Welcome to The Commonplace. This is where we highlight books, ideas, and products that we've run across in the course of our work. We use this area to document these items — and the ideas that come from them — for sharing and future reference. The items below are the beginning of our Commonplace Book — a printed compilation of thoughts and insights collected by our team from some of the items on this page. A glimpse at the following items will hopefully give you a better window into who we are, and how we think.
If you share an interest in any of what you see in The Commonplace, please reach out and let us know — we'd love to talk with you.
This is currently my favorite book of 2019 and for good reason: It is decidedly contrary to pretty much every piece of modern advice about working in a creative field, and defends its position succinctly. While not quite demanding we become luddite hermits, it does encourage those of us that are in creative jobs to “go into airplane mode” more often, get fresh air, change your mind, and seek the long view. That last piece of advice has stuck with me every day since reading it. We are submerged in a culture of “overnight” successes and daily encouragement to share our newest work for the sake of “posting for our personal brand.” Kleon, in this brief book lays out why we might make better work (and communities) if we slow down a bit, and aim for creating in a time frame much larger than today’s Instagram story feed.
Some see creativity as a fickle muse, one that comes and goes on a whim, without any control or reason. Twyla Tharp, in this aptly subtitled “Practical Guide,” sets out to prove that wrong. Creativity is a habit that is practiced and nurtured through repetition and environment, not by an amorphous notion of “inspiration.” Tharp’s combination of solid advice and exercises along with her delightful personal stories as a legendary choreographer make this an easy read. And since I discovered this book in college, I’ve turned back to it whenever I’m in a rut, and it consistently breaks my brain wide open and gets me back into practice.
I love poring over this book and dreaming up building my own thru-hiking setup. The approach Ray Jardine takes to lightweight backpacking, “The Ray Way” as it’s known, at first seems a little extreme and dangerous — eschewing weight at all costs means going without some extra REI bells and whistles. But the gain is also extremely appealing: speed and enjoyment. By leveraging knowledge, planning, and an adaptable set of choice equipment, one can enjoy natural trails without the feeling of lugging heavy boots and bags every inch of the way. I’ve not built my own “ray way” backpack yet, but I’ve definitely lightened up my hiking gear and it’s made all the difference.
Natalie Goldberg takes a gentle, no-nonsense approach to the craft of writing that removes the pressure of the blank page and reminds readers that writing, like all skills, is a practice. Goldberg sees writing through a zen-like lens that is unlike other books about writing — and that means a lot of the lessons learned are applicable to other creative fields. Having read this book a few times over the last decade, the biggest takeaway for me is always the concept of morning pages, and its changed the way I start my day.
When my brother bought me a bottle of this for an upcoming woods trip, he described it as “peaty” and, I believe, “challenging.” I didn’t expect to like it (and I admit that first taste was staggering), but Laphroaig has grown on me. I don’t know if it’s the imagery the brand evokes or the memories of the freezing, rain-soaked trip on which I first tasted it, but this stuff makes me think of cold weather and warm conversations with friends around a campfire.
This amazing children’s book charts the historic Apollo 11 moon landing mission with beautiful illustrations and simple, evocative prose. Moonshot is the perfect bedtime book for a space-obsessed kiddo. Even after the twentieth (?!) reading, it’s still outstanding!
Like the title suggests, this book encourages the reader to put their day to day life under the microscope and come to terms with the fact that today, the world moves at breakneck speeds often leaving us bouncing from one distraction to the next. Co-authored by 20 of the business worlds best creative minds, Manage Your Day to Day arms you with actionable tips, tricks, and insights to help you maximize your time and make the most of every opportunity you get in a day. If you feel like you always have to be in two places at once and can’t seem to make progress on your ever growing to-do list, log out of your email, silence your phone, and give this book a read.
If you’re like me, you’ve been struggling with this question your whole professional life: get creative fulfillment from a fulfilling (but likely low-paying) job or punch the clock at a soulless (but likely high-paying) job and get fulfillment elsewhere. This book not only highlights the improbability of achieving happiness through the latter, it discusses the meaning of and methods to achieve happiness through what author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “optimal experience.”
