As you know and probably follow, there are many great blogs within the design and advertising industry. I wanted to write an article, though, that concentrates on some interesting blogs to read outside of this industry. My goal is simple: to turn up one or two things outside the field that will expand your horizons. Of the millions of blogs, the majority are full of nonsense, copied/pasted text that someone else wrote, and content mill splatter that’s designed not for the reader but to monetize the search traffic it attracts.
None of that is in here. These are thoughtful, provocative, humorous blogs that are authentic, have a point of view and stretch your mind. If this were an assignment, the final lists would all be different. Here are my suggestions as a place to begin:
A Pseudonymous Investment Banker, The Epicurean Dealmaker
An anonymous insider of the investment-banking world tells it like it is. Many entries reveal the inside stories and related political considerations while others are intellectual in nature and tend to provoke much thought, like this recent one titled “Sovereign Triviality.” He starts by quoting from Frank Herbert’s The Mentat Handbook:
“Above all else, the mentat must be a generalist, not a specialist. It is wise to have decisions of great moment monitored by generalists. Experts and specialists lead you quickly into chaos. They are a source of useless nit-picking, the ferocious quibble over a comma. The mentat-generalist, on the other hand, should bring to decision-making a healthy common sense. He must not cut himself off from the broad sweep of what is happening in his universe.”
Using that quote to set the agenda, he argues that most proponents of liberal arts education “miss the three most important reasons I believe broadly available liberal arts education will remain critical to our society and policy for the indefinite future....As the body of scientific and technical knowledge swells exponentially, scientists and engineers by definition simply must become narrowly-focused specialists. You cannot be effective as a scientist or engineer nowadays if your knowledge spans too broad a field. Our collective scientific knowledge is simply too deep....Who will aggregate and balance the competing viewpoints, suggestions and research programs of all these specialists in highly complex microdomains? Who else but someone who has been rigorously educated in the general discipline of how to think, of how to evaluate competing claims and conflicting evidence under conditions of extreme uncertainty?”
The second point he makes is that fixing large global issues like climate change, poverty (and even global financial regulation, which affect him directly) requires the skills of someone who is a renaissance person. According to him, they must involve philosophy, ideology, justice, the proper form of society and even culture.
Frankly, this is the problem I see in attacking these issues largely from a design perspective. It’s quite easy to tell the rest of the world what to do from the ease of our expansive homes, overflowing plates and access to healthcare. The problem is more complicated.
This blog makes the point that we must be well-educated and well-read so that we are sufficiently specialized to know what the hell we’re talking about, but sufficiently generalized to be able to see things in context and make them meaningful.
Jay Baer, Convince & Convert
Baer is one of the few professional bloggers worth reading. He is transparent about any conflicts of interest that might impact his writing, and he churns out terrific ideas every day, about social media and client experience.
Recently he wrote about the “Six Stages of Exposing Yourself with Content Marketing.” He says, “In just ten years we’ve moved from laggards pondering whether they even wanted a website, to a circumstance where ‘content marketing’ and ‘corporate storytelling’ are garnering serious budgetary resources. But have we let the pendulum swing too far? Is it always a net positive to create and give away content on behalf of your company?”
I believe it is, of course. As I state on my website: “Our fees are ridiculously high enough that you as a prospective client have the right to know how and what we think. Do anything you’d like with these free resources. Our role, should we work together, is to apply them to your unique situation.”
Leo Babauta, Zen Habits
Babauta has a huge following and freely shares ideas along with other known authors. A blog post he wrote recently on “The Zen of Doing” is a reminder that the world around us is so chaos-ridden that some zen is needed for balance and sanity:
“We’re buffeted wildly by whatever e-mails, conversations, news, events, demands, that are going on around us. Our minds become a constant deluge of thoughts dwelling in the past, worries of the future, distractions pulling us in every direction.
“But all of that melts away when we focus on just doing. It doesn’t matter what the doing is: sitting, walking, writing, reading, eating, washing, talking, snuggling, playing. By focusing on the doing, we drop our worries and anxieties, jealousies and anger, grieving and distraction.
“There is something profound in that simplicity. Something ultimately heart-rendingly breathtakingly gorgeous.”
That’s just a small excerpt, but an example of how Babauta’s writing resonates deeply with anyone in close touch with humanity.
A self-proclaimed entrepreneur and avid student of life, Sivers says, “I make useful things and I share what I learn.” He does, too. Not only in writing, but in currency.
In explaining why he’s given away several companies to charity, he explains: “Two friends were at a party held at the mansion of a billionaire. One said, “Wow! Look at this place! This guy has everything!” The other said, “Yes, but I have something he’ll never have: Enough.”
Sivers explains that he lives simply, hates waste and excess and really is content with a livable apartment, a functional laptop and that’s about it. This simpler approach to living gives him the “priceless freedom to live anywhere anytime.”
“Having too much money can be harmful. It throws off perspective. It makes people do stupid things. It’s not that I’m altruistic. I’m sacrificing nothing. I’ve just learned what makes me happy. And doing it this way made me the happiest. I get the deeper happiness of knowing the lucky streak I’ve had in my life will benefit tons of people—not just me.”
I like this last statement, especially, because he (rightly) acknowledges that financial success is largely dependent on luck; being in the right place at the right time.
Various authors, ars technica
Ars Technica was founded in 1998 by Ken Fisher with one simple aim—“to be technically savvy, up-to-date, and more fun than what was currently popular in the space.” Since then, with a core editorial staff, the site has evolved into one that churns out technology news and policy analysis, reviews of gadgets, software and hardware as well as scientific advancements.
It has become a trusted source in the industry because, as it states on its site, “ars technica innovates by listening to its core readership. Readers have come to demand devotedness to accuracy and integrity, flanked by a willingness to leave each day’s meaningless, click-bait fodder by the wayside. The result is something unique: the unparalleled marriage of breadth and depth in technology journalism.”
It is that, too. I read it every day.
Penelope Trunk, Advice at the Intersection of Work and Life
Penelope Trunk is a decorated writer who also happens to be afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. So here you have a brilliant woman, hardly any filter on what she says, and a very inviting writing style. You will read every blog post, like this recent one titled “Living Up to Your Potential”:
“I confess that I don’t feel like I’m working to my potential. And it makes me feel sick. I know the signs. It starts with me not being able to cope with my to-do list. It all looks too overwhelming. So I scale things back: I take out everything that has to do with starting a company.
“The next stage of not living up to my potential is that I can’t read anything. I tried to read the New York Times magazine cover story about fixing a marriage. I can’t open it, though. The woman who is the author wrote about her own experience. Fuck. I should have posted about that.
“I should have written the post about how our couples therapist fired us because neither of us seems to be capable of getting past our horrible childhoods long enough to connect with someone in a real way. He fired us, but then I used my amazing negotiating skills to convince him to take us back and then I had a screaming fit in the therapist’s office and said he’s incompetent and doesn’t give us clear direction. It was a good moment, actually. Because now that I fired him, instead of him firing me, I am fulfilled in my need to ruin relationships with people all around me and I now have space to let the Farmer get close to me.”
If I could only choose one blog to read, it would be hers.
That's all I have room for, but be sure to check out these, too:
• Julien Smith, In Over Your Head
• Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
• Bob Hoffman, The Ad Contrarian
• Ad Age: Small Agency Diary
• John Stanmeyer
• Chris Brogan, Human Business Works
No, Seth Godin isn’t anywhere on this list. He has some good stuff, but it's bumper sticker philosophy. Quit repeating him all the time, folks. ca