An innovation in books

 And I don't mean e-books. The prospect of e-books frightens the life out of me, quite uncharacteristically since I normally love my gadgets. As a book-historian my heart bleeds at the thought of paper books disappearing, of generations growing up without the consolation and delight of paper books. The medium is sometimes the message, or at least an important part of the message, and I like the paper medium. Plus, if everyone's reading e-books, how can I snoop and see what people are reading on the tube? 

No, I want to highlight another bookish innovation: the Dwarsligger. It's a book, a good old-fashioned paper one. But with a twist. Almost literally. They're half size paperbacks, on bible or onion paper, and flipped sideways so once you open them it's the size of a paperback (if you want to see more, check out the video). It's cute, it's handy (fits into my coat pocket), it allows me to read on the tube without having to stick my book in someone else's ribs. And it's a great new take on the book. If you read Dutch and live in the Netherlands, buy one. And let me know what you think. 

Books are good for my soul

Sometimes you love doing something. Really, really love. For
me it’s books and reading and being in bookstores and buying books and
collecting books. It’s not just something I like, it’s something I’m
passionate about. When I feel down, I wander into a library, a bookstore or
perch myself down in front of my bookcase and after a while, life is manageable
again. Books are good for my soul.

Even though I’m passionate about books (heck, I have 1.5
degree in book history), I sometimes forget. For a long time sometimes. Life
takes over, screams out at me to take care of other stuff and I do. And then I
forget about the consolation of being around books and the thrill of reading
them. It becomes buried under day to day life. Then, all of a sudden, and
usually what feels like a coincidence, I stumble upon my first love again. I
walk into a bookstore, get transported back into the safe haven books offer and
become entranced all over again. I browse, see new books and familiar ones (am
I the only one that judges a bookshop by a small number of books, if they have
those, they’re a good bookshop, if they don’t, they’re not
very good?) and breathe paper and ink.

This happened to me this past Sunday. We wandered into the
Holland Park branch of Daunt and as if by magic I rediscovered my passion for
books. Strangely enough, that makes the rest of life more interesting and
alive and Technicolor too. The passion transcends into other areas of my life.
I’m not quite sure why this surprised me, since this has happened many
times before. And it doesn’t really matter that it did surprise me. What
matters is that it worked. There’s a little extra magic in my life. And
another book (you didn’t honestly believe I could walk into Daunt and
leave without a book, did you?).

Made to Stick

Made_to_stickPfiew. It’s been a little while since I wrote a serious bookreport (I’m not counting the CPM ones here) but one of my resolutions for 2008 is to retain more of what I’m reading. As you can probably tell from the sidebar, I read quite a lot: I love it. And I don’t have a TV. But mainly because I love it. However, sometimes it feels like I rush through a book, like it, but don’t retain what’s in there for longer than it takes to read the book. I decided to take a stack of mini-Postit’s with me and tagged every page that had an interesting concept. But I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. So it was quite timely that I saw Russell Davies’ post today. He’s copying this guy, and so I’m the copycat’s copycat.

The book: Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The verdict: ****

What is it about? We wanted to take apart sticky ideas – both natural and created – and figure out what made them stick. What makes urban legends so compelling? Why do some chemistry lessons work better than others? Why does virtually every society circulate a set of proverbs? (p 12)

The Heath brothers have made the reader’s life easier by ordering their book into 6 principles:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectednes
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

On simplicity: Finding the core and writing the lead both involve forced prioritization. Suppose you’re a wartime reporter and you can telegraph only one thing before the line gets cut, what would it be? There’s only one lead and there’s only one core. You must choose. (p 32)

More on Simple: … the Curse of Knowledge… the difficulty in remembering what it was like not to know something… To a CEO, "maximizing shareholder value" may be an immensely useful rule of behavior. To a flight attendant, it is not… People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a litle more. (p 57)

I think this for me alone, the introduction of the Curse of Knowledge, a phenomenon that we are all familiar with instinctively, was worth reading the book alone. Mental note to self: be aware of the curse.

