What Ideas Are and How To Have Better Ones

Ex Libris 2015

Ex libris 2015

When I was a kid, my parents had a rule whereby they would never say no to buying me books or comics because reading is awesome and so are they. 

I have kept this rule myself as an adult, because reading is awesome.

This, when coupled with the fractured attention span I have because Internet, Twitter, Amazon Prime, and Kindles, means that I now read in a different way than I used to. 

I used to reading linearly, book by book. Now, because I buy a book that looks interesting as soon as I come across it so I don't forget, I have stack of books, physical and digital, that I'm reading, sometimes many at once. 

This is probably a terrible way to read but it suits me. I sometimes find interesting synchronicities and connections between things I'm reading - hyperlinks in a way.

It means that sometimes I don't finish books, especially if they don't hold my attention, which was something I used to consider anathema, but I no longer do. So many books, so little time. 

My attention is the most precious resource I have. 

A couple of times before I have posted an Ex Libris of things I've been reading, and people said they liked them, and someone asked about books recently, so here are some things in my current stack that I think you might enjoy.

All of these books came through reccomendations, mostly on Twitter, some in person. 

Genius Steals, y'know? 


BEAUTIFUL YOU by Chuck Palahniuk

I've read most of his books, they are mostly pretty brilliant. [Fight Club of course, but I think Survivor and Invisible Monsters are equally good, it not better].

He has a very tight writing formula, he's a craftsman. This one is about a billionaire who uses ancient sex secrets to create a line of highly addictive sex toys as part of a seemingly sinister plot. I've only got one chapter left and I'm saving it. IT'S FUN. 

ABSURDISTAN by Gary Shteyngart 

My mate Billy gave me this, and it's hilarious. Narrated by Misha Vainberg, aka Snack Daddy, a 325-pound disaster of a human being, son of the 1,238th-richest man in Russia. Delightfully self aware and poignant in its analysis of US foreign policy and the causes of war.

It's a cross between A Confederacy of Dunces and Catch 22.

[Which you should have read. I mean it. Classics. Required reading.] 

IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE by Sinclair Lewis 

It's an entirely predictable cycle. When the economy slows and things become austere, extremism rears its ugly head in seemingly civilised societies. This 1935 novel is a satirical exploration of how a dictator could take over the USA, riding such unfortunate sentiments. Obviously it's impacted by the rise of Facism in Germany, and the USA's sense of isolationism at the time. I've just started this, the introduction was fascinating. 

Minor King by Jim Mitchem [not pictured - got it for Kindle.]

I've known Jim [online] for a few years and have always enjoyed his writing - his passion is raw and intense and beautiful. So I've bought his novel, which I've not read yet but have high hopes for. You can read about how he wrote it on his blog


The Authority Volume 1 and Volume 2 - by Warren Ellis and Mark Millar

Superhero books will never seem the same again after you read these. Epic, modern, fresh, and very very visceral. 

LOCKE AND KEY by Joe Hill 

I picked this book up randomly in a book shop [that's the great thing about books shops] and it is incredibly dark and disturbing and brilliant. 


THE ADVERTISING EFFECT: How to Change Behavior by Adam Ferrier

I'm a few chapters in on this and it's fantastic. Adam writes in a very clear and charming way - because, as he points out, saying smart things simply has been proven to be the most persuasive mode of writing.

Adam is a trained psychologist and this is heavily rooted in behavioural psychology - how to actually change behavior, through intervention and understanding, and how advertising can understand that. It pretty much over turns most of what we intuitively practice in advertising - actions change your behavior, not rational or emotional persuasion. 

A BEAUTIFUL CONSTRAINT by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden

In EatingTheBigFish Adam literally wrote the book on challenger brand behavior. This book demonstrates how constraints are crucial to creativity, and how businesses and brands can look to make their constraints beautiful, that is to say, a source of innovation and strength. The ABC method of making contraints beautiful is clear and smart, and it's full of examples from across a HUGE range of ideas, from their 15 years working with challenger brands.

I've just started it and there are already loads of bits I want to steal. 

Buy This Book - Win More Pitches by Peter Levitan

Pitching is a fact of life, especially in advertising. Peter has been doing it for a long time and the book is full of useful tips on pitching, that so often get forgotten in the heat of an actual competitive pitch. Peter interviewed me and 13 other advertising people on our thoughts and pitch experiences and tips. 


I'm starting a regular column in Admap this month but I've been a reader and fan of WARC for years. 


So I've not started either of these books yet - but they both came from good sourced reccomendations. I am very interested in understanding how we understand ourselves, especially when it contravenes "common sense". I'm very interested in meta-cognitive errors - errors in how we think we think - that have a dramatic impact on how we behave, especially in advertising. 

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Tavris and Aronson

Irrationality: the enemy within by Stuart Sutherland 


The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms (Incerto) by Nasim Taleb

Whether or not you like his style, he is incredibly smart. This is delightful little book you can dip in and out of.

The first one:

The person you are the most afraid to contradict is yourself.

[This directly contradicts one of my favourite quotes, by Walt Whitman.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large I contain multitudes.]

A random one:

The opposite of success isn't failure; it is name dropping.

Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall

He used to be the poet laureate of the USA. I'm interested in what it's like being old. I hope to be old one day. He also has a great beard. 

I haven't started it yet. I like the idea of a book of essays. Essays were invented by Michel do Montaigne. The word means try or attempt. I like the idea that writing is only ever an attempt at exploring an idea. 

Happy reading.