July 26, 2014

Book Review: Show Your Work

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 2:50 pm

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I can’t remember how I was first introduced to Austin Kleon’s work, but I’ve been following him ever since. Books, keynotes, Twitter, enewsletter and his blog all feed my hunger for his words of wisdom. I picked up this copy of Show Your Work at SXSW this year, but just now picked it up from my nightstand to read it. And I read it all in one sitting this afternoon.

In the book, he addresses the question of “getting discovered.” It is about so much more than that though. It is about the creative process and the work that goes into the end product. The value of the work that goes into the product is just as important as the delivered work, according to Kleon. Especially for building an engaged audience who feels apart of  the work that you are creating.

I loved this book and recommend it to anyone needing creative inspiration.

Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 11:12 am
My marked-up copy of Creativity, Inc., complete with wine stains.

My marked-up copy of Creativity, Inc., complete with wine stains.

After reading this review of Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull,  from my boss, I was excited to get my own copy and delve into its stories and insights. The opening of the book immediately connected with me as Catmull explained his career path and the challenges he faced moving from a role of directly being a film-maker to more generally being creative culture leader. In his words, “As I turned my attention from solving technical problems to engaging with the philosophy of sound management, I was excited once again — and sure that our second act could be as exhilarating as our first.”

With my pen in hand, ready to underline and take notes, I excitedly plowed through the 300-page book. I feel like I marked up well over half the book — it was that good and relevant. This is a book for company leaders seeking advice from an experienced manager on how to engage creative teams, yet keep them disciplined and interested. I was able to draw many parallels to the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, as a modern-day bible for creative leadership and taking a business to the next level by “getting the right people on the bus.”

My favorite takeaways and associated quotes:

Team matters.
“Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.”

The story matters.
“For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn’t matter if you are getting the story right.”

Passion matters.
“It was unthinkable that we not do our best.”

Mistakes matter.
“The silver linking of a major meltdown is that it gives managers a chance to send clear signals to employees about the company’s values, which inform the role each individual is expected to play.”

Honesty matters.
“…without the critical ingredient that is candor, there can be no trust. And without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.”

People matter.
“The responsibility for finding and fixing problems should be assigned to every employee, from the most senior manager to the lowliest person on the production line.”

I highly recommend this book to leaders in creative companies and those just generally interested in the “behind-the-scenes” business and insider stories of Pixar Animation.

December 31, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013

Filed under: Book Review,Girl Gets Geeky,Personal — Emily Reeves @ 10:25 am

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In 2012, I read 60 books and set my 2013 goal at 75. In 2013, I read 89 books (and I just might finish one more today to make it an even 90). I am not going to lie: I am pretty proud of myself for this accomplishment and will likely brag about it for the next 12 months.

As with last year, I am sharing my top five reads in each of three categories. The links are to my reviews on Goodreads.

Business books (or, what I consider books that I can apply to my business):

  1. Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pullizi
  2. Get Lucky by Thor Muller
  3. Without Their Permission by Alexis Ohanian
  4. A/B Testing by Dan Siroker
  5. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Other non-fiction books:

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain
  2. How To Be Interesting by Jessica Hagy
  3. Die Empty by Todd Henry
  4. Haiti: A Shattered Nation by Elizabeth Abbott
  5. The First 20 Hours: How To Learn Anything Fast by Josh Kaufman

Fiction books:

  1. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  3. The Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs
  4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  5. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

For 2014, my goal is 120 books. Ten books a month: I don’t know if I can do it, but I will have fun trying. If you follow me over on Goodreads, you can keep up with the books as I read them.

December 9, 2013

Book Review: Epic Content Marketing

Filed under: Book Review,Digital Strategy,Marketing — Emily Reeves @ 6:37 pm

Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less, by Joe Pulizzi is a comprehensive guide to content marketing. Pulizzi covers an overview of content marketing, why businesses should be doing it and how — very specifically — to use it. This was a great book that I am going to recommend to any online marketer. And it is one that I am sure I will reference several times in the near future.

For a business book, this is a dense read at 300 pages, however, Pulizzi has broken the book into process and parts, making it easy to digest and understand.  On the first page of the book, Pulizzi powerfully states:

“Advertising is not dead, but content marketing is the driver that leading companies now use to capture the hearts and minds of their customers.”

