Tuesday, December 22, 2015

1997 ►

Here’s a note I just sent to the Saatchi & Saatchi network…

As the end of 2015 approaches, my Executive role in leading this great network comes to an end.

On January 1st I will be honoured to serve as Non-Exec Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, continuing my commitment to help build the brand globally and to help coach and inspire its talent.

The last 17 years have provided me with real happiness and joy and I have loved being part of Saatchi & Saatchi’s journey. I could not be leaving you, your clients and this great brand in better hands. For the past 12 months, Robert has taken the reins and has built a leadership team that is ready to move Saatchi & Saatchi to the next phase of its colourful life. Robert and Pablo will continue to demonstrate that Nothing Is Impossible and more great work is just around the corner.

When I joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 1997, Bob Seelert told me “Saatchi & Saatchi may not be the biggest company in the world, it may not be the best company in the world, but it is certainly the most interesting”. He was right.

I wish all of you continued interesting times and in my new role as Head Coach for the Groupe, I’ll do what I can to help you develop and grow.

All the best – and thank you.


At Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney 2008. AFR picture by Nic Walker

Monday, December 21, 2015

Teaching How to Give

Despite a pretty tough economic climate more people are giving their money away, according to recent reports on philanthropy. This must surely be a cause for celebration. Those who are doing well are now more likely to give something back and open up new opportunities for others.

People are motivated to give for all sorts of different reasons. For some, it might be to support a cause close to their heart; for others it might be directly to help those in need. Even when philanthropists are motivated in part by a desire to enhance their own reputation, the ultimate goal of making a positive difference to society remains.

Harnessing the power of people’s social media networks is the next step forward in personal philanthropy. I have been advising GoodWorld, a Web-based fundraising tool founded in 2014. I was drawn to the start-up because GoodWorld has ingeniously unlocked the power of the Internet as it relates to giving and is changing the way people connect with the causes they care about. GoodWorld is social giving made simple. The organization’s #donate function allows users to give instantly to the causes they care about without leaving Facebook or Twitter. By sharing one’s #donations on social media, users show their support for the causes they care about and inspire others to give, paying forward awareness and generosity. President Obama has called the organization “a big opportunity for philanthropy.”

2012 saw the launch of the Giving Pledge, a campaign started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that encourages the world’s wealthiest to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to charitable causes. It’s a movement that has already had a profound impact. As of August 2015, 137 billionaire or former billionaires have committed to the pledge. And The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki recently reported that the Gates Foundation now spends more on health issues than the W.H.O. On December 1 of this year, in an open letter to their newborn daughter, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged that he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, would “during [their] lives give 99 percent of their Facebook shares to charitable purposes. Those holdings are currently worth more than $45 billion.

As philanthropy has grown, so too has the number of people looking at the space to try to understand what motivates people to give, and how donors can be confident their hard-earned cash will be used effectively. The London School of Economics has even opened the Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship, a new academic center that commissions research and plans to teach an MBA-style course in philanthropy.

With so many more people giving (in the UK the number of million pound donations apparently increased by almost 50% in 2013, totaling more than U.S. $2 billion), it’s probably a good idea to look at whether it’s making a difference.

Napster co-founder Sean Parker has been quite critical of traditional philanthropy, calling it “a strange alien world” where “the primary currency is recognition and reputation, not effectiveness.” It comes back to what the focus of philanthropy should ultimately be—not how much is given, but rather the impact it will have.

Corporate philanthropy isn’t just about donating money. It can also involve giving time and sharing expertise. Many organizations now give their staff volunteering days in addition to annual leave. Others, like Gap Inc, have opened up their in-house training programs to not-for-profit organizations. This sharing of skills and knowledge can make a lasting difference.

Hopefully this new wave of research and education will help to ensure a focus on maximum impact, as opposed to maximum dollars. After all, the impact is what really touches people’s lives, and what might inspire others to be charitable.

Image source: fmjlaw.com

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How Fast Is NOW?

