Books that made you

Here we have asked a few people from our APG community to share with us the books that have made them who they are and influenced them most in their career. 

Dom Boyd

APG Chair (2016 & 2017) & CSO at Publicis

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | by Robert Pirsig

I know very little and motorcycles, their maintenance or zen, but keep coming back to this one.

On the surface a simple story about a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by father and son, under the surface it’s also a rather wonderful spiritual guide, philosophical tome on the nature of relationships, existential meditation on what makes us truly happy and of course a 60’s wanderlust adventure

Very much a book that keeps on giving.

Gets bonus points for a mad title. 


Danziger's Travels: Beyond Forbidden Frontiers |by Nick Danziger

Some years ago now I decided to spend a year or so hitching from Alaska to Peru, a trip that included being held up at gunpoint twice, rolling a car 150m down a mountainside, being trapped inside a crumbling building during an earthquake and being woken up by a bear while camping alone the wilds of the Yukon. 


This is the book that inspired me to do it.  A legendary true tale about the trials and tribulations nick faced trying to be the first person since 1949 to travel down the old Silk Road, including  disguising himself as a Mujahideen guerrilla (successfully) and getting bombed by Russian jets (less successful). For doers, dreamers and those that don’t know any better, it’s a perfect preparation for modern planning.


Eden | by Tim Smit

Once upon a time, pretty recently even, the Eden project didn’t exist. Why should it? There wasn’t a market for a large shaped ball greenhouse, housed in a disused china clay pit in one of the country’s poorest regions. Well someone – Tim Smit - did believe in it. Someone, who wasn’t a horticulturalist or design expert or inventor, but who cared. And got individuals, communities, councils and people all around the country to care too. So much so, we were crazy enough to make it happen. Not just a story of something beautiful and beneficial but a master class in how to create magic. Which is what we should always try and do.

Tracey Follows

APG Chair (2014 & 2015) & founder of Futuremade Ltd

L'Etranger | by Albert Camus

I had to read it in French for A-level. It got me interested in existentialism. As did his book 'the Plague'. And became my inspiration to do philosophy at University. The Cure also wrote a great song about it!


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? | by Philip K. Dick

"Best known as the inspiration for Blade Runner, this is one of my favourite sci fi novels (I'm a big science fiction fan) and reconfirmed my obsession with futurism and forecasting what the world is going to be like"


Time's Arrow | by Martin Amis

This book blew my mind when I first read it. For those that don't know it tells the story backwards. It plays with every human emotion and one's  assumptions about time as a progressive and predictable linear process. I had just finished reading it before a meeting at which BBH presented a brilliant creative idea for us at One2One, the idea of which was 'you're every one2one you've ever had' which of course is the answer to the question, 'what makes you, you?


Time's Arrow asks that same question and it was fate that I should be so tuned into that theme when the agency presented their idea. Best ad I ever made!

Craig Mawdsley

APG Chair (2012 & 2013) & Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO

Admap monograph The Hidden Power of Advertising | by Robert Heath

Completely changed the way I think about advertising and how it works.  It got me to realize the primacy of memory as the core concept in what we do and gave me a critical lens to see the difference between Direct Response and brand communication (one deals in action, the other in memory, hence need entirely different modes of thinking to plan them).  Nothing has given me such a clear insight into what is important and a framework that enabled me to accommodate all the new things that happened since Heath wrote it (namely – the internet).


A Technique For Producing Ideas | by James Webb Young

Helped me understand that what I was doing instinctively and accidentally was in fact a method and one that I could get better at simply by being better at it and repeating it.  it also gave me a framework for explaining what I do to myself and to others, helping me become a better leader, manager and coach, in a way that I had not previously thought possible.


How Brands Grow | by Bryon Sharp

Has bought data into the world of emotion and given me a clear empirical backing for emotion, directly unlocking some of the very greatest work of my career (Sainsbury’s Christmas campaigns in 2013 and 2014).  It has been taken by many clients as a unified theory of everything, but for me one of the most useful aspects of it has been critically approaching it and working out where it works completely (FMCG) and where it doesn’t (retail, telecoms).  As with any fundamentalist religion, it helps you understand how one particular worldview works, when to use it and also to sharpen a more nuanced view of where the theory breaks down.


Revolution In The Head | by Ian MacDonald

Is the greatest book ever written on the creative process, as it deconstructs The Beatles entire recording output song by song.  It has engaged and inspired me more than any book about advertising or business, speaking to the cultural context of ideas, the process of collaboration and teamwork and the moments of inspiration that makes creativity work in business.  What we do in advertising has almost nothing to do with the cultural and musical impact of The Beatles, and our effect is barely 1% of theirs, it is at least 1% of valuable and inspiring overlap that keeps me reaching for the heights.

Merry Baskin

APG Chair (1999 & 2001) 

Eating the Big Fish | by Adam Morgan

The ultimate planner in his generosity of sharing his ideas. It is not only a great read, full of inspiring examples and witty commentary, it is very precise and clear in its practical tips on what actions to take when developing a strategy. If I have a brand positioning workshop coming up, this is my go to manual. I’ve used his tools not just for second brands but brand leaders and niche players too. (NB the new follow up is coming out in early 2015 which I am very excited about)


Confidence at Work | by Ros Taylor

Get past the American self-help book tonality and the less than academic writing style and check out some of the quizzes, especially the one on leadership and creativity which is a gem for any head of department or planning director with direct reports and teams to work with – I have passed it onto a great many folk including my husband and all have been astounded by how accurately it fit their style and preferences. As they said in Ancient Greece – “Physician, Know Thyself”


Contagious | by Jonah Berger

Subtitle – why things catch on. This guy (Wharton Business School Marketing Professor) spoke at the 4A’s Account Planning Conference in Chicago this year (2014). I had already read his book so was able to shout out the answer (so annoying, I know) to his question of “what percentage of a brand’s word of mouth happens on line?”  surprising number and a great show stopper in a meeting discussing social media strategy for 2015. The book has a useful, practical and plausible 6 point checklist for what is effectively a recipe for sharable content.

