Image by Devin Peek

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The 4 Books Tim Brown Can’t Put Down

Feb 08 2018

When he’s not on the road, teaching, or tinkering in his garage, our CEO Tim Brown can often be found immersed in a good book. Histories, biographies, creative nonfiction—for someone who leads a company that approaches problems from multiple angles, it’s often books that have nothing to do with design that offer the most useful insights.

Here are four titles on Tim’s list of highly recommended reading:

1. Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson, the biographer behind Kissinger and Steve Jobs, turns his attention to the original Renaissance man, whom Brown describes as “perhaps the most curious person who ever lived.” Isaacson draws from 7,200 pages of the artist’s notebooks to trace his journey as inventor, painter, doctor, sculptor, and scientist. Da Vinci was both a procrastinator and a perfectionist, both exuberant and introspective—and his life holds valuable lessons for creatives today. Read the book.

2. Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies and Companies by Geoffrey West

Presenting something of a “theory of everything,” West says we can apply the same mathematical principles that govern growth in nature to complex political, corporate, and civic systems. What they all have in common is their response to a rapid increase in size. As cities, companies or human beings grow, they require more resources, which leads to innovations like higher wages and new products, but also negative consequences like waste and overcrowding. As he unpacks the physics of modern systems design, West cautions that growth must be matched by greater sustainability. Read the book.

3. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World by Chris Lowney

Before he became an investment banker at JP Morgan, Chris Lowney spent seven years as a Jesuit priest. That background in the cloth helped him realize that the issues he faced in nurturing new leaders at JP Morgan were the same ones the Jesuit order had faced over its 450-year history. The Jesuits focus not on what leaders should do, but on who they are. They contend that leadership springs from within and involves a never-ending process of self-examination and learning. The four pillars of leadership that inform the Jesuits’ “corporate culture” are: self-awareness (understanding your strengths, weaknesses, and values), ingenuity (innovating and adapting to a changing world), love (engaging others with a loving attitude), and heroism (energizing yourself and others with heroic ambitions). Can you imagine if every corporate leader embraced these principles? Read the book

4. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth

Doughnut analogies do a lot to sweeten economics. What, Raworth suggests, if we positioned society within a “doughnut” made of two rings: an inner ring that represents the minimum amount of food, shelter, and other necessities a person needs, and an outer ring that represents the point at which greater consumption begins to damage the Earth beyond repair? That question, along with the author’s case for a more compassionate, sustainable economic model, dovetails with our interest in advancing the circular economy. Tim calls it “a book about economics that makes sense to designers.” Read the book.

Want more? Here are 10 graphic novels we give a thumbs up. And here’s a list of more than 75 books we love, from East of Eden to Exit West.

  • Heather Kathryn Ross

    Lead Writer & Editor, IDEO San Francisco
    As a lifelong storyteller, Heather has crafted articles about the legacy of civil rights abuse on North Carolina factory farms, the trillions of helpful microbes living in the human body, the wild art of Japanese butoh, and the ancient history of cheese. A jewelry maker, photographer, and amateur archaeologist, Heather can often be found on the lam with her camera or biking through San Francisco en route to the California Academy of Sciences.
  • Devin Peek

    Senior Visual Designer, IDEO San Francisco
    Devin is a designer and visual storyteller who recharges by sleeping under the stars. She's fascinated by people and their stories. She is at her happiest with a camera in one hand and chopsticks in the other.

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