Recently I read legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's autobiography. One of the many things from his book that resonated with me was his strong belief that voracious reading was
a key to his creativity. "I've forgotten who it was that said creation is memory," Kurosawa said. "My own experiences and the various things I have read remain in my memory and become the basis upon which I create something new. I couldn’t do it out of nothing. For this reason, since the time I was a young man I have always kept a notebook handy when I read a book…. I have stacks and stacks of these notebooks, and when I go off to write a script, these are what I read. Somewhere they always provide me with a point of breakthrough." Kurosawa's advice to aspiring filmmakers is that they must first become solid screenwriters, and to do this he said, "You must read thoroughly, to the point where you can grasp all these things." Kurosawa was a film director, but he was foremost a storyteller. Now, you may not aspire to make movies, but if you are trying to do good creative work of any kind, the ability to identify and share your ideas through different communication channels in ways that connect and engage is key. In other words, you are a storyteller too.
Below are thirteen books—most of them quite new—that I have read recently which may appeal to professionals and students who desire making a bigger splash in the world or in their local communities by sharing their ideas with more clarity and lasting impact. It is not an exhaustive list, but it's a start.
(1) The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?
by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
Your ideas can change the world, at least in a small way (and sometimes in a very big way). In the author's own words, this book is "about getting a larger audience to see and act upon your ideas and learning how to build a community around that experience to take it all to an even higher level." We are all "media creators" they say and this book is about helping you get a larger audience to engage with and how to build a community to move your ideas forward. Really good presentation and communication tips in here as well.
(2) To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
by Daniel Pink
The author of A Whole New Mind and Drive hits the nail on the head (again) with this one. No matter what our profession, most of us are in the business of selling our ideas. As with his other books Pink touches just a bit on the science of his advice and offers practical examples and strategies. There is even a chapter on pitching and the six successors of the elevator pitch and how and when to deploy them.
(3) The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
by Seth Godin
If you need a little inspiration and motivation, this may be the book for you. If you are already a fan of Seth Godin and have read all his other books and follow his blog, there may not be too much new (but still worth it for SG fans). If you are not so familair with Seth's work, then I think you may find this book especially valuable. There is no (longer) comfort in conformity and playing safe. A good, quick, inspiring read. (A video by Seth on the book.)
by Robert Greene
This is going to be a classic. Greene did a lot of background research on this, as with his other books (like The 48 laws of Power), and yet it is a real pleasure to read. Greene looks at several famously successful historical figures and outlines what it is they did to achieve mastery. Greene even gets into communication, offering advice on non-verbal communication and how to read people, etc. I loved the "7 Deadly Realities": Envy, Conformism, Rigidity, Self-obsessiveness, Laziness, Flightiness, and Passive aggression. At the end the author offers Strategies for Attaining Mastery. Really good stuff.
(5) Business Model You: A One-Page Method For Reinventing Your Career
by Timothy Clark , Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur
This is a beautifully designed book, as was Business Model Generation (from last year's list). If you are going to make an impact, then you have got to know clearly what you're all about, what your values and strengths are that you're offering the world. This book uses a one-page tool to help you draw your own personal business model, helping you to identify your value proposition, your market, etc. The examples from real people in the book were very valuable. (Here is a video of the book on Amazon).
(6) Make Your Idea Matter: Stand Out with a Better Story
by Bernadette Jiwa
This is a small book and a good, quick read. Jiwa is a brand specialist and focuses on communication and storytelling in that context. However, even if you are not a marketer or in business at all, I think there are good lessons in here for those people who are trying to get their own story down and clearly communicate it with the world in a way that shows your clear differentiation. One of the chapters includes the "Nine Elements of the Perfect Pitch." A very enjoyable, quick read. Here is a video of Jiwa talking on the subject of the book at TEDxPerth.
(7) HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations
by Nancy Duarte
You may already have Nancy's other great books such as Resonate and Slide:ology, but this one has the Harvard Business Review reputation behind it. So if you have a boss who needs more convincing, and you think the HBR name will help sell the ideas, then this book is a good fit. The layout is actually quite simple and straight forward, and the advice and tips are sound, of course. The book covers everything from preparation to delivery.
