I didn’t read a lot of books in 2010, so you should know right up front that this list of my favorites is plucked from a relatively small selection (about a dozen books). Also, there is no fiction on this list. I haven’t read any fiction in a few years, although I almost picked up Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom after I learned that there’s supposedly a sub-plot involving public relations work. But for the time being I’ve resisted that temptation. Also, all of the books listed below were published in 2010, even though I spent quite a bit of my reading hours this past year with some books that have been around for a while. Most notably, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a doorstop of a tome that sucked up my entire summer poolside reading time and induced more than a few naps.
So, with those disclaimers and qualifiers out of the way, I present my five favorite books from 2010. I would recommend these to anyone. (One more disclaimer: all the book links are affiliate links.)
1. Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, by Hugh Macleod.
OK, here’s one from the Twitterverse that drew me in. Macleod (@gapingvoid on Twitter) is a cartoonist who became famous, thanks to the Internet, for creating weird little business-card-sized cartoons. I don’t always get his jokes so I was glad to read some explanations to them in this book. But this book is not just about cartooning. It’s about creativity, entrepreneurship and escaping the mind-numbing culture we find ourselves sometimes trapped within. Each of Macleod’s pithy tips include some great nuggets for anyone involved in marketing, public relations, creative endeavors of any sort and entrepreneurship. Take key No. 23, Nobody cares. Do it for yourself: “Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, painting, screenplay, etc., especially if you haven’t finished it yet. And the ones who aren’t too busy you don’t want in your life anyway.” Good advice, that.
I’ve been in love with the Rolling Stones since my older brother taught me the opening guitar riff to “Satisfaction,” circa 1966. Also, since taking up the guitar in my teenage years, I’ve been impressed with Richards’ style and have had plenty of laughs reading about his and the Stones’ various antics. So why wouldn’t I want to read this autobiography by one of the greatest living rock guitarists and songwriters? It’s raw and colorful, as you’d expect, but also lucid, articulate and very detailed. Given Richards’ penchant for drug experimentation over the years, I was expecting a more rambling, ramshackle style. There are plenty of colorful turns of phrase and enough rawness and vulgarity for the die-hard Stones fan. What else would you expect from “Keef,” anyway? But through the rawness, Richards’ intelligence, insight and rock-god wisdom comes through. This candid, firsthand account of the Stones’ ascension from London blues group to the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band should be of interest to anyone who loves rock’n’roll, the history of the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s, and marketing, as there are plenty of lessons for marketers in this book. Believe the hype: this book is the real deal. Also believe Richards’ hand-written blurb on the sleeve: “This is the Life. Believe it or not I haven’t forgotten any of it.” (Bonus: listen to and read about the playlist Richards put together for Rolling Stone magazine.)
A master of the art of lateral and cross-disciplinary thinking, Johnson brilliantly threads together ideas and patterns from a variety of fields — evolutionary biology, urban planning, computer science, entrepreneurship and astronomy, to name a few — to give us seven fertile “environments” needed to grow good ideas. Each of these seven areas — the adjacent possible, liquid networks, the slow hunch, serendipity, error, exaptation and platforms — interconnect and overlap to form an ecosystem of sorts in which good ideas may thrive. Although the main theme for this book has to do with innovation, Johnson provides enough evidence from a broad variety of fields to support the idea that good ideas — whether in business, academia, art, marketing, music, whatever — can thrive if certain conditions exist. Equally important, ideas can die if those factors are not present. (I’ll be returning to this book as a resource for an upcoming blog post about the value of open systems and interconnectedness.)
This is my pick for social media book of the year. In her earlier book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, Li and co-author Josh Bernoff showed businesses and organizations how to connect with customers via social media. With Open Leadership, she argues that the same technologies that have leveled the playing field between consumers and business can have a huge impact on leadership. Li makes a convincing case for business leaders to embrace social media as a force for positive change and true transparency. (I wrote a Friday Five-style review of Open Leadership in July, then followed up with another post after I realized I overlooked an important lesson from that book in my original review.)
The author of The No Asshole Rule returns with a book for all of us, because we are either bosses, work for bosses or both. Just as his previous book helped me understand the times when I can be a jerk (okay, an asshole; no pulling punches), so Good Boss, Bad Boss has exposed me to my inner “bosshole.” I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot from this book, but I have a feeling it’s something I’ll need to reference again and again, because inner bossholes are like zombies from Night of the Living Dead. Just when you think you’ve throttled them, they spring back to life.
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So, those are my picks. What were your favorite reads of 2010?