Brandon’s Take — A hearty recommendation from myself as well. Flow changed my view on restructuring the tasks in my day re: what deserves automation vs. deep thinking. When you finally know why some tasks are inherently boring for you and others are truly challenging but also invigorating, it starts to reframe your outlook on your entire career path.
This book contains a sweeping exploration of the history of organizations and offers inspiring suggestions around which to craft a new business based on equity, accountability and self-management. This book describes the organizational model we always hoped businesses would be based on and gives it a name — teal. (It also provides a hauntingly familiar description of “red” businesses, which we’ve also experienced.) We’ve built Pixel and Timber around the philosophies and methods described in this book. I absolutely recommend it to anyone who is building a new business or seeking to change the culture of the one they’re in.
After hearing about this album for years, it was finally recommended to me by Apple Music while -in- an actual airport. It seemed too perfect and the following 48 minutes were in the sound-isolated peace of this album, lasting from the gate straight through to cruising altitude. It's difficult to describe this album musically without using more emotional terms like calm, peace or solitude — since there are no words and rarely even something discernible as a melody. But rest assured, quite literally, that if you’re fuming and agitated by the world (in an actual airport or just some exurb business-park hellscape) this album does what Eno intended, “to provide calm and a space to think.”
We’re not suggesting that everyone should spend $100 on a hammer, but Stiletto hammers epitomize the idea of buying quality once. This 14oz titanium head hits as hard as its 24oz steel counterpart and is sure to last a life time. In the event that you have $100 and need to set a nail, look no further.
While I haven’t sought out a desert shaman, or decided to start microdosing during a brainstorm, this book has opened up my mind to a very different perception of what consciousness really is. Pollan explores these questionably legal drugs (and his guided experiences on them) with the same scientific and emotional detail as his other tamer works on food and nature. While these drugs are already in use to help adjust moods and behaviors for those experiencing a chemical imbalance, Pollan makes a great case for their general therapeutic use to help us all be more empathetic, mindful, and appreciative.
No. It is not a book. Still, this brilliant kit from LEGO is the perfect way to indoctrinate your three year old into the world of sailing — and LEGOs! The set provides two great models with mechanical steering and sail handling — and it looks a lot like a Volvo Ocean 65. Check this out before 2021!
A quite literal spiritual successor to The Whole Earth Catalog, “Cool Tools” is a book form of the website by the same name, both by writer Kevin Kelly. Kelly captures the same DIY feel and breadth of “the catalog” but with modern recommendations. This giant coffee table book is a great gift for curious kids (and adults), and is perfect for poring over on a rainy afternoon — just be prepared to find yourself saying “Huh! I had no idea that exists!” and then heading to the internet to buy whatever clever tool you’ve just discovered.
I had been running across reverential mentions of “the catalog” multiple times in the last few months in books and podcasts, so I jumped on eBay and picked up a yellowed, 72’ copy for ten bucks. In addition to being a delightful proto-internet, “hippy” time-capsule to browse, it is still a great resource for book and tool recommendations on a vast array of subjects. While the sources for purchasing said recommendations have changed, the sound knowledge remains, and that may be the catalog’s most impressive trick. Definitely worth a look if you come across a copy.
I play a fair handful of video games that don’t make it on the Commonplace, and while some are truly engrossing masterpieces that represent the best of what games can be — few measure up to the complete artistic vision of Cuphead. This game takes the 1930’s animation style (an aesthetic relatively untouched in our modern nostalgia-fetish culture) and places a game inside it. You are playing a challenging game, but you feel like you’re watching a grainy cartoon filmstrip. Each of the items on screen are not only uniquely designed, but characters and items animate in a way that feels right for the aesthetic. You will keep playing this punishingly tough game just to see the next level’s take on the style. Games are usually praised for photo-realistic graphics, but here the absolute commitment to style is the achievement.
