A RECIPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS: STUFF YOUR SKULL. What, why and how I read.

By JF Bouchard, Chairman & Curator – C2 Montréal / CEO - Sid Lee

My C2 Montreal colleagues asked me to share my recent reading list to provide our community with something to stuff their brains with for the holidays.

And it just so happens that I have indeed been reading recently.

A lot.

Little did they know when they got me started on this subject that I would not only explain what I read, but also HOW I read it and WHY.

Like the paleontological laggard that I am, I just discovered audiobooks. Paraphrasing Anthony Bourdain’s profane ways, I tell my friends (and many stupefied poor souls I barely know) : “I am so in love with audiobooks, I want to touch myself”. I highly recommend you give it a try – the audiobooks, that is – if you are also fossilized in your old habit of decimating forests to quench your thirst for knowledge.

Don’t be fooled by the initial weirdness of some unknown voice of God – usually not even the author – talking down to you. After a chapter, you get used to it. That voice becomes your best friend. You can’t wait to get back to it. When the book ends, it feels like being unceremoniously dumped by a loved one. But it’s well worth the repeated heartaches.

Walking the talk

Hence, I am now a plugged-in, walking erudite – not to mention a grave danger to myself on busy streets – absorbing subjects ranging from geo-engineering (a Frankenstein-ish take on our relationship to nature… yikes) to the search of meaning in WWII concentration camps (very depressing – in an uplifting way, it turns out). With earphones jammed in my ears, it feels like knowledge is being poured through a pipe straight into the deepest confines of my brain.

It is no triviality that a lot of my listening gets done while walking.

At the risk of sounding geriatric, I assert that walking is the unjustly neglected relative of sports. Not to mention the forgotten but close cousin of mindfulness.

Walking is more than it seems. Bodybuilding types will have a good laugh at me (again), but the most mundane of human physical activities is also one of the most powerful. It calms our souls. It slows down the pace of our hectic lives. It’s good exercise.

It allows you to T-H-I-N-K.

It even firms up your butt, says the ever-insightful Paris Hilton. There. That does it for me. I walk. And I listen to audiobooks as I firm up my butt.

Choose your topics, randomly

Like many people, I believe creativity is fuelled by new experiences and exposure to disciplines that have nothing to do with your craft. You’re a designer? Read about behaviour disorders (you’ll comfort yourself knowing you’re not THAT dysfunctional). You’re a business executive? Read about art history and molecular gastronomy. And, no, reading The Art of War does not count. It’s creepy. Business is not war: This metaphor is way past its prime.

In short, get lost in subject matters (and places!) foreign to you. All folks interested in creativity agree that cultivating a curious, wandering mind fuels your imagination.

Of creativity and constraints

In this spirit, I recently became interested in tackling a subject I found both troublesome and complex. On occasion and in order to function somewhat normally, I had to force myself back into my daily routine of unconsciousness to numb or forget the occasional bouts of panic that came upon me. This challenge is in our faces every day. And yet, every day, most of us elect to wait and see what tomorrow will bring. We choose to assume “they” will come up with something.

You guessed it right: I’m talking about the environment.

For business and creative people, sustainable development principles are rapidly becoming a set of complex constraints. So why talk about that in the context of trying to fuel creativity? What is the point of doing a deep dive in environmental sciences? Energy? Agriculture? Climate justice?

The answer is two-fold.

Primo: Creative people have a duty to understand the issues of our time because their innovative minds can contribute to finding better ways of doing things, at the incremental or fundamental levels.

Secondo: Accepting environmental concerns as unavoidable constraints in EVERYTHING we do can actually spur new ideas and solutions that have a positive impact at all levels – commercial, social and environmental. Constraints force us to think differently, and thinking differently is the most powerful force within all of us.

With this in mind, I hope you will enjoy the following books as much as I did. It might also bring more perspective on the COP21 climate agreement and the gigantic challenges of… walking the talk.

Plug in, enjoy.

 

The Age of Sustainability

Jeffrey D. Sachs

If sustainability were a religion, Columbia professor Sachs would be Pope Jeffrey The First.

Thanks to his work, I finally grasped why social progress and environmental solutions are joined at the hip like Siamese twins. A must-read to understand the global challenges faced by humanity, and more specifically, the 17 goals adopted by the UN and their background.