About unexpectedness: The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern…Surprise gets our attention… Interest keeps our attention. (p 64/5)

So how to go about making your ideas more sticky? A good process for making your ideas stickier is: (1) Identify the central message you need to communicate — find the core; (2) Figure out what is counterintuitive about the message — i.e. , What are the unexpected implications of your core message? Why isn’t it already happening already? (3) Communicate your message in a way that breaks your audience’s guessing machines along the critical, counterintuitive dimension… Common sense is the enemy of sticky messages. When message sound like common sense, they float gently in one ear and out the other. (p 72)

The Heath brothers quote prof Cialdini (who I saw speak at the RSA not long ago) …"the Aha! experience is much more satisfying when it is preceded by the Huh? experience." (p 81)

One important implication of the gap theory is that we need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts. The trick is … to first highlight some specific knowledge that they’re missing (p 85) which a few pages later is followed by Unexpected ideas, by opening a knowledge gap, tease and flirt [yeay, we need more ideas that tease and flirt, hurrah!!] (p 93)

The credibility chapter didn’t hold too much interest for me, but the chapter on Emotional roped me back in: Caples says companies often emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits. "The most frequent reason for unsuccesful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments … that they forget to tell us why we should buy… An old advertising maxim says you’ve got to spell out the benefit of the benefit. In other words, people don’t buy quarter-inch drills. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their childern’s pictures.  (p 179)

How do we make decisions? James March, a professor at Stanford University, … proposes that we use two basic models to make decisions. The first model involves calculating consequences. We weigh our alternatives, assessing the value of each one, and we choose the alternative that yields us the most value… The second model is quite different. It assumes that people make decisions based on identity. They ask themselves three questions: Who am I? What kinds of situation is this? And what do people like me do in this kind of situation? (p 190)  That last one made me think. I think this is much more important that I had realized.

Other ideas that struck me in the book: mental simulation can build skills (e.g you can become better at darts by thinking about doing a task successfully from beginning to end) on page 213; inspiration drives action (which explains the before-and-after photos in ads!) on page 222; that many stories basically have 3 plots: challenge (think David and Goliath), connection (about relationships) and creativity (a mental breakthrough or solving a puzzle) on pages 228/29/30.

What can’t people tell stories? The first villain is the tendency to bury the lead — to get lost in a sea of information… the second is to focus on the presentation rather than the message (p 243/44). A better crafted message is tons more effective than a charismatic speaker… wow, this kind of counterintuitive.
And a final quote: There is a curious disconnect between the amount of time we invest in training people how to arrive at the Answer and the amount of time in invest in training them how to Tell Others. It’s easy to graduate from … an MBA program without ever taking a class in communication. (p 245) Halleluja. MBA’s should have storytelling classes, we’d have a lot less boring death-by-powerpoint presentations!!

Check out the authors’ blog for more background.

Would I recommend it? Yep. Wholeheartedly. It’s a great, and practical, read.

Parallel lives

657560409_283dc0af51Yesterday, amid the hustle and bustle of finishing up the MBA, I slipped into a parallel universe for an hour. You see, way back when, when I was even younger than I am now, I managed to get not just one but two degrees focussed on book history. Books are one the biggest passions in my life, if not the biggest. For reasons I’ve never really understood, I never ended up working in publishing, but ended up being a consultant. But the passion never died. So imagine my surprise when Jeremy at Penguin (*waving*) invited me over for drinks last night! That’s one opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I headed over to Brick Lane and had a quick drink (Sundowners was waiting so I couldn’t stay long) with Jeremy and some other folks (I’m so sorry, I’m so crap with names). And it was like a parallel universe, in which people are passionate about books and literature. It reminded me of exactly how much I love books and how much I love talking about them. (If you’re in London and a literature-buff, you might enjoy the London Lit Plus festival about to start, something I found out about last night too). And to top it all off, they even gave me a few books (see pic on the left)! Thanks Jeremy, I had a blast :-)

On the way back I did my Superman act and quickly changed into my Class Gift T-shirt to head to the last Sundowners. It was a nostalgic affair, it was wonderful seeing so many of my classmates, but also weird that this was the last one. Sundowners was followed by dinner and drinks at the Windsor Castle which was packed. At least I enjoyed every single minute of it and have some great memories!

