I’ll let you in on a little secret: I listen to audiobooks and podcasts at 1.25x speed. I’ve tried 1.5x—the speed one friend swears by—but that hurt my brain. At my preferred pace, most narrators sound like an expeditious New Yawker, accelerating to the punchline intelligibly yet well-ahead of the average. With this approach, I’m also able to power through business books, leaving my bedtime reads free for the more escapist variety.
So, with the hope that you’ll reciprocate, I offer up the best of my summer reads (or listens). This list tells a story in itself. The first two reflect an ongoing obsession with brand storytelling. The third got on the list after my podcast guest Brent Adamson of Gartner suggested studying Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-Be-Done Theory, which will reorient your content strategy. A fellow agency owner recommended the fourth title to help rethink how services firms could be run. And last but not least, I reveal the series that actually kept me up at night.
Building a Story Brand
Author Donald Miller serves up a truly useful book for marketers struggling with storytelling by laying out a step-by-step approach for building your brand story. Using Miller’s StoryBrand Framework, you’ll be reminded not to make your brand the hero of your own story and instead find the pivotal problem you’ll help your customer overcome. (Note: This book is much more practical than “The Storytelling Edge” and “Signature Stories,” both of which tell memorable stories about brands but are far less prescriptive on how to craft your own.)
Winning the Story Wars
This book is even less of a manual for marketers and more like a manifesto for civilized society. Author Jonah Sachs credits storytelling with the rise of the far right, who he claims adopted storytelling earlier and more effectively than many of the liberals they oppose. He also sees the absence of collectively accepted myths in modern society as a void being filled by modern mythmakers of the political variety. It’s all a bit heady, but Sachs supports his theories with vivid examples and ultimately suggests the “hero’s journey” as ground zero for all wannabe storytellers.
Competing Against Luck
Harvard B-school professor and bestselling business author Clayton Christensen argues in this book that most companies fail at innovation because they lack an effective framework for uncovering actionable customer insights. His answer to that is the Jobs-to-Be-Done Theory, which requires looking at purchase behavior with a far broader lens than, say, “hiring” a hotel room for a night’s rest. Airbnb, for example, found all sorts of new jobs to be done, such as providing a more localized cultural experience. B2B marketers can also benefit from Jobs-to-Be-Done Theory, although I’ll need a separate post to explain how.
Getting Naked: A Business Fable
This was an easy listen as far as business books go, thanks to its fictitious story about an old-school management consultant who discovers a new way of serving clients. Author Patrick Lencioni’s allegory suggests that by being totally open, honest and transparent with clients (AKA “naked consulting”), service firms can increase customer loyalty, profit margins and employee retention rates. Getting there starts with overcoming three fears: 1) the fear of losing business, 2) the fear of being embarrassed and 3) the fear of feeling inferior. All good stuff—just quite a bit easier said than done!
The Red Sparrow Trilogy
My summer reading list always includes a few purely indulgent novels that are page-turners from the get-go. Late to the Red Sparrow series, I made up for lost time by devouring all three in short succession. Don’t let the dreadful Jennifer Lawrence movie dissuade you—this trilogy provides a joy ride through modern espionage, offering up what some describe as the most accurate peek inside the new KGB. Author Jason Matthews, a former CIA operative, even spices up each chapter with a recipe at the end, a conceit that is just one of the reasons this fan hungers for more.
OK, you’ve seen my list. Your turn.