The weather is changing and book lovers, you know what that means – time to cozy up with a good read!
In this article, Colleen Dilenschneider has paired up with IMPACTS Experience’s Content Strategist and voracious reader Bethany Corriveau Gotschall to share some of the books that have recently kept us thinking and learning – and that we’d recommend for cultural executives. Though the name may be new to some, this isn’t the first you’ve heard from Bethany. She is a chief editor on Know Your Own Bone, has a solid grasp of data and methodologies, and provides valuable work on several of our partnerships with cultural entities. If you’re following IMPACTS Experience on Instagram (please do!) than you may also be familiar with her terrific design work and illustrations.
There are terrific museum and performing arts-related books published each year within the industry. However, our own leadership team also looks for books that may expand upon the industry rather than focusing primarily within it. To that end, this list is made up of nonfiction books that present new thought patterns and ways of thinking that may be particularly interesting to executive leaders aiding cultural organizations: People who are jazzed about looking at things differently and who get pumped about a-ha moments – people who love learning, ask hard questions, and care about educating and inspiring their communities.
People like you, most likely.
We shared a similar list back in 2018 with some of our fundamental favorites. We’ve put our heads together and compiled this new list for your reading enjoyment this season. It was tough to narrow down and there are countless books we’d add, but we’ve winnowed the list to our top five that aren’t mentioned in our 2018 article.
We love data (of course), but should you manage to peel yourself away from Know Your Own Bone this season and find yourself cozy by the fire, here are our team’s brain-expanding recommendations.
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
Book summary (via Goodreads): “Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original papers that invented the field of behavioral economics. One of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, Kahneman and Tversky’s extraordinary friendship incited a revolution in Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible. In The Undoing Project, Lewis shows how their Nobel Prize–winning theory of the mind altered our perception of reality.”
Why we love it: This book combines the storytelling magic of Lewis’s Moneyball with the genius of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s contributions to behavioral psychology and behavioral economics. (If you haven’t heard, he’s one of our favorites here at IMPACTS Experience.) While this book certainly has an engaging narrative, Lewis doesn’t shy away from tidbits about Kahneman and Tversky’s work and their findings related to how people make decisions in uncertain situations. Readers learn about critical studies and findings related to decision-making and how they think as they read this book. It is a fascinating story as well as an overview of relevant findings impacting the brain space of leaders.
Book summary (via Goodreads): “Beginning in his own hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks – both those that are honest about the past and those that are not – that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves. …In a deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view in places we might drive by on our way to work; holidays such as Juneteenth; or entire neighborhoods—like downtown Manhattan—on which the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women and children has been deeply imprinted.Informed by scholarship and brought alive by the story of people living today, Clint Smith’s debut work of nonfiction is a landmark work of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in understanding our country.”
Why we love it: Smith’s tone and honest assessments as he explores the history of slavery at national monuments and landmarks are exactly what you’d expect: Hard-hitting and important. Smith doesn’t shy away from saying the tough stuff when it comes to these historic locations, but he also doesn’t bully landmarks and their interpreters for the sake of it. His work provides a critical reminder of our history but also considers the role of place and space in telling these stories – a role that cultural executives must navigate responsibly and accurately. While acknowledging that there may be a type of cultural executive more inclined to read this book than others, we hope that everyone will. It’s the kind of book centered around themes with which our industry must grapple or risk irrelevance. This book and its messages extend far beyond the visitor-serving realm and to a deep and important place of our shared American experience. There’s astounding thought-fuel here.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch
Book Summary (via Goodreads): “Language is humanity’s most spectacular open-source project, and the internet is making our language change faster and in more interesting ways than ever before. …Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch explores the deep forces that shape human language and influence the way we communicate with one another. She explains how your first social internet experience influences whether you prefer “LOL” or “lol,” why ~sparkly tildes~ succeeded where centuries of proposals for irony punctuation had failed, what emoji have in common with physical gestures, and how the artfully disarrayed language of animal memes like lolcats and doggo made them more likely to spread.