Now it’s back to the ‘laatste loodjes’ (sorry, it’s a Dutch saying, I have no idea what the English translation is, maybe something like the last bits and bobs?). I have plenty of work left on a part-time project I’m working on, need to figure out what shoes to wear to graduation, find wings and a halo for a skit tomorrow, work my way around some appointments today, go to a farewell party… Darn, I have a charmed life!

As an encore, here’s some Jerry Lee Lewis (actually it’s my favourite Lewis song). One of the books Jeremy gave me is Nick Tosches’ Hellfire, about Jerry Lee Lewis. I’m a big fan of fifties rock ‘n’ roll, so this is a treat!

You like what you lack

Afb002Summer term is the season of conferences. Last Wednesday was the Organic Milkround, yesterday was the Entrepreneurship conference, next week Friday is the Private Equity conference and on May 12th the Marketing Club hosts the marketing conference. There will also be a tech forum (no details on that one yet), and a Meet the Media event, organised by the Media Club. There’s also the ANZAC party organized by the SANZA club, and the Japan night coming up.

Patxi asked me talk more on the Alain de Botton talk I went to earlier this week and I’m happy to oblige. He spoke to introduce (sell) his new book, called The Architecture of Happiness, which just came out. He had the most beautiful slides (without words on them, just images), and he took us on a tour of architecture, how the environment you’re in can influence your mood (‘where you are influences who you can be’), how buildings can function as a guide to find our true selves, art and architecture as the gap between what life can be and what is reality. The one phrase that struck me most was ‘you like [in architecture or art] what you miss in life’. I never looked at it that way, but I found that thought fascinating. You like what you lack. You like what you yearn for in life but what isn’t there, or you feel isn’t there. For me, going to talks like these open up new ways of thinking and looking at the world around me, something I sometimes think is lacking somewhat in the MBA. We’re very much taught about things that are and how to describe them (doing case studies doesn’t really help, hindsight is always 20/20!), not how things could be. Imagination and creativity are sometimes hard to find at a b-school, so I have to search for them elsewhere (and luckily London offers ample opportunities).

I’ve been fiddling around with the Typepad template a little bit, and have added categories to most archived blogposts, so if you’re looking for a post on a particular topic, have a look ‘Categories’ section in the column on the right. I’ve also added an RSS feed to my Del.icio.ous postings (bottom of left hand column) so you can see what piques my interest.

PS Happy Queen’s Birthday! Technically the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Birthday on April 30th, but when it falls on a Sunday, we celebrate the Saturday before.

A little sunshine…

A little sunshine, some nice tea and a whole lot of good conversation. What a perfect day to celebrate the first real day of Spring in London! Today was the first day that I walked around without a coat on this year, and it was soooo lovely. I spent the afternoon having tea with a friend in Hampstead, catching up and doing some shopping. She showed me around Hampstead and I’ve fallen in love with the place. It feels so villag-y, and it’s got so many good shops! One of my favourite’s is Rosslyn Delicatessen, which stocks one of my favourite cheeses ever: Rambol. Brings back fond memories of working at a project in the Netherlands with the national gastransport company, going out once a week for sandwiches, and my absolute favourite (best sandwich I ever had in my life) was made with Rambol. Needless to say I splurged (well, sort of) and bought a small piece. The picture top left was taken in their store, I believe these are American sauces (they’ve got quite a large section with American food).

Lately I’ve been listening to a number of podcasts (this branch of internet-sport seems to be growing up a little bit) and one of my favourites are the talks given by entrepreneurs at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. This program has set up Stanford Educator’s Corner, with a motherload of video, podcasts and other material related to entrepreneurship. Well worth a visit if entrepreneurship is your thing (it’s even got a video featuring LBS Entrepreneurship prof John Bates).