American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) once said, “The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” At the time I have no doubt he was right, but if only he could have experienced the world now!

chart that’s been doing the rounds on Twitter illustrates just how fast our world is moving, comparing the time to reach 50 million users between different types of mediums. In a nutshell:
  • 38 years for radio
  • 13 years for television
  • 4 years for internet
  • 3.5 years for Facebook
  • 9 months for Twitter
  •  6 months for Instagram
  • 35 days for Angry Birds
‘Things’ are reaching people faster than they ever have. The mobile phone is largely responsible, given that many people and their mobile phones tend to be joined at the hip. The world is literally an arms-length away.

According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and 64% own a smartphone. Being connected through these handy little devices is somewhat of an understatement: 67% of cellphone owners check their phone for messages and other notifications even when they haven’t noticed it ringing or vibrating, and 44% of cellphone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they’re afraid to miss something during the night.

That something might be the newest thing they just have to get their hands on, or a piece of breaking news. It means that for new things, people snap them up faster than they ever have. Like Adele’s new album, which broke records when it was released on 20 November, selling 2.433 million copies in the first four days. Or the Kylie Jenner lip kit, which sold out in under a minute.

People expect speed, too, and will respond to it. Order a car on Uber and the app will tell you how far away your driver is, providing reassurance that you won’t have to wait too long. And then you have shoppers preparing for the frenzy that is Black Friday and now, Cyber Monday, snapping up bargains from retailers pre-Christmas and setting internet retail records. These one-day-only sales tap into our desire for speed.

Get it before it’s gone. Or to echo Hubbard’s point, before someone else does.

Image source: yimg.com

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Acts of Mindfulness

New York City is often referred to as The City That Never Sleeps, but what does that mean for the people who live there? As it turns out, New Yorkers snooze for almost seven hours a night on average, faring better than people living in other urban areas across the US.

But comparisons and bragging rights aside, I think most people will agree that modern life isn’t particularly amenable to sleep. Everyone wants more of it. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a plethora of techniques on the sleep easy menu. Mindfulness is one, and lately, it’s everywhere. Perhaps because it’s not just sleep that it seems to help, it carries a host of other therapeutic benefits, such as stress reduction, exercise, eating and weight management.

On top of all of this, one study has found that practicing mindfulness – the state of active, open attention on the present – boosts performance, by physically altering your brain. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that practicing mindfulness increases brain activity and brain tissue density in two key regions: the part of the brain that is responsible for self-control, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for grit (or “resilience in the face of setbacks and challenges,” to be precise) among other things.

An article on TIME uncovered similarly interesting findings in relation to the effect that mindfulness has on the brain. The research found that practicing mindfulness reduced both pain intensity and emotional pain (in comparison to a placebo group), and that people who practiced mindfulness seemed to use different brain regions to reduce pain than other groups.

Mindfulness is sounding pretty good to me, so where to begin? There’s no set time limit, and you can do it pretty much anywhere, although you might try to find a quiet spot if you’re prone to distractions. It’s about focusing on the present, and observing yourself in that present moment (your breathing, the sensations of your environment), whatever you’re doing. Travis Bradberry likens it to a workout for your brain, which given what some research is beginning to show, is a spot-on analogy.

Image source: squarespace.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Never Eat Alone

“Everyone has the capacity to be a connector,” says Keith Ferrazzi. In his book Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi talks about how to use the power of relationships to succeed. Far from the “crude, desperate glad-handling usually associated with ‘networking’,” Ferrazzi operates on another level - one that’s based on mutually beneficial relationships, and generosity. It comes down to the fact that success, particularly in a business sense, is about working with people.

Ferrazzi operates by three principles:
  1. Don’t keep score – tit for tat; it’s not just about you. Making connections can be mutually beneficial.
  2. ‘Ping’ constantly – reach out to people at every chance you get. It’s not just about using your contacts when it best suits you, or when you need something.
  3. Never eat alone – invisibility is a fate worse than failure.
A new app, ‘Never eat alone’, champions this approach, by allowing employees to meet each other over lunch. It helps break down silos between departments, and encourages connections and the generation of knowledge beyond just one patch of a business. Companies are using it to improve their overall culture, and to make things more interesting for their employees.

People are often talking about the health benefits of eating with other people, and this just takes it a logical step further, into the workplace. In the home environment, family dinners help build relationships, and kids do better in school. But sadly, in the US, it’s a dying habit. The majority of American families report eating a meal together less than five days a week. Instead, people are eating in their cars (one in five meals) and eating fast food (one in four eat it every day).

