Man About Town

Oprah, out! Man About Town, in! Just in time for the beach, I want to share a few interesting new books that might help some of you accomplish more than a perfect tan this summer.

We’ve all read about companies choosing (or being forced) to reimagine their futures, and some of us are probably doing the same individually—willingly or otherwise. Whatever the case, change is coming, and it’s time to get down to brass tacks.

I figure we all have a few options this summer. Stick our heads in the sand, loll around reading some mean-spirited or trashy new release … or actually use this gentle season to nurture our individual creativity.

One book that leaped out at me recently is The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Given my history with war rooms, I thought someone had beaten me to the punch with a book about collaboration and such. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. The subtitle says it all: “Winning the Inner Creative Battle.” We are all asked to collaborate on a daily basis, and some of us do it better than others. However, what often gets left behind (even among the most talented of you) are the steps needed to ensure our individual creative nourishment.

This handsome book from innovative publishing house Rugged Land is from the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and several other estimable novels. Pressfield has crafted an enlightening book about the myriad challenges he faces every day and the ways in which he battles the terror of a blank sheet of paper. Though it’s written for writers, I imagine many of you would find it helpful as you struggle to keep your own creative flames shining brightly. Because with all that’s going on in the world, that seems to be the most important thing any of us can do.

By the way, you may be interested to know that Rugged Land actually sees the value in advertising. Get that! While most books receive scant marketing efforts, publisher Web Stone recently filmed an actual spot (more like a movie trailer, actually) for another new imprint. New Yorkers who see Spider-Man at one of several Manhattan theaters are being treated to an amusing trailer for the novel Henry’s List of Wrongs, by John Scott Shepherd. The author, for the record, is a former account guy and copywriter (as well as the writer of Angelina Jolie’s newest flick, Life or Something Like It), so I guess he doesn’t need to pore over The War of Art as much as the rest of us do.

Finally, here’s a book for everyone: It’s Your Ship, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. On one hand, it’s wildly gratifying to see just what kind of “right stuff” our armed forces are made of these days (the author left the service only recently). But, more to the point, seeing Abrashoff enact meaningful change in the Navy (not exactly the epicenter of revolutionary management breakthroughs) makes our own corporate problems seem hardly insurmountable.

The Account Planning Group booked Abrashoff for our annual conference a few years ago. Frankly, I thought that choosing him to speak to 800 agency leaders and senior planners was a little perverse. (Military? Planners? Yikes.) Before taking the stage, he eyed the rowdy crowd with more than a little apprehension.

But from the moment he began his eye-opening account of the changes he brought to the USS Benfold, he had the audience hook, line and anchor. The story, recounted in It’s Your Ship, could be described as McHale’s Navy without the jokes (the USS Benfold is a billion-dollar guided missile destroyer, after all). Abrashoff recalls his efforts to turn things around, and the result is an awe-inspiring account of just how much one man can do … when he doesn’t try to do it all himself.

Rather than using outdated modes of iron-fist management (“command and control”), he brings unheard-of innovations and techniques to the tasks ahead of him. And he does it through bold breaks with tradition, common sense and a wily recognition of the talents of those under him … and how they can best be put to use.

The result? Under Abrashoff’s command, the USS Benfold and its crew of 310 men and women went from being ranked the worst ship in the Pacific fleet to the most streamlined, lively operation in the Navy. Retention numbers went through the roof, costs tumbled and performance ratings shot up.

Small wonder Abrashoff enjoys such a commanding schedule, speaking to some of the finest businesses and organizations in the world. Get a few copies of this fine, enjoyable book: one for you, and one for your boss!