I’ve just finished reading Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel (see for the accompanying blog here, and for a list of all the blogs mentioned in the book here). On a whim yesterday I decided to check out all the books that the London Business School library has in stock on blogging, 3 in total and this was the first I read. I really liked it, it gives great examples about how blogging is used in business, how it could be used, and how it should not be used. Great stuff if you’re interested in blogging (I’m not sure how many people at LBS are, though, I was the first one to check out the book… but then again, it appeared in 2006, so it could have just be put on the shelf).


One of my favourite holiday-passtimes (come to think of it, it’s one of my favourite passtimes full stop) is reading. So, one of the big things when going on holiday is the books I take with me. I’m not an expert reviewer, but below a few short impressions of the books I read.

* Charles Handy, The Elephant and the Flea. I picked up a copy of this book because it was cheap, I’ll be honest about it. I didn’t know that Charles Handy was at the birth of London Business School, that was a pleasant surprise. I liked the general gist of this book, although wasn’t impressed with other parts. The general idea is this: more and more people will have what Handy calls ‘portfolio careers’. A bit of this, a bit of that instead of starting work at a big corporation and getting your gold watch from it’s CEO 40 years later. I like the idea of portfolio, not just doing one thing, but a variety of activities which might or might not be paid (Handy includes housework and voluntary activities in his definition of work).

* Mira Kirshenbaum, The gift of a year. Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for selfhelp books. I love ‘em. And read lots of ‘em. I loved the general idea of this book, although I didn’t care much for what I felt was a lot of repetition in the book. Back to the general idea though: taking a year out for you. To take a year to take a bubblebath every night (as one woman did) to find the man of her life (read the book for more details) to taking every conceivable art course another woman did. While reading it, I kept on thinking ‘my MBA is my gift of a year’ (or technically two years). I have promised myself that I will be concious of the opportunities that will present themselves and create opportunities myself. This is going to be my gift of a year to myself.

* Faith Popcorn, Evelution. The eight truths of marketing to women. Picked this one up on a whim, it was remaindered and seemed like a way of dipping my toe in the pool that is called marketing. I wasn’t impressed. This was a 200 page long advert for Popcorn’s company. A lot of examples are clients of her company which sounded too much like selfpromotion to me. A few concepts I really liked, about specific tactics for marketing to women, like offer something before women have to ask for it, and if you get women to connect, then they will connect to your brand. On the whole though, I wasn’t impressed.

* Jack Welch, Jack. Straight from the gut. I suppose this was the first real business autobiography I’ve ever read. And I was a bit underwhelmed all through the book until the penultimate chapter (more on that later). I hated the amount of detail, I do not care to know that he had a meeting with so-and-so in the business lounge of this-and-that motel. Too much information. The one chapter I really liked was the one in which he gives some advice about what he thinks a CEO should be or do. Characteristics such as informality, celebration and culture counts and Jack’s perception of these made for an interesting read. But I just wish he written a 20 page article and not a 250 page book….

Good things in life

Another day, another entry in my blog. Am feeling a slight tinge of guilt for blogging about ‘normal’ things, although I realise that life goes on and strangely enough, not blogging about the things that I’d blog about if London was hit by 4 bombs makes me feel guilty as well. Londoners are going on with their life, and thus so will I.
Did I say the band of LBS bloggers was complete? Well, we’re on our way to an entire orchestra! Gaurav, another MBA2007 R2 admit like me, is also blogging his way towards LBS as well. Great to have you!

One of the things on my 1001-things-to-do-before-I-die list is visit the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague, which is on every year in july. And this year I’m going! The festival started today, but I’m only going tomorrow. The line-up is fab: tonight Al Green and Chaka Khan amongst others, tomorrow Ian Siegal Band, Jamie Cullum and Solomon Burke (my musical hero). And the best thing is: I’m going with a dear friend of mine. So the best of both worlds, great music with a great friend.

The reading material I took with me has given me a lot of inspiration and for once I want to write a proper review, and not just my sketchy ones the way I normally write down impressions, but I’m too tired to do so tonight, will try and come round to it this weekend. One thing that I do want to share is Ramon Stoppelenburg’s website I read his book accounting his adventures when he set up a website, asked people to have him stay for a day and subsequently traveled the world without paying a penny. Brilliant idea!