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Storytelling For Startups

In light of our recent Storytelling for Business course announcement, this Founder Friday, I wanted to talk about storytelling for startups and how you can improve your ability to pitch your startup.

I have four basic pieces of advice:

  1. Set up a problem. Do this before you talk about your startup or what you do. Convince the listener that the problem your product is trying to solve is real and significant.
  2. Stop with the Jargon. Don’t talk about about “leveraging big data analytics and optimizing the social graph” because no one knows what that means. Really dumb down what you’re talking about to the level that a five year old could understand.
  3. Make it personal. Tap into people’s emotions by using language that relates to the five senses — show rather than tell. You ideally want to make it concrete and somehow relate to your listener. At the very least, you should be engaging your listener in a dialogue instead of just talking at them.
  4. Use common storytelling beats. Such as the 3 act structure (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax), the 5 story beats (Introduction, Incident, Stakes, Event, Resolution), or Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

11 Ways To Improve Your Business and Personal Storytelling

When you want to learn how to describe yourself or your business, people look to storytelling as a way to improve their core message.

But what is storytelling? And how do you actually get better at it?

And what does it matter for businesses today?

“Story” — the word is vague and yet so appealing — so it can be difficult to know where to start, and how to use what you learn in your everyday practice.

If you’re not telling your story, who is telling it for you?

This essay will look at some of the core truths about stories and storytelling in Part I, and then I’ll share a few tools that are practical and easy to implement in Part II. Use these core principles across many communication needs, from a personal biography to the description of your company.

Storytelling is a fundamental human tool that we all do innately. The problem is that over time, we’ve been bombarded with terrible examples of bad messaging, and we don’t know what models to look to. Our brains are wired for storytelling, because stories help us learn, explore, and retain information through second- and third-hand experiences. We know when we’re in the presence of a good story, but do we actually know what’s happening inside of them?

We can recognize when we’re captivated by a great story. The problem is, can you dissect what’s happening into tools you can use to your advantage later?

Stories are innately human. Everyone is a born storyteller.

Case in point: when you recount events that you’ve done, even a simple sentence as you walk through the door, you’re setting up a basic story structure:

“You won’t believe what just happened — first I went to the grocery store, then…” — your ears prick up.

You’ve set up the most basic form of a story: do you know what it is?

Here’s another example —

“The beach was dark and quiet. It was eerie — the moon was dark and someone had turned off all the lights on the boardwalk. Alison felt uneasy as she stepped nervously out into the dark. Who had turned out all the lights?”

Both of these examples use a very specific form of storytelling that we’re all hardwired to understand. Do you know what it is?

I’ll explain it today as we deconstruct storytelling. But first, I want to debunk a few myths about storytelling. Somehow we think that only an elite few can be storytellers, and it’s a skill that we don’t have.

Part I: Common storytelling principles that apply to business and life.

1. Everyone is a storyteller.

Some people say that storytelling is limited to an elite few, or a professional clique. In reality, that’s not true. All humans are born storytellers, and we’re born to look for, hear, and describe our world in stories.

When someone comes back to us and says, “Avoid Atlantic avenue, it’s crazy full of traffic,” we select a different route because we got information — in the form of a story — about someone else’s experience.

2. We tell stories to connect, dream, and imagine.

We use storytelling to connect inwardly to ourselves, outwardly towards others, and to imagine futures. Humans spend up to four hours per day inside of imaginary landscapes — in daydreams, thoughts, visualizations, and places beyond the present. We live in a world of stories.

We use storytelling to connect inwardly to ourselves, outwardly towards others, and to imagine our futures.

Children are born telling stories — in fact, we play for exactly this reason. Play is our built-in mode of imagining the future and the past. In telling stories, and playing make-believe, we’re able to learn at a much faster pace than if we had to rely only on our own experience.

We are learning creatures. We learn by experience and through our imagination. When something good happens to us, that’s a reward. When something bad happens, there’s a punishment. These incentives teach us over time.

In stories, we get to pick up and enter into the landscape of someone else’s learning — and learn for ourselves, even though we may be sitting in one place, not moving.

3. Stories are how we are hardwired.

Prior to written language, we had to keep important information about the world around us, somehow. We’ve constructed melodies, songs, and other modes of storing information.

