Books that Made Me

9.17.19, published by

How what you read helps shape who you are.

Inspired by life long friend and author, Darren Campo, I felt it time I write a post on the importance of reading. Yes, we all know why reading more can make you a better writer, but as Darren explores, books can make you not only a better storyteller, they can MAKE you, YOU.

As a child I was a terrible reader. My older sister was an avid bookworm who devoured 1,000 page books as if they were hors d’oeuvres, but I had a tough time concentrating. My mind would wander before I hit the second chapter and I would be consumed with urges to act out my own version of the proposition within its pages. Reading felt too passive. Maybe that is what drew me towards documentary films and non-fiction content. I have always been passionate about the world and learning, I just needed a little audio visual support along the way.

Fast forward twenty years and I am a creative director in marketing for the #1 non fiction television brand in the world. It was a dream come true. But with the challenge came the responsibility to manage, lead and learn more about industry trends. And that translated into reading more. I had to dig into Who Moved My Cheese? And The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I was exhausted with all that thinking outside the box, leaning in and smashing glass ceilings. I was a young mother of two with a boss who had zero patience for excuses but had a healthy appetite for great work. I had no time for exhaustion or being overwhelmed.

Instead, I learned how to harness those rare quiet moments and dedicate them to reading (this was pre-podcast… MAN, I wish podcasts were a thing when my kids were born). I sought out everything from managing a team, to the changing media landscape to biographies … Anthony Bourdain, Stephen King, Andre Aggassi and Jimmy Carter … I’m looking at you! I also re-upped my subscriptions to National Geographic and Wired (as soon as I also took on marketing for the Science Channel). I not only wanted to learn how to be a more effective manager and better TV executive, I wanted to learn everything I could about everything. This is the behavior of a lifelong learner. Especially one working for Discovery at the time.

I would say that 9 out of every 10 books I read are non fiction. The last two on my night stand are Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill: How Senior Marketers Scale the Heights Through Art and Science by friend and mentor, Nancie McDonnell Ruder.

The Proof Is In the Pages: The List

If I had to list out a few of the most influential books for me, they are as follows:

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto

by Blair Enns

“Charging more improves our ability to help our clients and increases the likelihood that we will deliver high-quality outcomes. It allows us to select the best clients – those that we are most able to help. Like leaning into the discomfort of money conversations, charging more might not come naturally or seem easy, but it is better for everyone, including the client, and so this too we shall learn to do with confidence.”

I often judge a book by its cover (those lowercase “t’s” though) and this “book that started a revolution” did not disappoint. So many hugely valuable lessons to be learned from this pint sized read. Being a business owner requires oodles more than deeply knowing the craft you practice, and this book helped my partner and I understand strategy from a broader perspective. Let’s start with sales, the cornerstone to a successful business and a topic Enns shines a bright light on for his readers. Selling is not convincing or persuading someone to buy your services. Selling is a constant facilitation of next steps. Buying means change, so, selling is change management. Many have a tendency to oversell, to continue convincing after the sale has been made, but what it actually does is create buyers remorse and uncertainty. He equally taught us how to slow down. As creatives, we get so excited when listening to a potential client about a project. We can’t help but to jump in offering quick thoughts on ideas and solutions. We’re passionate, this is who we are. But in the process we forget to listen. What they’re asking for may not be what they need. It is our job as their partner to fully listen, ask the right questions, and help to diagnose the problem, and together, prescribe and execute the right solution.

Lastly, it helped us tackle the Difficult Business Decision. This is on-going but most creatives want to do it all. While we are a solid team of experts across different disciplines within our industry, we’ve learned this is bad positioning (try to appeal to everyone, and you appeal to no one). But after reading this book and putting his words into practice we’ve learned how to be more targeted, to share our expertise, and become better partners to our clients. Overall, we’ve learned to value ourselves and what we bring to the table. We are an amazing team and we refuse to join in a race to the bottom. We are here to make our clients shine and we have the ability and drive to exceed expectations, and that is worth the cost of admission. Remember, if your client calls you and you don’t want to pick up, you aren’t charging enough. The only criticism I can throw at this book is that a bulk of these proclamations are a bit overly idealistic, as it assumes one easily and always can get to the highest of decision makers at a firm, but that is just not the reality for the vast majority of prospective clients.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

by Dale Carnegie

“Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.”

