See What Sticks: Break New Ground, with The Book With No Pictures


Hi everyone, Amma Marfo here. Two quick things about me that you’ll need to know before we begin: (1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there’s anyone you will meet who can connect what she’s reading to the world around her, it’s me. As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I’m reading, and how it could inform a budding professional’s daily life.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I haven't gotten a lot of reading done so far in 2015. I could blame work, and my comedy writing class, and some work for upcoming conferences. But in truth, the Bartlet administration had a great deal to do with it as well. The West Wing- if you haven't watched it already, you won't be sorry.

However, I was able to sneak in a quick read that had been on my list since its release: B.J. Novak's The Book With No Pictures. It's a fun read, with a twist that I didn't know to expect upon first glance. And that, more than anything in its pages, taught me a few lessons on how to break new ground.

Lesson #1: Target a new audience.

Known for his work as a writer, actor, and producer on NBC's The Office and Fox's The Mindy Project, Novak also appeared in Inglorious Basterds- none of which would be considered kid-friendly fare. The closest role he has had to a kid-friendly one would be Robert Sherman, one half of the legendary Sherman Disney singing duo in Saving Mr. Banks, a dark take on Mary Poppins' origin story. But when it came time to write his second book, Novak targeted an audience he hadn't before: kids. In a sense, Novak (and a few other actors-turned-children's authors like Jason Segel and Tony Hale) is looking ahead in the same way that we encourage other innovators to- don't look to where the market is now (adults), look to where the market is going (kids, in a sense). But Novak didn't stop there. While Segal and Hale's offerings are a little more standard of the genre, his take was a little more interesting.

At work, we can get bogged down and even discouraged when we look at things from one viewpoint. How do we see it? Occasionally, we'll adopt a different perspective for a moment, when called to do so: what would a customer think? What will my boss think? But it is not until we truly take on the perspective of someone new and different that our work starts to look fresh. Liz Wiseman, the author of Rookie Smarts, encourages people to look at their work and roles through the eyes of a beginner to find new perspective. Rookies are energetic, excited, and more attentive to things that haven't yet become routine. By taking on the viewpoint of someone new, your work could look different- and so could your path to solving a problem or creating something innovative and different.

Lesson #2: Bust what's already been done.

The Book With No Pictures is as advertised, it doesn't hold a single picture within its pages. It's all words. Which, as children's books go, is pretty rare. But Novak turns this convention on its head, and designed a book with all words that's designed to be read out loud. It is a collaborative read, requiring participation from a parent or other trusted adult to read, and a child or group of children to listen. Such collaborative experiences happen organically when reading books, but very few books are designed for that. Maybe it was a desire to read something different to kids in his life, or maybe it was his entry to children's writing from a completely genre- whatever the reason, Novak was able to find something new to bring to the genre.

How can you bust what's already been done in your office, industry, or sphere of influence? Novak came to children's writing from a different industry altogether, and that allowed him some license to get creative. Who could you talk to that could give you a new perspective on your work? Even though I work in education, I like to learn from artists and writers- sites like Brainpickings, 99U, and MISC Magazine routinely provide perspective that talking to colleagues with similar experiences and backgrounds as me wouldn't provide. Now, there are definitely times to ask those with tried-and-true approaches. But, to paraphrase Einstein, new ideas can't come from the same thinking that created old ones.

Lesson #3: Don't shy away from silly.

The disclaimer on the back of the book reads as follows:


This book looks serious, but it is actually COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS!

If a kid is trying to make you read this book, the kid is playing a trick on you. You will end up saying SILLY THINGS and making everybody LAUGH AND LAUGH!

Don't say I didn't warn you...

And Novak isn't joking here. The book's way of engaging the adult is requiring the reader to be silly, something that kids always enjoy seeing. Below is an example of the pages within:

[insert photo here]

By encouraging parents or other adult readers to indulge in something kids really enjoy, a playing field is leveled and all can giggle together. And who doesn't enjoy a good giggle in the office? Breaking new ground doesn't happen with inhibitions in place, so it's important to create an environment where coworkers and collaborators can interact freely without judgment. While laughter isn't the only way to achieve this, it is a physiologically proven one. Taking time to laugh can relieve tension and pressure that expectations of success or profitability could cause. And finding the funny in even the toughest situations can help provide perspective- perspective that could help you break new ground.

If you have a moment and a child in your life, I strongly recommend sharing The Book With No Pictures with them- it'll give them a laugh, give you a moment to laugh, and hopefully spark some creativity within you that will carry into your day-to-day pursuits.