 

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air

David JC MacKay

The recent COP21 agreement has been heralded as the victory of renewable energy over fossil fuel. But wait a minute. Can you ACTUALLY replace our current fossil energy consumption with clean energy? The author seeks to define a plan that “adds up”, i.e. uses all forms of renewable energy to stack up enough juice to meet our current needs. The good news: It is doable (assuming we also reduce our needs quite significantly). The bad news: It requires Herculean efforts and constitutes a greater challenge than anything ever attempted by humankind. Hundreds of kilometers of wave power generators, wind turbines covering up to 10% of the country’s surface, solar power on each house, complete electrification of transports, new insulation for all buildings… Even a 360,000 km2 solar farm in the Sahara desert to help power Europe. This is as big as a country! 100% covered with solar panels!… It sounds insane and yet it also seems to be part of the solution to allow Europe to get to zero emissions (especially without nuclear power). The author considers a similar scenario in the American desert as well. And those are just a few of the things that need to get done…. Right, freaking now. We’re talking trillions of dollars to execute this on a global scale.

This book is a few years old, but still a gem to really understand how renewables can “add up” and go from a being a complement to becoming our sole source of power. If you think nuclear fusion will miraculously save the day at the very last hour, skip this book and go get yourself a pina colada while enjoying a warming winters. If you wish to understand the realities of deploying the required 21st century technologies, you’ll find it invaluable.

This book can be downloaded for free here: www.withouthotair.com. Not available in audiobook since it is filled with graphs, I suppose.

 

Conscious Capitalism

John Mackey and Raj Sisodia

The CEO of Whole Foods, a 2013 speaker at C2 Montreal, makes a convincing case for a new form of capitalism based on long-term thinking and greater respect of all stakeholders (employees, community, environment), not just shareholders. Compelling examples such as Whole Foods, Patagonia and Container Store are explained to illustrate that it is possible to look after your bottom line while not crossing the line into greedy exploitation of the planet. Inspiring.

 

This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein gives capitalism a sucker punch to the chin in her most recent incendiary, well-researched, book. Since capitalism is not only the foundation of business, but also the fertile ground the house was built on, it is rather distressing to see her tear the whole thing down with brio. Like many others, she argues that capitalism’s inescapable growth obsession makes it the enemy of human development. To be fair, she seems more preoccupied with neo-capitalism and its deregulation and globalization mantras. Her central argument is that fixing environmental issues inevitably involves creating a more equitable and socially conscious society. Let’s just say she will not be invited on a business oligarch’ mega-yacht anytime soon unless it’s to throw her ashes at sea.

I was struck by her incisive analysis, and more specifically, by her well-documented descriptions of the deviant behaviours of oil companies; simply appalling in a modern world – you’ll be shocked. The book got me thinking differently about capitalism and the need to steer (and regulate) it in the right direction… Adam Smith’s magical “invisible hand” is simply stealing from too many pockets: Disenfranchised people, extractionist approach to nature, etc. The rapid rise of a super-rich elite feeds on those excesses…

I haven’t moved to a commune just yet, but I told my broker to sell all my stocks in oil companies.

 

The Achievement Habit

Bernard Roth

Although it is not the usual forte of academia, acclaimed Stanford professor Roth shares more than 50 years of experience in helping people move from theory… to hardcore practice.

Over the years, he has developed a keen understanding of the obstacles – most of them imagined – that stop people from achieving their goals. The book cover leads us astray as it seems to suggest some self-help pop-psychology approach. In reality, the author applies design-thinking principles inwardly to have us work on ourselves by leveraging discovery, ideation, prototyping and execution.

I like to think of myself as someone who is pretty darn good at “getting shit done”. Yet, I can assure you his book was on eye-opener on many fronts.

But what’s the connection with the environment-related reading list above?

Simple.

It’s time for you and me and everyone else to get unstuck and achieve more ambitious goals to change our behaviours and deliver on the bold COP21 objectives. “They” will do it? Who is “they”? Governments…. But, wait, that’s “us”! We are in charge. Changing light bulbs is cute and so is owning 50 shopping bags (that we then forget home half the time), but our individual and collective challenges require us to achieve a whole lot more. Let’s all draw our own personal plan and then… get it done.