Is it any coincidence that “storing” and “storytelling” are related? We are hardwired to remember cause and effect relationships — “I saw a spider, that spider killed my friend, spiders are bad.” “REMEMBER THIS!” Shouts your brain.

Lisa Cron’s research on the brain science behind storytelling is what prompted her book, Wired For Story, if you’re curious about how it works.

In research in The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottfried, he talks about how we actually make up stories all the time, whenever we see two events happening.

If we see a group of women and they’re all wearing tiny shorts, we might tell as story to ourselves about how they are all going to the beach. In research on people with their two brain hemispheres segmented or separated, they discover that our brains actually wire stories into our minds when presented two pieces of information. (For more on this, here’s a list of great books on storytelling.)

4. A story is what you take with you.

In any situation or setting, a story is what you take with you.

When giving a presentation or sharing your brand or idea, what someone walks away with is the story. They’ve taken all the information they’ve been given and distilled it into the easiest parts to remember.

Listen to what people catch from your descriptions, and guide your story towards what people naturally keep bringing up!

A story is what you take with you. Listen to how people explain

It’s less about what you want to say, and what people do with what you say. Pay attention to what people respond to, and adjust accordingly.

5. We are surrounded by far too many examples of bad storytelling — powerpoints, inadequacy marketing, and droll presentations have numbed our innate ability to tell stories.

Unfortunately, we’re surrounded by terrible examples of storytelling. In The Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, he talks about all the sins of modern storytelling — from our need for vanity to posing as an authority, and more.

There are far too many bad examples out there — boring presentations, terrible pitches, inadequacy marketing — that we’ve forgotten what great storytelling looks like.

Basically, the last century of mass broadcasting let the leaders in charge of storytelling get lazy. There’s too much talking about yourself, not listening to the audience, and shouting lists. Technology (like powerpoint) even encourages bad storytelling by putting bullets and lists as the mode of operation.

The good news is that once we recognize the bad examples for what they are — boring presentations that put us to sleep — we can stop copying them and start engaging.

6. When you sell anything — yourself, a brand, a business — you tell a story.

When you sell things, you tell a story. It’s not about the thing at hand. And powerpoint lists are terrible ways of communicating.

When you sell things, you’re telling a story.

Think about a toothbrush. You’re not selling a plastic stick with a bunch of flexible bristles on it. Why describe it like that?

When you sell a toothbrush, you’re selling the idea of a cleaner mouth. Why is that clean mouth important?

Think about Listerine: you’re not selling a bottle of alcohol, you’re selling … a date.

The ability to be well-liked.

A possibility.

Advertisements are stories about who you are and who you should be, and great advertisements want to capitalize on something deeper than the physical thing that they are selling.

What do they believe about human nature? What story are they telling you, implied or otherwise?

7. We are naturally curious, and we all want to be smart.

Finding Nemo, the movie, is about a little guy who gets lost and needs to find his dad. Along the way, he goes on adventure after adventure in order to return home.

At the beginning of the movie, we, the audience, know the purpose of the whole movie within the first few minutes: this is a story about a father and son finding each other again.

The same is true in most situations. We interrupt because we want to get to the point faster. When presented with a puzzle, most people work furiously to get it right — first.

People like to be smart, and curious. Stories let us engage our curiosity.

We want to be smart. We like the puzzle of a story, and we want to guess how it will end. Stories entertain us because they keep us in suspense, and they tickle our brains to try to guess how something ends.

Part II: How to improve your business and personal storytelling today.

So how do you take all this and make it applicable to your stories and messages? Here are some concrete ways to improve your storytelling right now.

8. Your English teacher was right — it is about “showing” versus “telling.”

Too often we jump straight to the point. Think about each of these as lead sentences:

“It was the hardest day of my life.”

“The thing is, simplicity matters.”

“Never underestimate the power of a good friend.”

These are all true statements, but it’s not gripping or exciting. Whatever your core philosophical statement, think about leaving it unsaid.

Just like the toothbrush examples before, the point of your story isn’t to beat someone over the head with the idea, but rather to SHOW it through lots of vivid detail and an example that highlights your core philosophy.

We don’t need to be hit over the head with ideas. We want to learn through the experience.

