Tag Archives: berkun

BOOK REVIEW: Scott Berkun’s Mindfire

I’m a fan of Scott Berkun’s books—you can read my reviews of both Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Myths of Innovation—but Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds is the first that I discovered by word of mouth rather than a press release from O’Reilly, Scott’s regular publisher. This is because Mindfire is Scott’s first self-published book, which he did because “I want to publish books in the future that no publisher in its right mind would release” and so he is learning to do it himself. I can only imagine what kind of topics Scott plans to write about!

Mindfire is a compilation of short essays from Scott’s previous online work, including his blog at ScottBerkun.com. Avid readers of Scott’s website will recognize a lot of the material. The book itself looks good: I like the cover design and the interior is clean though maybe a little large on the type size. The content is also well-written, engaging and thought-provoking. Scott covers a wide range of topics, from motivation and time management (“The Cult of Busy” is a great opening chapter) to workplace dynamics and evolving your thinking and your products in the face of change. Scott structures Mindfire around his three ultimate takeaways: motivation (“gasoline”), leveraging catalysts (“sparks”) and building long-term success (“fire”).

I enjoyed Mindfire a lot and would recommend it for many readers, but the book falls a little short when compared to his other books I’ve read. Here’s my reasons:

  • No matter how much structure Scott wraps around the book, Mindfire is still a collection of self-contained essays and they don’t share a central theme. Some artforms can get away with this (“Greatest Hits” albums are often popular) but others don’t. The television “clip show” is a prime example. Scott does the best he can but Mindfire just isn’t as cohesive as I’d like it to be.
  • One thing I enjoyed in Confessions and Myths of Innovation was Scott’s knack with using anecdotes to illustrate his points. Those anecdotes were always fun to read and enlightening. Mindfire needs the same anecdotal evidence but it’s usually nowhere to be found. I think this is because these essays were designed to be short bursts of insight perfect for blog posts.
  • The “short burst” format is sometimes too short for me. I thought the best entries in Mindfire were the long ones because they had the most detail and fully-formed concepts. In contrast, a chapter like “Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts” is not much longer than a page and concludes well before it should. I’m not against short segments in books, but only if everything is said that needs to be said. Mindfire left me wanting more sometimes.
  • Books composed of online material always have to compete against their online counterpart—in this case, Scott’s blog. I always ask if the book brings something unique to the reader besides a cover and pages, and I don’t think Mindfire does that. Scott planned to include new essays in Mindfire but eventually gave up on the idea.

Mindfire is a very fine book and would be very useful for anyone working in a creative industry—designers and developers would be ideal—or anyone in business who wants to light a fire underneath themselves. The book isn’t perfect but it’s very good and the price can’t be beat.

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds
Scott Berkun
US $14.95
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Myths of Innovation Is Far-Reaching, Yet Simple

I was impressed by Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker last year and was excited to get a copy of his 2010 book The Myths of Innovation. Scott has a knack for simplifying the most complex and philosophical topics and writing his findings in a colorful and interesting way, and not necessarily on technology subjects. I wanted to read The Myths of Innovation because I think business and entrepreneurial subjects—which I believe “innovation” is one of them—are some of the hardest to define and resolve, and there’s so many business and self-help books out there on such topics.

The good news is that The Myths of Innovation beats most of them in clarity, originality, writing quality and usefulness. The myths themselves are outlined concisely—”People love new ideas,” “The lone inventor,” “Your boss knows more about innovation than you,” and so on—and Scott makes it seem deceptively easy to see how these myths cloud our vision on what innovation really is and how to achieve it. Everyone seems to think it’s important, and many business leaders talk about it, but very few really understand it and even fewer properly achieve it. Read the book’s epilogue to get a sense of how much “innovation” is spoken about.

As in Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott’s writing style is clear, colorful and full of great detail. I am truly amazed how many anecdotes, stories and citations he can make in his books, on everything from the mouse prototype to Guernica to the Great Potato Famine–and all these things have something to do with a specific point about innovation. The Myths of Innovation is one of the few books where the footnotes provide great reading material—and Scott often makes them funny or otherwise noteworthy.

The last three chapters, consisting of about 20 pages, veer from the scholarly tone of the rest of the book and dives into some real-world techniques for developing an innovative mindset. These include keeping a journal, getting into improv comedy, developing a pitch for your idea or ideas, and even focusing on death (as a reason to fully use the time you have). For me, these chapters fall a little flat and I think it’s because so many other books in your bookstore’s business section provide these same kinds of tips and I’ve heard many of them before. Some of them have been helpful. Some have not. And what works for Scott might not work for you. I believe they are good material to have in a book like this, but the effectiveness of tactical material like this varies with the reader.

The Myths of Innovation, despite my minor complaint with its last section, is a compelling and exceptional book and I highly recommend it for businesspeople—both corporate and creative—who want to look at their approach to innovation with a critical, philosophical eye. I can’t see how anyone would go wrong reading this book.

The Myths of Innovation
Scott Berkun
Published by O’Reilly
US $17.99
Rating: 10/10

BOOK REVIEW: Confessions of a Public Speaker

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I don’t normally review books on public speaking, but my contact at O’Reilly suggested I take a look at Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker and I enjoyed it very much. I do some speaking on design and branding, most recently a presentation on OpenType for my local InDesign User Group, and I have been interested in improving my speaking skills. This book focuses on speakers who present to large and small audiences—not really those who present to clients—and is uniquely entertaining and illuminating.

Scott Berkun is a wonderfully intriguing author, speaker and tech insider who is perfect for Confessions of a Public Speaker. He’s extremely candid—he even reveals how much he makes, which few people in any profession are comfortable doing—and has unique viewpoints on everything from “15 minutes of fame” to speaker’s fees to Americans’ place in the scheme of worldly wealth. He’s also a wickedly funny writer and I’d recommend the book if only for its humor.

Confessions of a Public Speaker also is a strong resource for speakers and presenters of all kinds. I do think the book is written for people speaking in front of audiences but some of the material is also helpful for those presenting to clients or coworkers, or even teaching others in general. The anecdotes Scott uses throughout the book are beautiful gems; one of my favorites is the the story of him taking a driving lesson from his brother to start out the chapter “The clutch is your friend.” It makes for a good lesson for public speakers as well.

The combination of dynamic writing, experience, compelling anecdotes and a focus on the presentation makes Confessions of a Public Speaker an exceptional book, and one that I’m happy to give a perfect rating for. The book may not be too technical or throw around much speaking lingo, but what it does do is even better.

Confessions of a Public Speaker
Scott Berkun
Published by O’Reilly
US$24.99
Rating: 10/10