Richard Huntington

Chairman and Group Chief Strategy Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi

Advertising Works - any Addition

I first read one of these volumes when I was moving from being an account handler to a planner and the case studies electrified me. I still think that it's a good test of whether someone is planning material or not – do they get off on advertising works or do they find IPA case studies rather tedious? If its the former fire up the Moleskin pronto.


Bring Home the Revolution | by Jonathan Freedland

It is a bit off piste but this polemic about the way the American Revolution happened in the wrong place helped tune up my hatred of orthodoxy really early in my career. It’s one thing to advocate a republic in the UK (something I personally find highly desirable) it’s quite another to suggest that in 1776 the Americans stole a revolution that should have happened here.


A World in a Phrase | by James Geary

This curious little book is about the history of the aphorism, one of the planner’s most powerful tools. It offers up a whole selection of the world most powerful aphorisms as well as a handy guide to forging your own.  And is essential in my favourite pursuit of bastardising famous aphorisms to create powerpoint headlines.

John Griffiths

CEO Founder at Planning Above and Beyond Ltd

Mind of the Strategist | by Kenichi Ohmae 

I used to reread this as a junior planner because of the way it conceptualises in this case product design and market planning. The book starts with analysing a day coach trip and how the value is distributed but then goes on into value engineering. What each component is doing and whether it adds benefit or cost and complexity. It inspired me because of the way it showed planning thinking applied to areas I had never thought about. And gave me the confidence to think more rigorously more widely.


Relentless | by Ikujiro Nonaka

(who also wrote the brilliant Knowledge Creating company about how companies make and store insights). Another strategy book by a Japanese author who writes about the Japanese way of marketing. Which is category based.  The health and appeal of the category is more important than how your brand is doing versus competition. The reason Japanese brands were able to take over entire markets was that they used category marketing - essentially saying the same things and bringing out products with near identical features.  It is a very different way of thinking about marketing and it taught me to look at the category first. 


The New Marketing Manifesto | by John Grant

Written while he was still at St Lukes. This book announces the new rules of marketing which are very different from the old. Brands getting close to customers, simplifying the benefits, forming customer communities, mythologizing the future. I have read it many times and continue to.  Parts of it may obvious now because of the arrival of digital, social and content marketing. But John Grant wrote this when none of these things existed, a full 5 years before Facebook began. A prophetic book which you can still learn a lot from. One of the sanest and most articulate summaries about how marketing works today.

Kate Waters

Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Now Advertising

Truth Lies and Advertising | by Jon Steel

I read it while thinking about changing career (from publishing to advertising), and it was the book that convinced me that I really wanted to be a planner. I fell in love with the concept of an 'idea' and realised just how much thought, energy and creativity goes into really great work.


How Brands Grow | by Byron Sharp

The closest thing to a 'manual' for marketing, but one that's actually built on some decent evidence for what works. And, I love the fact that he kills so many sacred cows. Really thought provoking, and a text I come back to time and time again.


Connected | by Christakis and Fowler

A behavioural sciences book that focuses on peer influence, particularly in relation to public health issues like obesity and smoking (which I've spent a fair proportion of my career worrying about). I don't think we really do enough to think about how we can leverage the mechanisms of this sort of behavioural influence.  I don't know what the answer is, but every time I read this book I find myself inspired to think harder about what we could and should do.

Sameer Modha

Head of Data Proposition at DigitasLBi_UK

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature | by Richard Rorty

I had the edition with the Escher-esque drawing on the front of someone holding a mirror ball. Probably sounds daft now, but as a very earnest and uptight student, it helped me out of the prison of my own worries. If you no longer stress about ‘what things are really like’ then you can have a lot more fun. It’s all just stories round the campfire really – even (or especially) quantum mechanics.


Anthology (sheet music) | by Paul Simon

The closest thing to a 'manual' for marketing, but one that's actually built on some decent evidence for what works. And, I love the fact that he kills so many sacred cows. Really thought provoking, and a text I come back to time and time again.


Behind the Scenes in Advertising | by Jeremy Bullmore

This is a picture of someone selling their signed copy on eBay (picture not available). The same Mk 1 Edition that I have. I’ll never sell mine, not least because I don’t want anyone else to see what he wrote inside. Taught me that I wasn’t mad to be interested in the stuff I was, and that it would all somehow fit together.

Adam Sweeney

Senior Strategist at KBS Albion 

Bowling Alone | by RD Putnam

Putnam's thesis on the decline of social capital in the US (and beyond) is an instructive analysis for anyone growing up in the atomised 21st century: so much so that Obama gave him a medal. It's based on quantitative data, which is refreshing in the realm of the social commentary. Some content is debatable, but the concept of social capital is universal: a gravity for every society since the dawn of history. "


IQ84 | by Haruki Murakami

Apart from being one of the best works of fiction from the world's best author of fiction (my opinion), it is a love letter to written words and a worthy model for anyone seeking to express themselves, complex emotions or difficult concepts in crystal-clear English. Terse sentences and cliffhanging chapters make this a good exemplar for storytellers working with limited media (powerpoint).


Faith in Fakes | by Umberto Eco

A Catholic taste for high and low culture allows Umberto Eco to write about tight jeans, Superman and wax museums in the same breath as the Renaissance. His 40-year old views on media proliferation, citizenry and psychological revolution are incredibly prescient as a result. It taught me to pay attention to both high and low - past and present.

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