What they’re missing is time together. “The dinner table can act as a unifier, a place of community. Sharing a meal is an excuse to catch up and talk, one of the few times where people are happy to put aside their work and take time out of their day,” says Cody C. Delistraty on The Atlantic. The same applies in the workplace. Sharing a meal provides an opportunity to make a connection, where creativity can thrive.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Revealing Your Sole

Paul Simon sang about shoes that had diamonds on the soles. “Well that’s one way to lose / These walking blues / Diamonds on the soles of your shoes.” Paul might have been figuratively speaking, but even so, people often talk about the significance of shoes: what one chooses to wear on one’s feet is thought to be rather revealing of character.

“Even today, you can still tell a gentleman by his shoes,” says Jemima Lewis on The Telegraph. This is despite the fact that pretty much everyone these days “regardless of class or creed” wears dirty trainers, says Lewis. She provides a few interesting examples to illustrate the point: Silvio Berlusconi posing in his office in 1977 in shiny, high-heeled boots (I repeat, the 70s), and Michael Bloomberg in loafers. Berlusconi on the one hand, judged according to his heeled boots (“Everything you need to know about the future Italian PM…is right there on his feet,” says Lewis) and Bloomberg, the eighth richest man in America at the time the article was written, noted to be wearing ‘unassuming’ black slip-ons.

Shoes might not mean a thing to some people, but to others they mean a lot, both in terms of style and comfort. Depending on the shoe in question, they might even hazard a chance at getting rid of any walking blues, perhaps even more so if we look to the future of shoes.

Nike has announced that it will be releasing ‘Back to the Future’ shoes in 2016, “turning fiction into fact” by recreating the self-lacing high-top trainers that Marty McFly wore in the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II. These shoes of the future seem, well, futuristic, and for that reason, slightly implausible in terms of replacing our current foot attire. There’s room in the wardrobe, but I don’t think the classics are going anywhere anytime soon. Brogues, oxfords, loafers…even classic Converse Chuck Taylors are practically primary colors in any shoe lovers collection. They’ve achieved this status through their craftsmanship and the brands that stand behind them; they understand that shoes mean a lot more than simply what people choose to wear on their feet.

And I wear hand made (by Vogal Boots in NYC….who’ve been handcrafting boots since 1879), black leather retro Chelsea boots (aka Beatle’s boots) from the 60s…every day.

Image source: ledschoenen.nl

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Behind the Mic

I expect great commentators are those who are really doing something they love. They don’t just love sport, but they love the art of communication too.

Contrary to what you may think however, leading practitioners don’t always make the best analysts (late Australian cricket captain and commentator Richie Benaud and John McEnroe being notable exceptions). To excel in a particular field you need to have a conviction mindset and a heavy dose of self-belief. Analysts need to be more open to new ideas and less interested in directly influencing what’s happening before them. Yet it’s common for top sportspeople to make the leap from player to commentator. Some succeed, while others struggle.

In a recent podcast for Intelligent Life, professional cricketer-turned-broadcaster Ed Smith discusses why the psychology behind excellence in sport is the opposite of what’s needed to be a good analyst of the game. It’s a difficult balance to strike. Of course, viewers and listeners want to hear from great sportspeople. They’ve been there and done that, so they have the authority and experience to explain how a player might be feeling, or why a team is behaving in a particular way. However, as Smith explains, sports stars don’t always succeed as commentators because they’re generally uncomfortable with uncertainty.

Commentators and analysts need to be able to adjust their thinking as the facts change. A large part of success in sport, however, is about conviction and a belief that you’re better than your opponent. Commentators need skepticism and rationality, which are traits that can hinder performance in sport.

Commentary is a skill quite different from anything delivered on the track or field. Radio commentators in particular need to be able to observe and describe not just what they can see, but also communicate a feeling, or the ambience in a stadium. Great commentators excel in uncertainty, relaxed about being unable to influence the outcome of what is happening on the pitch.