For example —

[It was the hardest day of my life.] vs:

“I’d just finished a fourteen hour shift in the cement factory. I had no idea what my dad did, so that summer I signed up to join him at work. Three days in, and I could barely lift my hands. My forearms burned, and my calves were shot from jumping in and out of the trucks. I’d probably lifted more than a hundred sacks of cement mix in and out of the truck. When I got home that day, all I wanted was to lie down. Then I discovered…”

[Never underestimate the power of a good friend.] vs:

“I’d just found out that my grandmother had passed, and I couldn’t make it home in time. My job had closed the week before, our office putting up the ‘for sale’ sign after more than eight months in the red. On the bus ride home through the foggy drizzle of Portland’s grey fall days, I wondered how I could pay for groceries for the rest of the week.

As I got off the bus, I saw someone sitting on my stoop. “Probably another homeless person,” I muttered to myself, thinking I’d be one soon myself. As I got closer, I saw that it was actually Andy, holding two bags of Indian food takeout. He wrapped me in a big hug. “I thought that you could use this today,” he explained, pointing to the food.

“Let’s eat.”

Words are the only vehicle someone has to understand your vision.

9. Detail, detail, detail. The environment matters — because it lays the foundation for imagination.

Words are the only vehicle someone has to understand your vision. The more you set the stage for where you are, the easier it is for someone to buy in.

Great storytelling is about detail — but a specific kind of detail. How do you set the stage and the context for what’s happening? What does it feel like to be you?

Stories immerse us in an event far away from where we are, catapulting us into a new time and space. Key descriptions anchor us into this new space through the use of all of the senses — smell, sight, touch, taste, sound, texture, even kinesthetics.

Begin by describing the world around you, in vivid sensory detail. The English language has thousands of words to describe the subtle differences in texture and weight and material. Tell the story of what the world looks like. Great fiction books often begin with these details — take a look at 1984 or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for great opening scenes.

With written narrative, all we have are words. Contrast this to film, where we can show rich detail through visual imagery. In our hyper-visual culture, we sometimes replace describing feelings with posting a quick picture, because it’s easier.

But in writing, all we have are words. Choosing words and describing the scene, in detail, is what brings someone into your story.

10. Introduce conflict — by using the “bait” method.

Here’s a secret about the human brain: we all like to be smart.

We like to figure things out, and know the answers to things. Whenever we are presented with a puzzle, we like seeing if we can figure it out before someone else does.

In storytelling, a great way to engage your audience is to add a teaser at the beginning.

In storytelling, a great way to engage your audience is to add a teaser at the beginning. By using a little bit of bait, you stoke the curiosity in your listener’s mind. Ira Glass talks about this often, and if you introduce a story with an underlying question (like “the house was eerily dark,” or “it was a different night than any other,”) the listener begins to wonder why it was so dark, or why the night was different.

This “curiosity gap” between a piece of information that asks a question, and the story that resolves the question, helps the reader stay engaged and curious about the story. A little bit of conflict introduces a puzzle to be fixed!

11. Shorter is often better. Keep it simple!

At the end of the day, a story is what you take with you — and we don’t remember every detail of every story, but rather, the highlights real.

When you’re presenting your idea, biography, or product, start with something short and sweet.

The idea of an elevator pitch is right, but with a twist. It’s not how much you can cram into 1 or 2 minutes, but how easy you can make something that’s understandable and sticky.

At a conference, if you babble and ramble when introducing yourself to people, they’ll forget most of what you said. If you string it into a story, and you keep it simple, people will be able to take that with you.

You don’t need to get all the perfect information into one sentence; in fact, being imperfect can prompt likability and curiosity!

A quick and easy test for how good your story is is to listen in to what’s being said.

Introduce yourself to someone, and then listen to when they introduce you. I’ll often keep it simple — I focus on writing and swimming. I’ll say, “I work as a writer; I teach writing, and I’m also an open-water swimmer.”

Then, when I’m being introduced, Clay leans over and grabs his friend and says, “You gotta meet Sarah, she’s a swimmer!” — I listen to what people hang on to, and what captivates them.

I can’t possibly capture everything about myself (or my business) in a single sentence. But what I can do is find the most interesting part, and start there.