While content marketing has been around for a long time, the term “content marketing” just started to trend with in the last 12 months. What exactly is content marketing and what is the difference between it and “content?”

“What makes content marketing different from simple content is that content marking must do something for the business. It must inform, engage, or amuse with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Do your customers really want content from you?

“Eighty percent of buyers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus ad advertisement. Seventy percent say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, and 60 percent say that company content helps them make better product decisions.”

“Millennials, now between the ages of 19 to 34, actually expect brands to develop content for them, with 80 percent wanting to be directly entertained through content marketing.”

Throughout the book, Pulizzi provides example after example of brands that have had success with content marketing and exactly how they have done it. And the examples include big brands with big budgets and small companies with few employees.

The bottom line is that brands are now publishers. They have to be in order to pull in audiences and build relationships with them to influence their buying behaviors. This book provides that introduction and steps to becoming a content marketer. I highly recommend this book.

November 9, 2013

Book Review: Smarter Than You Think

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 5:13 pm

This book is the antithesis to The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brainsby Nicolas Carr. In The Shallows (link to my review of the book), Carr tells us how the internet is ruining our brains. In Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the BetterClive Thompson tells us how it is making us smarter and more powerful. Thompson covers the tools we use to aid and memorialize our memories, how more people are writing and writing for an audience, collaborative problem solving, inspiring creativity, making education accessible, knowing your friends better and social and civic activeness. In short, technology makes a broader world available to us and it can make us and the world a better place when put to good use.

My favorite highlights from the book:

“Our brains are remarkably bad at remembering details. They’re great at getting the gist of something, but they consistently muff the specifics.”

“The explosion of online writing has a second aspect that is even more important than the first, though: it’s almost always done for an audience…Audiences clarify the mind even more.”

“When you can resolve multiples and connect people with similar obsessions, the opposite happens. People who are talking and writing and working on the same thing often find one another, trade ideas and collaborate.”

“…knowledge has always been created via conversation, argument, and consensus.”

“We are social creatures, so we think socially.”

“It is no accident that the ‘maker’ movement, a worldwide collection of nerds trying to learn and teach everyday mechanical and electronic know-how, has arisen in the age of easy video documentation. If you want to know how to build something, seeing it happen is crucial.”

“…memory for facts is quite specific to our obsessions…”

“…we forget things in a predictable pattern: More than half our facts are gone in an hour, about two thirds are gone within a day, and within a month we’re down to about 20 percent.”

“To be really smart, though, an online group needs to obey one final rule–and a rather counterintuitive one. The members can’t have too much contact with one another. To work best, the members of a collective group ought to be able to think and work independently.”

“By following…friends’ updates, … [you can begin] to sense the rhythms of their lives.”

“Each little update–each individual bit of social information–is, on its own, pretty insignificant, even mundane. But taken together over time, the snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ inner lives, like dots forming into a pointillist painting.”

“But ambient awareness is all about slowly amassing an enormous, detailed contest. Follow someone’s ambient signals for a day and it seems like trivia. In a week it seems like a short story. In six months, a novel.”

“To make social change begin to snowball, we need to make our thoughts visible. When members of society think public and keep in ambient contact with one another, it creates a new environment–where we’re increasingly aware of what changes might be possible.

This was a fascinating read, but a heavy read. I definitely recommend this to those interested in digital trends and future predictions.

October 26, 2013

Book Review: Without Their Permission

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 4:53 pm

Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made, Not Managed by Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of reddit) is a book about entrepreneurship online. Ohanian tells the story of how reddit came to be, as well as the hipmunk, his venture after reddit through to becoming an investor and mentor to online startups. He ends the book by talking about his involvement to prevent SOPA and PIPA from becoming law and his passion for the open Internet to remain open. I learned a lot about SOPA and PIPA that I did not understand, but the true value of this book for me was the advice for startups and entrepreneurs. Ohanian has a straight-forward and honest way of writing that makes it easy to understand. This is yet another resource I wish I had read before starting my own business this past summer.

My favorite words of advice from this book include:

“All links are created equal.”

“An open Internet means a platform where what you know is more valuable than whom you know.”