Good advice and solid lessons from human psychology do not change much over time so not surprised that this text from 1936 still holds up. And it is still on most people’s top 10 lists. One of my favorite stories is from this book and it goes a little something like this: There was a test pilot who almost crashed his plane because the person responsible for fueling it didn’t fill it up properly. When the pilot landed he threw the keys in the man’s direction and said, “I bet you won’t make that mistake again.” (I paraphrase)  He forgoed berating and the threat of being fired and instead chose to task him with never making the same mistake again. Removing the fear of failure is crucial to success and I whole-heartedly believe in the importance of learning through failure in a safe environment and the kind of growth which it creates.

The Road To Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity

by Michael Maren

“With a camera in a refugee situation, you can compress the hunger. You can package it, frame it, and it always looks worse than it is. It looks like you’re taking part in the liberation of Buchenwald, when in fact it’s a lot more complicated. The starving baby picture is a lie.”

Okay, Admittedly, my International Relations/ Peace & Conflict Resolution roots are showing here but this book changed my life. It taught me how to question what’s being presented through advertising on the surface to what is truly happening at the core. This portrait of Western intervention in Somalia documents one man’s experienced with how a once self sufficient country became chronically dependent on foreign food. And not for the reasons we are told through those mesmerizing poverty-porn campaigns that tug at our hearts but rather a well oiled and purposeful system driven by grain trading companies looking to unload excess capacity for profit. The book has its flaws, but reading it early on in my marketing career gave me a new lens in which I forever use to look at advertising.

Harry Potter series (yes, all of them)

by J.K. Rowling

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends”

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Even for a casual fiction reader, I loved this series so much. And Ms. Rowling will forever be the hero that inspired a generation of children to fall in love with reading again. Her fantastical stories and bewitching characters will always be part of my life. I read each and every one of these books to my children while they were little. It was “our thing” and I have cherished memories from how that experience brought me and my children closer together. This might also be the only series where I read all the books before watching any of the films and far preferred the books over the movies.

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

by Roger Fisher and William Ury

“The ability to see the situation as the other side sees it, as difficult as it may be, is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess.”

Yep. Those pesky peace and conflict resolution books continue to be relevant in all facets of life. This classic text and cornerstone to any IR curriculum provides me with better tools to negotiate and a more sophisticated strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements with team members, clients and partners. I highly recommend this for anyone in management  (but it also works for life partners and children alike). And speaking of … 

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Kimberly Ann Coe (Illustrator)

“When we give children advice or instant solutions, we deprive them of the experience that comes from wrestling with their own problems.”

All great teachers, mentors, business owners, creatives, and parents will pass along this #1 piece of sage advice: LISTEN. In our most recent conversation with Chris Do of The Futur, he reiterated that this is the most important thing one can do in any meeting, negotiation, pitch or interview. And this book provides some amazing tools to become a better listener in order to create stronger and more respectful relationships. I practiced these methods on my own children (often the toughest people I deal with on any given day) and they do work. Additionally, I admire that the authors encourage you not to move on until you’ve mastered each step giving you time and space to put them to practical use along the way.

More Honorable Mentions

Lastly, I am a sucker for any clever compilation where an author explores key moments in human history through the lens of a product, food, luxury item or sport. My favorites thus far are Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer and The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. If anyone has additional recommendations, let me know (for real, reply here as I would love to add a few more to my MUST READ list) or throw one of those book cover challenges my way (Chris Costa, I’m looking at you!). And even if you don’t love reading, which I did not for most of my life, there are podcasts and articles that can keep you satiated when you don’t have time to crack that 400 page novel open. I challenge my partner Justin Kanner to pen our next blog on his top 10 podcasts.

Until next time, friends!

This post was written by Heather Roymans

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