Note: Books That Matter is Tracking Wonder’s interview series that showcases influential thinkers’ and authors’ relationships with books that matter to them.
Chris Brogan is the Batman of the entrepreneurial and business artist world. Having teethed on Marvel comics, Dungeons and Dragons, and fantasy as a boy, Chris fittingly is regarded by hundreds of thousands of people as a superhero ever-ready to help.
In his latest book, Chris champions freaks. A “freak” is someone who does or wants to do business her unique, weird, “misfit” way. Tattoo artist, small town chocolatier, one-woman livery service, writer, crazy entrepreneur – you get the idea who Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators (Wiley & Sons) is for. You.
Author of 8 books – with Portfolio Penguin, Wiley & Sons, and his own imprint – Chris is among the class of authors whom Digital Book World’s research consistently concludes are the happiest and most prosperous: a hybrid author who is savvy and versatile enough to know when to publish the traditional route and when to publish through his own artisanal imprint.
Always responsive to the common person’s bat signals, Chris’s motto to business artists is simple: Help people.
I wanted us to peek inside what books have made Chris tick. In this Books That Matter interview, Chris shares his love of Ender’s Game, his disdain for marketing and business books, and his desire to live in the world of Marvel Comics.
Jeffrey: What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
Chris: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card changed my life. The book, not the movie. The book showed me that what’s real, what’s perceived, and our approach to those two variables changes everything. Yes, it’s a science fiction book about children fighting insect aliens that might threaten to destroy the planet. But it’s also a book about strategy and mindset and discipline.
What one detail do you still recall from that book?
“The enemy’s gate is down.” The children practice war games (think of laser tag or paintball) in zero gravity arenas. Ender notices that everyone uses the gravity that existed in the hallway as their frame of reference. But why? With zero gravity, you can align your team however you’d like. He said make the enemy’s gate “down” and see what comes with that alignment. That sentence is gold if you read the book and absorb the lesson.
The book you’ve imagined living inside of is what?
I spent a good hour answering this. I’ve read a LOT of books where a different world was part of the appeal. We read such books to see different perspectives, but often just to escape our own world. For decades, I’ve visited many places. Fiction (well, genre fiction) tends to promote dangerous worlds. So where would I want to throw in? I choose Marvel Comics and the X-Men. I’d like to run their school for gifted students. Seems like it would be fun.
What character do you imagine seeking counsel from and why?
I’d love the counsel of Steven Pressfield’s King Leonidas. He’s a real person, but who knows how he really was. Pressfield made him sound lovely and brilliant.
The one book you have most often re-read is what and why?
Wow. This has become an ad for Ender’s Game. But besides that, I’ve reread William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition over ten times so far. I’ve re-read Palahniuk’s Fight Club about six times. I’ve read Pressfield’s Gates of Fire a bunch of times.
What kinds of books are you most appreciating or seeking these days?
I read a lot of nonfiction. I read often about mental toughness in one way or another. I also read a lot about US Military special operators. I learn from their discipline, their focus, their ability to push through harder challenges than most people face. I don’t read a lot of fiction, as I’m quite particular. I like literary fiction, but haven’t read much of it since 9/11. Sometimes, genre fiction makes me happy.
What kinds of books most irritate you?
I loathe most marketing and business books. I know you’ll laugh at that. I’ve written eight books, six of which are marketing and business books. Lots of these books are written as sales pieces for someone’s consulting, making them boring. Others are written as cure-alls or proclamations of the future. Sometimes, one really makes me happy. I love Jay Baer’s Youtility. I love James Altucher’s The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth (amazing book). I love Claudia Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine. But wow, there are lots of bad books out there.
You will read anything written by whom?
I have no answer for this. I never trust a name just for being a name. The closest I can say is James Altucher. I love that man.
Survey: Roughly what % of books do you read digitally versus in paper?
95% digital via Kindle app. I don’t like paper books as much any more. Strictly because I can access my book wherever I want. Anywhere there’s a browser, I’m good.
In a sentence or two, what’s your forecast for the future of publishing?
Publishing is at an interesting crossroads. Mainstream publishers are being told what mainstream cable companies have been told: you’re the dumb pipe. It’s a horrible thing to be told. They’re being told “you just do that distributing thing and I’ll do my thing.” To me, the future is that SOME publishers will figure out the other services that authors will need to move forward. What do authors need? Well, that’d be a whole other interview.
If you had five days off to read books next week, which books would you at last read?
I would read what I’m reading now. I never let time and schedules get in the way of my reading habits. Readers are leaders. I know that’s so cheesy, and you know what? It’s still true.
Which book would you want every boy/girl/woman/man/business person/thought leader to read? Why?
Oh boy. Here I go again. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
The little-known book you most relish and champion is what?
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. It’s probably not really “little known,” but I want more people to read it, damn it.
The book you are most embarrassed/proud to say you’ve never read is what?
I rarely read the most famous and popular books out there. Any genre.
If you had the time, talent, grit, and support, the book you would write would be what?
I’m an author. I write books all the time. My next is called Book Proposal: Belong: A Framework for Embracing Community, Driving the Economy and Building the Future.
The one thing you hope readers of your book The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth come away with is what?
The belief that they can make their own business their own way and they’ll succeed better than trying to fit into someone else’s mindset.
CHRIS BROGAN explores how people use content and community to build marketplaces around areas of belonging. He is CEO of Owner Media Group, a highly sought after professional speaker, and the New York Times bestselling author of eight books and counting, including his forthcoming Belong: A Framework for Embracing Community, Driving the Economy, and Building the Future. Learn more about Chris at chrisbrogan.com.