Jan 10, 2018
THEME: Point of View

What We’re Reading: New Year’s Edition

Fred Schmidt

Interiors Lead, Chicago Office

I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, from 2006. The title is a joking understatement. Bryson and his long-lost high school buddy, hardly experienced hikers, set out to hike the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that it doesn’t go too well. None of that matters though. Bryson is one of the best travel writers out there, so he strikes the right balance between funny and informative. You can feel him evolve from an exhausted newbie to an experienced hiker who attains communion with nature over the length of the book and the trail. So in addition to being hilarious, it’s also inspirational. Apparently there was a mediocre movie made from the book, but it’s probably not worth watching. [Definitely not worth watching—Ed.]

Joe Connell

Design Principal, Chicago Office

I just finished The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Daniel Egan, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated Milwaukee journalist. It’s a well-researched and fascinating story about the greatness of our freshwater mecca, exploring the tragic and now-desperate manipulation of the entire ecosystem, from the Mississippi to the Pacific.  Egan goes into fascinating detail on the lakes’ historic and contemporary battles, both legal and biological. The audacity of the struggle between native and non-native species will blow your mind. By the way, because we are constantly addressing our own natural systems in projects like Riverline, my office and I just invited Egan to come to our office to speak. I’ll keep everyone posted for updates. After that one, I just started You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice, a look at how we make choices (or let choices be made for us? You start to wonder).  From food to music to art to transportation, we are all influenced by pop charts, top picks, playlists and all sorts of edited and crowdsourced input—like this blog post, for instance! It’s a very appealing work by an intensely curious author who happens to be writing an article about SRAM, one of my all-time favorite clients, in an upcoming issue of Outside.

Yukari Yamahiro

Planning + Strategies Consultant, New York Office

I’ve read (and reread) Creativity, Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull a handful of times. The book’s subtitle is “Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration,” an proposition that they really do deliver on. Wallace, who is a freelance writer, and Catmull, who is the the president of Pixar, address creative leadership and how to manage fear and failure in organization while promoting innovative ideas and imposing productive limits. One of Catmull’s key points is that getting the right people is always more important than perfecting a process, because with the right people in place, everything else will eventually align. Many organizations emphasize the “right process,” but processes only exist to facilitate the work of people. As the book asks, “What’s the point of hiring smart people if you don’t empower them to fix what is broken?” Reading the book in my consultant-mindset challenges me to rethink how organizations can empower their people while more broadly distinguishing themselves from their competitors. Instead of thinking about the “how” in an organization, it’s even more crucial to identify the “why”.

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