Inspiration comes from funny places, sometimes, doesn’t it? A kid’s lemonade stand inspires unexpected business lessons; a holiday classic suggests some marketing fundamentals.
Because I am a writer, I find that the words of others—especially books—resonate with me. Very often, I get business inspiration in unlikely places.
In the words of author Jack London: “You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
Here are three books I read this past year that both inspired me and helped evolve my thinking about my own work, and business in general.
Linchpin by Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2010). Seth is well-known as a marketing genius and prolific author and blogger. But his more recent book, released early in 2010, was different, as I wrote about here.
Unlike Seth's other books, Linchpin felt very personal. It challenged each of us to create, invent and lead. It reminded us that we have options—now more than ever. It told us to make art: not necessarily with the obvious tools of clay or paint or paper (or cake frosting or boiled wool or whatever your artistic medium of choice), but by doing our best work. In essence, Linchpin urged us to matter, and to make a difference, in whatever we choose to do.
Indispensable business inspiration: The key message I gleaned from Linchpin is the notion of “shipping,” which is (as Seth terms it) the act of producing and delivering, on time, the thing that makes you indispensable—even if it's not as complete or perfect or comprehensive as you'd like it to be. In other words: setting a goal and meeting its deadline rather than making excuses for why you missed it, which often revolve around insisting that the thing be perfect. I’m an endless tweaker, and this is the book that, in 2010, inspired me to deliver on some important deadlines, including those for my book manuscripts.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (Little Brown, 2010). Sedaris is known as a comic memoirist (if that’s even a literary category), performer, and is a frequent contributor to NPR. He’s hilarious, of course, but he’s also a really great writer—a point that often seems overlooked. I’m kind of a Sedaris junkie, immediately inhaling whatever he publishes, and then, when I'm through, sitting around aching for more.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is a departure from his other books, though. It’s a collection of short tales featuring animal characters—but providing insight into human nature. The stories are sometimes sweet, but more often dark and depressing.
This book left me unsettled at my core and questioning myself about life, relationships, and the essence of human nature. But setting that aside (!), it was also oddly inspiring in another way, as a reminder to challenge the expected. Sedaris could easily churn out memoir after memoir, and his fans (like me!) would lap it up. But he took an entirely different tack here.
Indispensable business inspiration: Similarly, businesses have to look at the content they publish as a cornerstone of their marketing, and occasionally surprise, too. As we write in Content Rules: “Do something unexpected. There’s no business like show business, right? Occasionally adding an element of surprise to your content both drives viral sharing and enhances your company’s personality.” (B2B companies, I’m looking at you.)
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Mariner, 2007). This poignant memoir tipped off a bit of a graphic-novel bender. I followed up this one with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (Pantheon, 2003) and David Small’s Stitches (W.W. Norton, 2009). In similar ways, the trio document the childhood experiences and coming of age of each author, albeit in radically different environments.
Indispensable business inspiration: This trio of graphic memoirs helped me grok the power of images and non-text as a medium for powerful storytelling, which led to another bit of content inspiration for businesses: Using text to convey the personality and depth of your brand is awesome, but sometimes it can sell your brand short. Video, audio, and photos can pack a wallop. Lots of organizations and entrepreneurs know this already, of course, including Kodak, The Cool Beans Group, and Gary Vaynerchuk.
What books did you read last year that inspired you?
Image credit: takomabibelot
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the brand new book Content Rules (Wiley, 2011). Follow her on Twitter @marketingprofs.