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.
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.
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.
Yes, they're novels. No description I can write will properly convey how fantastic they are. I recommend that you read every single one of them... Except the last.
Good products teach their user how to use them. For books — traditional teaching tools — the bar for great teaching is higher. In addition to providing a fantastic written guide to making traditional and modern sails, including the fundamentals of sail design, broad-seaming, and sewing, this book guides the reader through a "Ditty Bag Apprenticeship" during which he/she completes a simple project that conveys many of the basic skills.
This book puts into words thoughts that every designer has had around the subject of interconnectivity and elevates them to include science, art, religion... everything. It's typical E.O. Wilson brilliance but applied to an idea that will change the way you think about design.
John Muir can wax poetic about exploring a forest better than any writer I've read to date. When I am frazzled and frustrated (and can't go for a hike myself), reading this is the next best path to calm.
This shiny little book provides ten easily digestible guidelines around Maeda's philosophy of simplicity in product design. It serves as a great reminder (and loaner) for those of us who sometimes find it difficult to describe to others the beauty and benefits of simplicity. I've lent this to students more than any other book. (That is, I've had several copies.)
A comprehensive and accessible book on the subject of Tenkara fly fishing. Like the philosophy that underpins many of the books in this list, Tenkara celebrates the idea that "the more you know, the less you need." In this short text, Yvon Chouinard unpacks this simple fishing technique and the tools and techniques that make it beautiful.