(8) 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People
by Susan Weinschenk
Like her earlier book (100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People), Weinschenk, a behavioral psychologist, covers each principle and its related practical advice in 2-3 pages. Therefore, although the tips are good and well explained, you will not get great depth with each principle. Still, most people will not be bothered by this. The book is well designed and very easy to scan at a glance. I do not know the author but I was happy to endorse the book when it was published last spring. The "100 things" fall under categories such as "How people think and learn," "How to grab and hold people's attention," "How to motivate people to take action," and six other sections.
(9) The Elements of Graphic Design (Second Edition)
by Alex W. White
I loved the first edition of this book when it was published about 7-8 years ago. This second edition (2011) is similar but with even better examples. The book is perfect for the non-designer who would like to become more design mindful about how to communicate well with graphics, but pros may enjoy the work as well. The material focuses on space, unity, page architecture, and there is a good discussion on type. A great introduction without being dumbed down in anyway. The principles can be applied for the most part to multimedia displays as well. The e-book version is OK, but the hardcopy book is much more beautiful and easy to navigate.
(10) Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story
by Kendall Haven
We all know that storytelling is powerfully effective if done well, but is there any evidence that story helps people learn material better or convince an audience to take action, and so on? The author, according to his website, "presents the first-ever proof that 'story structure' is an information delivery system powerhouse, evolutionarily hardwired into human brains." Haven, a senior research scientist turned story-teller and story-engineer, has done a load of background research and gives ample evidence to support the idea that story structure is very effective, not just for fiction or the movies, but in education and business as well. Not always the most exciting read, but there is a ton of good material in this relatively small book. I will be turning to this book often in future.
(11) Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
by Lisa Cron
Although this may seem like a book only for writers, it isn't. The principles can be applied to the world of public speaking and presentation as well. The book is simple and well organized and a very quick read. Each of the twelve chapters is organized around different key storytelling and cognitive principles. For example, in chapter 7, Courting Conflict, the Agent of Change, the "Cognitive Secret" is the brain is wired to strongly resist change, even good change. The "Story Secret" is that story is all about change, which results from unavoidable conflict.
(12) Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction
by Jack Hart
Jack Hart is a journalist and expert in applying storytelling principles to news stories and non-fiction in general. Yes, this material is great for writers but I found his principles, examples, and insights to fit very well with the art of storytelling in the context of oral presentation as well. His example stories are short and yet real page-turners, which just illustrates that he knows how to tell true stories in ways that blend facts and emotion in a very engaging way. From my highlights page: "So, at its most basic, a story begins with a character who wants something, struggles to overcome barriers that stand in the way of achieving it, and moves through a series of actions—the actual story structure—to overcome them." Many lessons in this book.
(13) APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book
by Guy Kawasaki, Shawn Welch
If you're going to spread your ideas far and wide, then you may consider publishing a book or two on your subject. Finding a publisher can be tricky...or impossible. But who says you need a traditional publisher to publish a book? The aim of APE is to help people take control of their writing careers. The idea behind APE is simple: filling the roles of Author, Publisher and Entrepreneur can get results that rival traditional publishing (and make more money for the author as well). At 300 pages APE really is a of step-by-step guide that provides tactical advice and practical inspiration. Before you read APE, you may really enjoy Be the Monkey - Ebooks and Self-Publishing: A Dialog Between Authors Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. This book only cost about a buck and is a funny and enlightening read, especially if you are a published author with a traditional publisher. Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath are successful novelists who have walked away from huge advances from traditional publishers to go indie (self-publish).
And many more...
If you have a book that has been particularly helpful for you recently, please feel free to share your tip below in the comments section or send me a note. A book I am in the middle of now is Steve Martin's Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life (2008). I am loving this book. The performing lessons for presenters are many and the book is quite inspiring as well for anyone who is having a tough time "making it." A wonderful read.