Read Any Good Books Lately?

What's Going Around Our Office

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Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
About six months ago we launched an office blog called Scratch, where people share favorite websites, creative briefs, the video of the moment, and whatever they happen to be thinking about. Some of my favorite posts describe what people are reading, so I asked them to send me a list of books that have influenced their thinking about advertising and business.

Here's a miscellaneous, non-comprehensive, somewhat random, but compelling list of books recommended by the staff at PJA Advertising.
  • The Search. How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture by John Battelle: The story of an algorithm that changed the world. (Mike, partner)

  • Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan: "Almost 50 years ago McLuhan showed how media shapes our experience." (Matt, developer)

  • Good to Great by Jim Collins: "A must read for organizations who want to learn how successful companies made the leap to become great." (Greg, business development)

  • Bob Dylan, Lyrics: "Because when it comes to wisdom and obfuscation, there's no one as brilliant as Bob." (Anne, writer, editor extraordinaire)

  • The Long Tail, Christopher Andersen's article in Wired, October 2004: "A break through perspective on what defines a market." (Doug, interactive director)

  • The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: "Simpler is always better." (Aaron, creative director)

  • Hey Whipple Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan: "The best book on advertising." (Hugh, planning)

  • No Logo by Naomi Klein: "With consumers gaining more control over their media consumption, corporations have to get over what they fear most; consumers who ask questions. This book -- seemingly anti-advertising/anti-marketing -- is a wake-up call in the form of a bucket of cold water." (Chris, a highly verbal creative director)
A number of books showed up multiple times:

Oglivy on Advertising is a certified hit, as is the much-passed-around handbook from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, How to Work Here.

Dr. Seuss also appears to be popular. Green Eggs & Ham: "What other book deals so delightfully with the fear of the unknown?" (Ken, creative operations, whatever that is)

If I ran the Circus "A book I read when I was little and always think about when people have grand plans to change operations for the better." (Amanda, account director)

And here are ten books, recent and past, that have influenced how I think about the business:
  • A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink: Explores the power of right brain thinking in a high touch, high concept world. According to Pink, skills like design, story telling, and empathy will rule the day. Good news for agency people.

  • In the early days when I didn't know a receivable from a payable and thought sales call was a dirty word, someone lent me a copy of What They Still Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School, by Mark McCormack, and I still haven't returned it.

  • I always try to remember the important point in George Orwell's, essay, Politics and the English Language: The way we use language can shape reality for good and for evil. We decide.

  • Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky: Explains how the Internet has transformed society. No one better describes how seemingly simple innovations like RSS feeds and tagging have changed the way we communicate.

  • Powerball by Michael Lewis: Billy Beane of the Oakland A's built great teams with relatively small budgets by recognizing that on-base percentage was a more important statistic than runs batted in. It makes a great metaphor for anyone who has to compete for scarce talent.

  • Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist: Part portfolio, part manifesto this book showcases the work of the brilliant designer and proves that great ideas defy boundaries and can cross all media.

  • What is Strategy? by Michael Porter: About once a year, I re-read my tattered HBR reprint of this 1996 article. Porter has written weighty volumes on the same topic, but this short piece does the trick.

  • Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder: The story of Paul Farmer and Jim Kim, two physicians with the audacity to believe that they could deliver the best healthcare to the poorest people on earth and created a new model for addressing intractable health crises along the way. To make full disclosure, I'm on the advisory board of their organization, Partners In Health.

  • JoHo, the Blog: David Weinberger's reflections on the Internet and the media help jumpstart my brain every morning.

  • Finally, an out-of-print book called 101 Corporate Haiku, by Bill Warriner, illuminates the business world with gems like:
    Last year's proposal.
    Add wings; then it will become
    A new idea.
I'd love to hear from you as well. Please let me know what you consider to be essential books in your professional life.
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