The book that changed my (business) life

We asked around the agency to discover those books with the power to blow your mind. And even change the course of your career. See if you agree with our recommendations

Words by Alison Krog

Ed Marriage, digital strategy director
Adapt by Tim Hartford

I admit that I’m a sucker for popular economics (which is only one of the reasons why people never invite me to dinner parties more than once). But even I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t find this book fascinating. It’s a forensic look at the history, data, economics and science of how innovation and progress really happens (see, told you). I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has not read it but suffice to say, most good things happen by accident. It’s a humbling and liberating idea.

It’s changed my professional life in two ways:
1 It’s made me more open minded, better at exploring alternatives, happier to take risks, happier to drop bad ideas and generally better at my job.

2 It’s probably also made me less employable and curtailed my career progress because when you stop pretending that you have a fail-proof plan, it tends to panic people and you become a bit of an ‘acquired taste’.  But I’m ok with that.

Paul Simpson, editor
All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

“One office rumour had it that English was not Woodward’s native language.” For a teenage journalist wannabe, All The President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was galvanising. The idea that journalistic diligence, intelligence and integrity could bring down a crooked president was inspirational – indeed, it still is. The book, like the Oscar-winning movie, didn’t gloss over the painstaking work that underpinned the investigation and, by acknowledging the protagonists’ flaws, made their story more accessible. Definitive proof that the right content can change history.

Alison Krog, content strategist
Lean UX, Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden

I’m the sort of person who puts semi-colons in text messages, and won’t press send until they’ve been proof-read (backwards, of course) at least three times. Anally retentive? I’ll take that as a compliment. For the past eight years I worked on a 54pp print magazine with 9-month schedule. (And what’s wrong with that?)

So when last year I was seconded to work as the ‘words’ person in a digital product development team that espoused a ‘Lean X’ approach, I was more than a little out of my comfort zone. (Ideation? Deep diving? MVP?) The notion we could launch a product to market that was anything less than perfect was as foreign as the language my new colleagues spoke. But it was when I pulled up a chair to join the morning ‘stand-up’ that I realised something had to change: me. And so I read Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden’s brilliant explanation of ‘Designing Great Products with Agile Teams’, and it completely transformed the way I think – and more importantly approach every project, whether digital or print. ‘There’s no reason to do any more work than you need to in order to deliver next step,’ has become my liberating mantra. So think, create, learn and iterate.

Gershon Portnoi, Editor
The Catcher In The Rye, by JD Salinger

That’s not a business book. Goddamn right it’s not.

But it changed my life, and if it changed my life, it must have changed the course of my career, so there.

This coming-of-age classic featuring Holden Caulfield as an adolescent struggling to understand the phoney world of adults, contains so much truth that it has to be relevant for all aspects of life. Holden called it as he saw it and, even though he wasn’t always right, he was always authentic.

In the commercial world, it takes a lot of guts to call out bullshit, most of us probably never have and never will. But now and again, if we can channel our inner Holden Caulfields, we might just make a difference.

If you think about someone who really didn’t give a crap, to coin a Holden phrase, who annoyed people and stayed single-minded in his beliefs, then not only are you thinking about Holden Caulfield, you might also be describing Steve Jobs.

And he did ok.

David Spon-Smith, Head of Client Engagement
The Tipping Point, By Malcolm Gladwell

If you work in advertising or marketing, and you want to understand why some things make it big and some things don’t, then read Gladwell’s, The Tipping Point. In it, he sets out the three key factors that determine the success of any movement or product; The law of the few, the stickiness factor and context. Understanding each of these factors will help you successfully bring your product to market, and more importantly, maintain its relevance in a competitive marketplace for years to come.

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