happy to get lost in the flow of a well-spun tale!

You can’t beat Blake Mycoskie’s story! The college dropout (and a runner up on The Amazing Race reality show) is inspired to start a shoe business on the premise that each shoe he sells is matched one-for-one with a shoe donated to a barefoot kid. And people eat it up, my household included. I suspect we have at least five pairs floating around among my wife and two daughters.

Mycoskie bootstrapped the business and retains the majority (if not total) stake in the company, giving him complete and total control while providing a net worth that probably makes him blush if he ever stops to think about it. He’s using that control to push the one-for-one concept beyond shoes and into sunglasses, donating a pair of prescription glasses to needy kids for every $100+ pair of TOMS shades you buy from him.

Many people are calling b.s. on the business, saying it’s hardly more than a marketing ploy. Perhaps, but I call b.s. on them. I get a sense that he’s fully committed to this mission, and the authenticity comes through in the brand. This authenticity appeals to the burgeoning class of consumers that wants to trade its fists full of dollars for goods and services that align with its desire to do good in the world.

I might be right in that theory. I might be wrong. The market will show us soon enough. A recent Fast Company profile of Mycoskie notes all the less socially minded businesses eager to steal a page from TOMS playbook, peddling their own wares with the promise of each purchase generating a similar benefit. They’ve probably run a cost-benefit analysis that says the potential for bigger profits merits the increased cost of making the donation. If they steal significant market share from TOMS, we’ll see that consumers are big suckers for any shoe company with an ad budget.

But I suspect we have a nose for the real-deal.

Next: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink. I’ve seen a couple of Pink’s TED Talks and heard a lot about his recent books. I’ve meant to read one for some time and grabbed this while perusing the shelves of a local used book store in the mood for something with a social psychology bent.

Candidly, I wasn’t blown away by it. I actually put it down for a couple weeks and seriously considered chucking it. I did finish, and there are several nuggets that made it worthwhile. The final section of the book, “Meaning,” touches on a theme closely related to the TOMS success. It cites a convergence of trends (unprecedented material wealth, babyboomers getting old and reflective, a swelling sense of spiritual hollowness among all generations) to urge businesses to align themselves to purposes more noble than scoring an extra buck. People want to align themselves with products and services that represent something meaningful, he says, and businesses would be wise to consider what their higher purposes are if they want to relate to this new buyer.

That chapter was an insightful survey of the literature on happiness, mindfulness, and spirituality. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning (for years) to read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Under the umbrella of Productive Creativity (or is it Creative Productivity?) there’s Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, a compilation of short essays edited by Jocelyn Glei of Behance’s 99U.

I’m a sucker for all things productivity. So much so that I waste much of each day pouring over suggestions from Lifehacker, Brainpickings, and Farnam Street. The irony isn’t lost on me.

This books collects pearls from various accomplished artists, entrepreneurs and academics. Erin Rooney Doland’s “Learning to Create Amidst Chaos” resonated the most with this father-of-two with a day job. It helps to find reminders that the perfect opportunity to think and write never does come around. You must make do with what you’re given…or somehow change it.

Finally, there’s Muhammad Yunus’ Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.  It wins my prestigious award for the Most Dog-Eared Book of the Month Award. I’ll resist the temptation to summarize it here because – as the picture suggests – I have it fully indexed for frequent reference in future essays.

Suffice it to say, Professor Yunus’ thoughts and stories have challenged me deeply, forcing me to really consider my own concept of what sort of businesses I should be investing in. He suggests that we can set up a separate type of business altogether, the social business, the purpose of which is to provide top-notch products and services for consumers, but forego profits for investors.  Yunus’ believes those profits should go to socially beneficial purposes instead. Indeed, he’s walking the talk with the Nobel Medal hanging around his chest and the Grameen family of businesses showing so much impact in Bangladesh and beyond. If you’re interested, check out the Yunus Center website.


Onto September reading…

I’m mostly whittling away at the stack on my dresser, but I’ve added a couple more to the stack. Everything is subject to change, but the tentative plan has me thumbing through…

A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader by Ari Weinzweig (CEO of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor and a book I picked up while eating at one of his restaurants several months ago).

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant. This is a loaner from my friend Stephen. I exchanged John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism for this tome by the young Wharton professor. No dog-earing this one.

Enough: True Measures of Money, Business & Life by John Bogle. I’ve been working on something code-named “The Enough Project” for a couple weeks now. So I made a quick mental note when an acquaintance in Durham listened to my thoughts and quickly referenced this book. I better check it out to avoid any plagiarism issues! Oh yeah, and to learn more about this sensibility that we can have enough and do much better than seeking to accumulate more. It’s on order from Amazon.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Mentioned above, thanks to Dan Pink’s reminder. Also on order from Amazon.

I’m eager for all the happy reading and seeing how I can compound the learning in September!

Paul Dryden


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