Great sports commentary is an art, underpinned by expertise and an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, all delivered with perfect timing and tone. The best commentators resist the urge to say too much and are comfortable, on television, to let the images speak for themselves. They make it seem effortless, but there are hours of work that go into preparing to commentate for a hundred-meter final which lasts a mere matter of seconds.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Lists: The Origin of Culture

Can you imagine a world without lists? Complete and utter chaos, I would suspect. But lists do so much more than bring order to the world. I’ve said before that nothing inspires action faster than a list. Write a to-do list and it sets you up for the doing. Lists can also provide insights, extract and engage experiences, and evoke memories and emotions.

In 2009 Italian novelist Umberto Eco opened an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris that was entirely dedicated to lists. He spoke about the essential nature of lists and why he chose lists as the subject of his exhibition in an interview with Spiegel.

“The list is the origin of culture,” says Eco. “What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible… And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.”

Eco goes on to say that in cultural history, the list prevails. He’s right of course. Which brings me to Shaun Usher’s book Lists of Note (a good one to put under the tree this season). He provides a snapshot of the world’s most intriguing lists on The Telegraph. Some offer alternatives, some offer advice, some offer a piece of history. All provide an intriguing insight into a mind, a moment, a time in the life of someone else. Here are some of my favorites:
  • Alternatives to arguably one of the most famous line in cinema, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (fromGone with the Wind), following US Censors deeming the word ‘damn’ to be offensive and asking for it to be removed. The film’s producers listed other options such as “I don’t give a whoop!” Thankfully the US Censors’ decision was reversed as ‘whoop’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
  • Johnny Cash’s ‘Things to do today!’ list, revealing some basic personal instructions (not smoke; not eat too much) alongside instructions of a more revealing nature, showing his sensitive side (kiss June; not kiss anyone else; go see Mama).
  • Harry Houdini’s scene and prop list. It was very particular, right down to measurements which were likely crucial given the death-defying acts that he performed on stage.
  • John Lennon’s list of words for words, which he penned to a young man who had written him (New York: great; Ringo: friend; Yoko: love; Bootlegs: good; Paul: extraordinary).
  • Charles Dickens’ list of fake book titles, which he had invented to have printed to fill the bare bookshelves in his new home in Tavistock House, London.
A great list is a constant work in progress so I look forward to seeing the list of Lists of Note grow. It’s like Eco says, “I was fascinated with Stendhal at 13 and with Thomas Mann at 15 and, at 16, I loved Chopin. Then I spent my life getting to know the rest. Right now, Chopin is at the very top once again. If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you're an idiot.”

Image source: plannabe.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A VUCA World – Part Two

While the North-West of England was being battered by natural causes, innocent Americans were again being battered by human extremism.  14 people killed in San Bernadino was just another example of pathetically weak political leadership.  Coming on top of gun crimes in Colorado, Oregon, Virginia and many other places in the US, it is time for the clown circus (aka the current US presidential candidates race) to gather round one issue, one common cause.

The US has to bite the bullet (pardon the pun) and amend the infamous Second Amendment.  Even my radical optimism does not allow me to believe that they should ban guns altogether, but they need to regulate them much more and immediately.  All America’s politicians should gather round and ban these guns and ammunition that are designed for no other purpose but to kill people in times of war and strife.

The US needs to act now and ban these slightly modified combat rifles for civilian ownership.  This is not the total answer and loopholes will always exist, but in a VUCA world this would be one huge step for mankind.

Image attribute/source: Moms Demand Action / socialbrandvalue.com

Monday, December 7, 2015

Living in a VUCA world

For a year or so now we have been working on the principle that the world we live in is crazy.  The American military has a more rational term for it.  VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

Last weekend this VUCA world descended upon my home town of Lancaster and my home in the beautiful Lakeland village of Grasmere.  Storm Desmond deposited almost a foot of water, four weeks rainfall, in two days on the North-West of England.  60,000 homes were without power for five days.  Grasmere village was two feet under water.  Fast flowing rivers burst their banks and the one road through the Lakes was closed.  Kendal and Keswick were closed off completely.  The road to my Grasmere home was battered and impassable.  Many residents were isolated as bridges were destroyed and many others were evacuated to community-run care centres.  The damage to homes, local businesses, the environment and to peoples’ morale is enormous.  Christmas will have to be postponed until 2016 for many.

Weather patterns are becoming more extreme every day.  Whilst the world’s top brass meet in Paris to discuss climate change, Rome may not be burning, but the Lake District is flooding.