Because Internet is essential reading for anyone who’s ever puzzled over how to punctuate a text message or wondered where memes come from. It’s the perfect book for understanding how the internet is changing the English language, why that’s a good thing, and what our online interactions reveal about who we are.”
Why We Love It: Cultural organizations are, at their heart, about communication. We museum professionals are surrounded by formal writing: gallery guides, catalog essays, journal articles, to name a few. But this type of formal language isn’t the only way to communicate, of course, and this book illuminates just how vast and rich our malleable, ever-evolving language can be. McCulloch dives into the informal written language of the internet, exploring the linguistics of tweets, texts, memes, chats, and all those other quick, conversational communiques that would once have been only said out loud and explains how they developed. (Ever wondered why it looks wrong to end a text message with a period? Because Internet will tell you!) This book is a fascinating look into the way the internet has caused written language to change over the past few decades, and you will come away with a new appreciation for the myriad ways humans communicate.
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant
Book Summary (via Goodreads): “Think Again is a book about the benefit of doubt, and about how we can get better at embracing the unknown and the joy of being wrong. Evidence has shown that creative geniuses are not attached to one identity, but constantly willing to rethink their stances and that leaders who admit they don’t know something and seek critical feedback lead more productive and innovative teams.
New evidence shows us that as a mindset and a skillset, rethinking can be taught and Grant explains how to develop the necessary qualities to do it. …In the end, learning to rethink may be the secret skill to give you the edge in a world changing faster than ever.”
Why we love it: Colleen – who has been known to bring academic literature on beach vacations – will be the first to admit that she gets a bit snotty about Adam Grant. “Why read ‘science light’ when you can read Daniel Kahneman?!” But she’s wrong about this book and she’ll admit it – if only because this book is so engaging and its messages are so important. This is a very quotable leadership book that may provide helpful guidance to cultural organizations as we learn to live alongside the changes brought about by the pandemic. Take these examples, for instance.
“Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.”
“A hallmark of wisdom is knowing when it’s time to abandon some of your most treasured tools—and some of the most cherished parts of your identity.”
We hear you, Adam Grant. And we’re glad you’ve written this accessible and pithy book that nudges us all to challenge ourselves to rethink and adapt to change.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez
Book Summary (via Goodreads): “Data is fundamental to the modern world. From economic development, to healthcare, to education and public policy, we rely on numbers to allocate resources and make crucial decisions. But because so much data fails to take into account gender, because it treats men as the default and women as atypical, bias and discrimination are baked into our systems. And women pay tremendous costs for this bias, in time, money, and often with their lives.
Celebrated feminist advocate Caroline Criado Perez investigates shocking root cause of gender inequality and research in Invisible Women, diving into women’s lives at home, the workplace, the public square, the doctor’s office, and more. Built on hundreds of studies in the US, the UK, and around the world, and written with energy, wit, and sparkling intelligence, this is a groundbreaking, unforgettable exposé that will change the way you look at the world.”
Why We Love It: Okay, maybe “love it” is a bit of a weird descriptor for a book that will likely leave you steaming with barely suppressed rage at the end of it for a number of reasons, not least the failure to include discussion of transgender people in a book centered on gender. But despite the impending infuriation, Invisible Women is worth reading, particularly if you consider yourself a data nerd. In our workshops and presentations at IMPACTS Experience, we frequently discuss how biases affect decision-making. This book is a sobering look at the ramifications of not examining those biases. With example after example of how data bias centers (more often than not also white and cisgender) men in decision-making about everything from pharmaceutical trials to public transportation, Criado Perez demonstrates how half the population of the world is often unconsciously set up to function in less-than-ideal circumstances.
As we approach the holidays, we at IMPACTS Experience are wishing you and yours a joyful and relaxing season. But don’t worry – we’re not backing off on the data. As usual, we’ll be back here again in two weeks on December 7th with new and contemporary research to share.
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