Conclusions and take-aways: journaling and practice.

What did you take away from this introduction to storytelling?

How can you change your story to make it sweeter, simpler, and easier to understand? Is there anything you’re still curious about? Leave a note in the comments, and I’ll be happy to chat with you.

Here are a few ways to take your work forward in your journal and practice:

  1. Practice: how can you write a one-sentence description of who you are that’s super simple? What three keywords or nouns would you use to describe you? Think of it as a gift to your audience — the less you say, the more they can remember.
  2. Writing exercise: describe your environment, in vivid detail. What is the shape of the space that you are in? What does it smell like, taste like, sound like?
  3. Bookmark 10 great “About” pages that you love and highlight what stands out to you. What techniques and styles are used that you particularly admire?
  4. Take a quick look at your email inbox (but don’t get lost in it!). Take a screen shot of your inbox and print it out. Highlight what’s already been read, and what you’ve skipped. Are there any themes? Look at what you click — which email titles are stories? Which ones are boring? What do you skip over? Your inbox is a great case-study for clues to how storytelling works in your everyday life.

Great storytelling, just like anything else, is a learning journey. The best stand-up comics practice their material dozens (if not hundreds) of times to learn what works best.

And remember: a story is what happens between two people. So get out there, practice your story, and use each experience to get a little bit better.

If you want to know more about marketing, content marketing, and storytelling, check out the free webinar recording we have, or the class I teach on Content Marketing.

What else would you add? What would you like to know more about? Leave a note in the comments and I’ll be happy to respond.

25 Essential Books on Storytelling, Copywriting, and Marketing to Read

25 storytelling books

How do you teach yourself about storytelling? Why is it that some copywriters seem to nail it, while others flounder?

These were the questions I asked myself when I started first started my CAD drafting job in architecture. Fresh out of graduate school, far too many dollars in debt, and stuck behind the drafting table, I listened as clients and ideas moved in and out of the office.

I started to notice the same patterns happening over and over again: I saw brilliant designers and creative urban planners come up with strategies for re-designing cities — tools to change the ways buildings breathed and moved, how people interacted, how our public park systems worked — and I saw those ideas crushed, time and time again, under a lack of understanding.

The same things kept happening: during the presentation, ideas weren’t communicated in a way that resonated.

The same things kept happening: during the presentation with the client, the city, or the public agency, the ideas weren’t communicated in a way that resonated — and persuaded. Some people would get caught up in tiny details; others would miss the big picture. Sometimes a great idea got buried under the weight of myopic details.

In addition, your audience has different styles of decision-making. Some leaders make decisions immediately, swept up in ideas and willing to go along. Other leaders need to ruminate and process. Some folks want to believe that they’ve been the ones to come up with the idea.

The art of persuasion and conversation is its own art, its own field.

Knowing how to explain your idea in a way that is compelling, clear, and persuades others to adopt it (and give you money for it!) is no easy task.Tired designers kept arriving at brilliant solutions, and then faced the challenge of explaining themselves. Communication is the art of getting your ideas heard, shared, understood, and adopted. Designing and communicating are separate, but highly related fields.

I began to research communication, persuasion, and storytelling.

Over the past eight years, I’ve read more than 100 books on storytelling, persuasion, copywriting, content marketing, and designing presentations. From Edward Tufte’s books on information design to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, to the neuroscience behind storytelling. This year, I’ve compiled the top 26 books that I think every leader, communicator, thought leader and business owner should read.

This year, if you want to get better at communicating your visions, positioning yourself as a thought leader, and sharing your work in the world, you’ll need to elevate your storytelling, copywriting, and persuasion skills.

“If I ask you to think about something, you can decide not to. But if I make you feel something? Now I have your attention.” — Lisa Cron

If you want to up your game and grow your business, elevate your platform, or become a better storyteller — read these books. 

BOOKS ON PERSUASION + COMMUNICATION: 

1: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. Influence is a science — it’s not magic; and Cialdini outlines six principles for how people relate to each other, socially, and why tools like reciprocity, scarcity, and liking affect how we interact with each other. It’s also delightfully fun to read.