An appeal has been launched to raise funds to support those throughout Cumbria devastated by the flooding and storms. Please help by donating here.

Image source: telegraph.co.uk

The Fab Five

If you could choose just five favorite things in life, what would they be? That was the challenge put to me by the very talented designer and typography artist, Paul McNally, who’s currently earning a Master’s degree in Multidisciplinary Designs at the University of Ulster, Belfast.

Paul’s MFA project is Five Things, a website and book that form “an archive of information and stories about humans and the things that we love.” Among the very cool, interesting, and diverse people Paul has tapped for Five Things are: author and musician JB Morrison; Deisgnmilk.com founder Jaime Derringer; photographer Dan Rubin; iconic British New Wave band Madness bass player Mark Bedford; branding specialist and designer Debbie Millman; Game of Thrones actor Kristian Nairn, and many other talented people. My five things?
  1. Grand-kids: God’s Reward!
  2. Castiglion del Bosco: Ferragamo luxury, a down-to-earth, authentic Tuscan masterpiece for all five senses.
  3. Booths Supermarkets: The Taste of the North.  For foodies, me and you.
  4. Watching the All Blacks: No opposition is more intimidating than the legacy.
  5. Friends from Childhood: Benny, Brian, Eric, Barry – you can’t make Old Friends.
Everyone is invited to submit their Five Things to the project by using this form. A Kickstarter campaign, launched in mid-November and closing on December 12, will help fund the publication of limited-edition Five Things books and a range of high-end typographically-led products inspired by the website that will be shared with contributors. With Thanksgiving upon us, think hard about those things that make our terrestrial turn worth taking, and consider sending some dollars or pounds to Kickstarter to support this lovely and worthy project.

Image source: imgix.net

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Time for Meaningful Rest

Many of us have some of our best ideas when we’re away from work and supposedly resting. The brain wave that sweeps across us in the shower. The solution to a problem that pops into our head when we’re dozing off to sleep.

Rest is an important time for our minds and bodies. As Antonia Hoyle explains in an article for The Telegraph, “rest provides vital moments of introspection; a chance to digest information so that life makes sense and new ideas surface.”

For different people, rest means different things. It may include a vigorous workout at the gym, for others it might be an hour spent reading a novel. A major new survey, the global Rest Test, launched by Hubbub, an international collective of social scientists, humanities researchers, public engagement professionals and mental health experts, aims to find out what rest means to us and why we need it.

In her article, Hoyle notes a new understanding around the importance of rest. While it may once have had associations with laziness, scientists now have a greater understanding of its full health benefits. Perhaps that’s why there seems to be a greater focus on taking and getting rest. Various apps have been created to support resting, mindfulness is becoming increasingly trendy, and companies such as Virgin are rethinking their annual leave policies to make them more generous.

Yet, for many, finding time for meaningful rest is a challenge. According to The Economist, this is despite people having, on average, more free time than they used to. It’s often suggested that this is because while we might be spending less time in the office, many of us are spending more time connected to it via smartphones and the internet. It’s hard to switch-off completely when you feel the buzz of an email entering the inbox on your mobile phone.

Perhaps the real challenge is about knowing how to rest properly. Societal pressure can make this difficult – particularly in competitive work places. Few people want to admit to being quiet. Instead many workers like to highlight how busy they are when it might not even be the case. Too often we feel guilty for taking time out so we reach for our email to reassure ourselves we’re working hard. Unless they feel confident about resting, people risk becoming anxious, worrying about what others might think and feel they should be doing something considered more productive, rather than switching off.

Of course, hard work is important and can be very satisfying. But given meaningful rest can make us more productive, it needs to be taken seriously. A better understanding of how to rest successfully may pave the way for more creative ideas when we least expect them.

Image source: radiantchurch.ca

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Online Poet

In my era, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen were just some of the artists who transcended traditional artistic borders of genre and mixed poetic literature with music. It was the message and music rolled in one.

Poetry has had the steepest decline in participation in any literary genre. According to The Washington Post, only 6.7% percent of American adults read poetry (which is still an unbelievably positive number considering the Khardashians have embedded themselves in living rooms all across the nation. Malcolm Gladwell’s point that it takes only 5% of a community/city/country to influence the greater good). Only opera has a smaller audience.