“Everyone who creates something online has lost control of their message but in the process has gained access to a global audience.”

“You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.”

“Make something people want.”

“Don’t be afraid to show your users that you give a damn. It should shine in everything you do, fem the design of your website to the way you respond to feedback emails.”

“Magic happens when you give a damn.”

“…you must be ‘relentlessly resourceful’ as a startup because you have so little going for you.”

“…pure hustle…”

“In the early stages, surrounding yourself with the right people is infinitely more important than having a good idea. Your relationship with your co-founder(s) is what’s more likely to make or break your company than the idea itself.”

“Find your customers right now and talk to them.”

“If you are not willing to really understand the industry you’re aspiring to reinvent, don’t bother starting a startup. Having industry experience is not only invaluable for building a great product or service, it also shows investors the dedication a successful founder needs to have.”

“Give more damson than anyone else, because there aren’t a lot of things a startup has going for it, except that its founders and employees certainly care more than the competition. And that makes all the difference.”

“If you’re looking to build a website and you’re not a builder, you’re more than likely going to have to try to become one.”

“Awesome people feed off one another and combine to form something greater than the individual parts.”

“These days, everyone you meet is part of the media.”

“I try to write emails in fewer than five sentences. Precision with impact is one of the most effective writing skills one can have.”

“Do or do not…there is no try.”

This is yet another book I highly recommend for those interested in starting a business based online.

October 23, 2013

Book Review: Do The Work

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 10:30 pm

I have been on a bit of a Steven Pressfield kick lately with a third book in a row by him, this one titled Do The Work. Like the War of Art, in this book Pressfield writes a manifesto encouraging creators to push past the barriers that are keeping them from creating. This is a short book and a quick read. With quips like, “Don’t Think. Act.” and “Be Stubborn.” Pressfield gives us permission to be ourselves in our work and stop trying too hard to meet others expectations.

My favorite quotes from the manifesto include:

“Don’t prepare. Begin.”

“Start before you are ready.”

“Let the unconscious do the work.”

“Outline it fast. Now. On instinct.”

“Figure out where you want to go, then work backwards from there.”

“Panic is good. It is a sign we are growing.”

“Start (again) before you are ready.”

Now, go do the work.

October 22, 2013

Book Review: A/B Testing

Filed under: Book Review — Emily Reeves @ 9:31 am

A/B Testing by Dan Siroker and Pete Koomen, founders of Optimizly wrote this book as a 101 guide to testing elements of digital communications. Through full case studies down to short examples, the book teaches which elements can be tested in communications, how to do it and most importantly, how to convince your colleagues to let you do it.

Everything online can be tested and should be tested against pre-determined goals and objectives for the communications. After reading this book, there is no valid argument for not testing. Even for those that worry testing delays the project, in truth, it makes the development process more efficient because the end project is more effective.

Notable passages:

First determine “What is your website for? If you could make your website do one thing better, what would it do?”

“Pinpointing the specific actions you want people to take most on your site and that are more critical to your business will lead you to the tests that have an impact.”

“If all you measure is clicks, you’ll have know whether the content of the actual post is good. More telling metrics might be call-to-action clicks, comments, shares and repeat visits.”

“Data is what matters.”

“You have to have a rule that if anybody feels strangle about testing something, you test it.”

“We usually give folks some pretty straightforward advice when they ask about how to improve their calls to action: verbs over nouns. In other words, if you want somebody to do something, tell them to do it.”

“Consider weekly, monthly, or quarterly results-sharing meetings with key stakeholders.”

“A/B testing is by nature interdisciplinary and cross-departmental. Collaboration is key.”

“Always Be Testing.”

“One of the reasons why A/B testing is so important is that there are no universal truths when it comes to design and user experience. If universal truths existed, then A/B testing wouldn’t: you’d just look at the rulebook.”

“The truth is that every business is different; you won’t know until you test.”

“Maintain records about who tested what and when, how the test was set up, and what the result was. This will enable your organization to work collaboratively to build up a set of collective wisdom and best practices.”

The book is complete with an appendix of recommended elements for testing. This is a definite must read for any website strategist, designer or developer.

(Thumbs up to Dustin Williams for the recommendation.)