2: HBR On Communication, by Harvard Business Review.  I haven’t picked up an HBR series book I haven’t liked — dense, packed with the latest research, yet distilled into essential tips, Harvard Business Review’s “10 Must Reads” lives up to its name. With essays on persuasion, influence, and understanding conversational style, I learned more about understanding gender dynamics and understanding leadership styles in 40 pages than I have browsing hundreds of internet click-bait links.

3: The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster, and Win More Business. Stories might seem simple, but understanding how to do them effectively is a skill to master. Maxwell and Dickman show examples of storytelling across every industry, outlining five basic components — passion, a hero, an antagonist, a moment of awareness, and transformation — that form the critical elements of a persuasive story, pitch, or speech.

4: Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Destined to be a classic. How do people become online influencers? They do more than provide content: they establish valuable relationships, reputations, and utilize media to build trust relationships as leaders and agents in an increasingly interconnected, complex world.

5: How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ― Dale Carnegie.

“Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past.” ― Robert B. Cialdini

BOOKS ON WRITING:

As a writer, my favorite books on writing lean towards the introspective, the habit-building, and the people who devote time to this craft. Here are my favorites:

6: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Want to tap into your inner voice? Julia Cameron leads a 12-week program that takes you through all the feelings you have while becoming a maker, a creative, an artist. Yes, you’ll get frustrated. Yes, you’ll get mad. Yes, stuff from your childhood will surface up. Cameron is here to guide you — and to remind you to play, because play is the outlet and source of creativity. Her “Artist Dates” remind me that exploring the world and documenting my thoughts is exactly what I should be taking time to do.

7: The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. What holds us back? Ourselves, of course. This pithy and succinct book details the enemy that we all deal with — inner resistance. Resistance shows up in every form, from convincing to conniving to flattering to maddening. How do you overcome Resistance? Simple: show up and work, bit by bit, day by day. Great on a shelf for a little reminder every few days.

“If you find yourself asking yourself “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?”, chances are you are.” ― Steven Pressfield

8: Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. Here are three quotes from this book by legendary Ray Bradbury: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ― “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.” — “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” — Ray Bradbury

9: Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. A book on writing and life, and all the zany-crazy-personality quirks in between. Fluttering between self-deprecation and frank honesty, Lamott tells the story of the difficulty of writing and getting out of our own way. Humorous at times and painful at others, I have owned this book for more than 10 years and refer to it readily whenever I experience my own writers’ block.

10: Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro. Practical, wise, clever, and funny, Shapiro takes her 20-odd years as a writer and a teacher and tells the story of what it’s like to write. Each chapter is a new essay, a piece of advice, a glimmer into what she’s done. Wise and brilliant.

11: On Writing, by Stephen King. Writers writing about writing is so wonderful — you see their tools, ideas, and childhood and work, all mixed together in a story well told. Stephen King doesn’t disappoint.

12: Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon. This book is about making things, just making them — and about sharing them. It’s time that you promoted yourself in a way that’s authentic and normal to you, and that’s related more to you sharing the work that you’re making (however discomfortable) than it does being a master promoter.

“But now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.” — Austin Kleon

STORYTELLING:

13: Resonate, by Nancy Duarte. This book is a foundation for designing visual presentations that have emotional clarity and pull. She diagrams (beautifully!) the Hero’s Journey and the structure of moving speeches, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Bill Clinton. I’ve read and re-read this book dozens of times and keep a copy at my desk for close reference.

14: Winning the Story Wars, by Jonah Sachs. A lot of books on storytelling are stuffy and academic; this is not. Sachs shows how mass media and brands are failing to tell great stories, and why it’s now a race for businesses to reconnect with the vital ingredients of storytelling — or risk being left in the dust. This book is a clear look at how marketing, business, and storytelling are all tied together.

15: Joseph Campbell: The Hero’s Journey. A seminal work on storytelling, Campbell created the Hero’s Journey, which dissects the structure of great mythologies across religions, contexts, and time. Each Hero has a call to action and proceeds around the mythological clock (or circle) through a number of steps on an adventure from the known world to the unknown world.

16: Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron. “The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence”—Lisa Cron maps out how storytelling works and why we’re wired to listen closely, from hook to structure to finale. Stories ignite our brains in predictable patterns, and knowing the science behind why storytelling works will change your writing faster than any other writing advice might.