Numbers alone do not tell the full story. In an article in The Millions, Kate Angus argues that lots of people are still reading poetry today; they simply read poetry online. Just like e-books, e-poetry is on the rise.

The emergence of different forms of poetry, a modern, digital poetry so to speak, does not surprise me. People today read books on their iPads, phones and Kindles. Why wouldn’t they read poetry in the same way - especially when the digital world we live in has made it so easy for us to access the written and spoken word?

Tyler Knott Gregson is one of those new generation digital poets. He is what The New York Times labels “the literary equivalent of a unicorn”. Rather than waiting to be published, he posted his work on Instagram and Tumblr. His 560,000 followers are proof of the fact that people do still enjoy poetry.

Poetry feels much alive. It is one of the most personal art forms there is - even more so for the new digital poets. Their appeal “lies in the unpolished flavor of their verses, which often read as if they were ripped from the pages of a diary”. I agree. We all relate to emotion. We might even have experienced something similar. Choosing social media as a medium to share such emotional art just makes sense.

Image source: static.pexels.com

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Seat Beside the Master

Imagine having had the chance to sit at a desk next to Shakespeare as he wrote Hamlet? Or Nabokov while he dreamt up his nymphet? Or Agatha Christie while she composed stories starring Mrs. Marple or Hercule Poirot? That is precisely the privilege Cambridge lecturer Andy Martin was treated to over the course of a year during which internationally bestselling author Lee Child wrote Make Me, the 20th book in his Jack Reacher series. The result of their Johnson-Boswell-style partnership is Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me, subject of a recent QA between Child and Martin in The New York Times.

I’ve been writing about Child’s Reacher series since 2007, and believe that the six-foot-five-inch former military major is one of fiction’s heroic figures. A brooding nomad blessed with both principle and pragmatism. For these reasons, this behind-the-scenes look into the largely invisible creative process of writing a book represents priceless value.

Why would so successful an author as Child lift the curtain? “I sort of thought: Maybe I can explain it, I’ve been doing it long enough,” he says. “Lots of readers ask me how I do this or that. I thought this was an opportunity to tell them. Or at least to figure it out for myself. Which is the main thing, to be honest. Normally, I operate in a fog of instinct.”

A fan of the Reacher novels, Martin explains that he chose Child for this world-first experiment of literary criticism conducted in real time because the academic “liked [Child’s] economy of style—very degree zero.” What you learn in the piece is what a considerate, conspicuous craftsman Child is. The opposite of a potboiler writer, Child—whom Martin describes as “clearly a frustrated academic” who has seen Waiting for Godot 39 times—is an author very much invested in the technical aspects of literature, the weight of words, the calibration of punctuation. (Martin marvels at Child’s “almost Flaubertian” care with commas.)

“Here is the fundamental reality about the writing business,” Child explains in the piece. “It’s lonely. You spend all your time writing and then wondering whether what you just wrote is any good. [Martin] gave me instant feedback. If I write a nicely balanced four-word sentence with good rhythm and cadence, most critics will skip right over it.” Not Professor Martin! Looking together at the first sentence of Lee’s in-progress Reacher novel, Night School, Martin marvels: “Hold on. Eleven syllables, each side of the caesura. Diminished alexandrine. Nicely symmetrical. And that rhythm. Like a limerick. Did you know you were doing that?” Answers the master: “See, I’ll miss all that.”

The Times piece also includes a brilliant interactive feature: the opening page of Make Me, with an annotated dialogue between the author and academic discussing each of Child’s choices. Across their exchange comes to life the notion that good prose is the result of a series of questions and answers, a kind of ongoing interrogation the author conducts with his material. Over the course of this footnoted page the reader learns why it’s good to start sentences with transitive verbs; why “wrestling a king-size mattress off a waterbed” is a killer metaphor; the vital difference between “nothing” and “nothingness”; why an absence of dialogue is a bold choice for an opening scene; and the importance of the folding toothbrush.

“It’s a funny old job, mine,” Child tells the professor perched on his shoulder. “I actually get paid to sit around and daydream. Everything else is just typing.”Reacher Said Nothing belongs on the short shelf of great texts about literary craft that includes Stephen King’s On Writing, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Image source: amazon.com