It goes without saying that there are certainly some procedural expectations of organizations, especially mega-corps, but most of these “best practices” pre-date most of the big innovation that have helped shape today's workplace. If our world is different than it was, should’t our businesses also be different? Up The Organization takes everything we’ve grown to accept about organizational culture and turns it on its head; providing insights about how taking a different approach can help companies get more out of their employees, without sacrificing moral.
Unlike the growing body of writings that belabor the romance and nostalgia of making things by hand, Craeft explores the history and meaning of the concept itself. In it, Langlands describes the concept through the lenses of several ancient crafts (of which he is an actual practitioner) and from his perspective as an experimental archaeologist. This book has the depth and intelligence of Richard Sennett's The Craftsman but with an historical scope that spans millennia.
Still as relevant today as when it was published in 1971, this industrial design classic delivers a square kick in the teeth to almost every designer for their immaturity and lack of responsibility for their work. Therefore it should be recommended to every budding designer, if only for that reason alone. What initially sounds like a depressing read becomes quite empowering, and opens one's eyes to the potential for both good and bad we have in the design profession. If you're in the business of designing products or even just buying new products (yep, that means you), and you haven't read it yet, please do so.
The Hokule'a is a modern marvel: a Polynesian sailing rig that circumnavigated the globe in the span of two years with no modern navigation technology whatsoever. By reviving the nearly forgotten Polynesian wayfinding techniques, the Polynesian Voyaging Society preserved a culture and showed the world it was more than possible. More importantly, their story is a great example of the feats we can accomplish when we understand the natural world, work with it, and preserve it. It's an enthralling read with gorgeous photography — get a copy here.
"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." — John Muir
Patagonia is a company that P&T admires for a number of reasons, to say nothing of their amazing products. This book brings their most admirable achievement — the globally responsible business of Patagonia itself — to the forefront. While not exactly a manual for how to run any business the way Patagonia does, it makes a great case for why one should try. Plus, the simple rules of thumb for culture and decision making, paired with examples of their genuine success are always motivating to return to when the day's events have you feeling down.
Nick Offerman uses Gumption to tell the stories of the 21 historical figures who have inspired him to grow into the Ron-Swanson-esque human we all know and love today. Throughout the book he weaves historical anecdotes with light hearted humor to reveal hard truths such as the fact that it's incredibly unlikely that a young George Washington could have chopped down a cherry tree using nothing but a hatchet and an abundance of youthful energy. It's a fun, thought provoking read that finds a way to draw parallels between seemingly unlikely bedfellows, like Ben Franklin and Yoko Ono. Plus, this book is heartily loved and endorsed by every member of P&T — so read it already!
Research shows that most people would rather have satisfaction than balance in their lives. But if that's the case, why is it that every big corporation talks about helping their employees find work-life balance? Employees don't burn out because they work too many hours, they burn out because they are working for something they don't believe in. Off-Balance leads readers through the author's journey of finding personal and professional satisfaction, not work-life balance.
Part storybook, part actionable advice — the Go-Getter was originally published 80+ years ago, but its content hardly feels dated. Kyne tells a tale of a young employee sent on a wild goose chase to complete an almost impossible task, and it's packed full of great motivational tidbits. The Go-Getter is a quick read, but it's one that inspires readers to always put forth the extra effort.
Written by a group of venture capitalists, this book points out the 4 common traits that have been observed in successful business builders: heart, smarts, guts, and luck. Each individual will favor one trait over the others, and the authors help you decipher if you are heart-dominant, smarts-dominant, guts-dominant, or maybe you tend to be in the right place at the right time — luck-dominant. Knowing which trait drives you can help you make better decisions, and perhaps most importantly, help you build the right team.
Originally published in the 5th century BC, The Art of War served as the fundamental military strategy text in east Asia. The text is divided into 13 chapters, each devoted to a specific aspect of warfare. In recent history it has gained popularity with applications in business strategy, legal tactics, and beyond. The wisdom and verbiage of Sun Tzu may be ancient, but the applications are as timely as ever.
Couched in a long and uncomfortable narrative, this book conveys probably the best description of Quality I've ever read. For better or worse, you can't just skip to the quality part. It's part of the ride.