17: Improving Your Storytelling, by Doug Lipman. This book looks at the oral history of storytelling and places stories in the context within which they were born. I learned exercises of imagination, detail, and adding environmental cues from this book — and even dabbled in understanding the stand-up, performative aspects of storytelling (whereas most of the other books in this list are focused on narrative and written stories).

18: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottschall.  Humans spend as much as four hours a day in lands of make-believe (if not more). We make up fantasies, read novels, enjoy plays, and live in dream-lands most of the time. Gottschall combines neuroscience, psychology, and storytelling to explain what it means to be a human animal — and what stories have to do with instincts, decision making, survival, and behavior change.

19: A Million Miles in A Thousand Years, by Donald Miller. How do you live a successful story? How does a life become more than a set of random experiences, many of which you don’t seem to have any control over? Donald Miller sets out to write a book about stories, and realizes that his life isn’t very interesting — and doesn’t follow the narrative structure of a story. In this tale, he decides to make his life worth telling, and reveals how story structure works, one lesson at a time.

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
― Donald Miller

MARKETING + UNDERSTANDING MEDIA:

20: Tested Advertising Methods, by John Caples. A primer on all things copywriting and advertising. Originally published in 1978, this book is still a standout example of how to write great copy, headlines, and advertisements. He breaks down the components of advertisements and why some ads sell three times as much as other ads. This is one of the most useful books on advertising, and, if you’re a copywriter, content marketer, or sales person — you’re in the business of writing headlines every day.

21: Breakthrough Advertising, by Eugene M. Schwartz.Did you know that there’s an urban legend about an elusive book known for it’s legendary advertising copy? Apparently it’s considered a special gift bestowed upon newbie marketers and copywriters. It’s in such demand that this book retails for $300 or more with used copies, and sometimes can be found for over $900 on Amazon! Called one of the best books in advertising and recommended by most of the top internet marketers out there today, it digs into the art and mastery of great copywriting. It’s not formulaic — it’s an evolving art, and one that you have to pay attention to and constantly adapt in order to do well.

22: Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, by Ryan Holiday. Blogs, tweets, and social media distort the news like never before. A single malicious rumor can cost a company millions. Products, celebrities, attention? It’s all a game. Ryan Holiday, Marketing Director for American Apparel, takes you behind the spin cycle of creating news, and shows how he consistently and deliberately changed the news cycle and created stories in his favor. Eye-opening and sometimes disgusting, it’s best to know what you’re getting into in today’s media landscape.

23: New Rules for A New Economy: Kevin Kelly. Kevin Kelly, editor of Wired, wrote this book in 1999 — and I still pick it up and re-read it. Offering wisdom about the changing connected world, Kelly suggests that communication is what drives change. Today, connectivity is everything, and “success flows primarily from understanding networks, and networks have their own rules.” He details ten principles of the connected economy and how they play out in business, economics, and life.

24: Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Considered the father of advertising and a guru of branding, marketing and product management, Trout brings together elements of psychology and user experience to show how to describe things to the people that matter to your business–your customers. It’s not how you understand what you do; it’s how well you explain it to others, in a way that stands out.

25: Oglivy on Advertising. One of the premier advertising and sales books of all times. Oglivy is a genius. “Ogilvy’s writing is captivating. His work, legendary. His ideas, timeless.” I’ve only begun to dig into the genius in this book, and fully expect to have it dog-eared, flagged, marked, highlighted, and re-read multiple times over.

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.” ― David Ogilvy

BONUS — FAVORITE FICTION + NARRATIVE NON-FICTION BOOKS:

I think all great writers need to be great readers. If you’re feeling stuck on technical books, or like banging your head against the subway door when you’re heading home from work late, then toss the technical books to the side and pick up a great fiction book. The point of a story is to become absorbed in it, and we can pick up great habits by reading good works. (Although a few of the books above, like A Million Miles, Bird by Bird, Still Writing, and On Writing read like narratives).

Some of my recent favorites in fiction and narrative non-fiction are:

  • Americanah
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • Bend, Not Break
  • Brave New World
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Ender’s Game
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • The Fear Project
  • The Glass Castle
  • The Kite Runner
  • Life of Pi
  • The Longest Way Home
  • The Signature of All Things
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
  • The Year Without Pants