Geek Read: Fenton Staff Picks for 2010 – Part One

(A three-part series)

If your New Year’s resolution is to read more smart stuff in 2011, we have some recommendations for you. We have compiled Fenton Staff Picks for the geek reads that most captivated us in 2010.

Our recommendations – a baker’s dozen – are books, blogs and essays that fascinated us, made us laugh, challenged our perceptions and elevated our thinking and work. Today, we’re sharing the first four picks.

We’re also interested in hearing from you. What were your favorite geek reads of 2010?

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Chip Heath and Dan Heath)

Recommended by Eric Antebi, Vice President, San Francisco

As a parent with young kids, I don’t get a chance to read books that don’t involve hungry caterpillars or runaway bunnies. But I did manage to carve out some time (thank God for plane flights) to read Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (the same guys who brought us the highly popular Made to Stick). Switch is the Tipping Point of 2010, which means that if you haven’t read it, you will feel left out. But that is not why you should read it. If you are in the change-making business, then this book will help you focus on the central challenge of getting people to do things differently and provide you with effective strategies for doing so. The book is provocative, entertaining and immediately relevant. It is rare that a day goes by since I read the book a few months ago that I don’t apply something that I learned reading it.

The Experience Effect: Engage Your Customers with a Consistent and Memorable Brand Experience (Jim Joseph)

Recommended by: Erin Birx Hart, Senior Vice President, San Francisco

I love my Mac. I love it because it’s a magic box — a tool that helps me do things that I care about, and it doesn’t require me to know the ins and outs of how a computer works. My rational mind knows that many other computers and tools could help me be a powerful communicator who creates social change. But my emotions love the magic box for how easy it makes the work and how effectively it delivers the results that I want. That’s the lesson of The Experience Effect. Jim Joseph outlines the way to build experiences for brands or campaigns. He demonstrates that the best way to reach a member of your target audience is to create an emotional connection that causes people to connect with the brand initially, reconnect with it over time and make it a part of their lives. Information and rational thought do matter, but information alone doesn’t drive long-term support, and it seldom drives behavior change.

Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted (Malcolm Gladwell)

Recommended by Heather Holdridge, Vice President, Digital, Washington, DC

Malcolm Gladwell (who appears twice on our list of staff picks because we heart him) is perhaps best known for his books like The Tipping Point and Blink. But my favorite geek read of the year was his Oct. 4 essay in The New Yorker, “Small Change.” In it, Gladwell argues that social networks are a less effective form of activism than the traditional organizing deployed during the Civil Rights Era (he talks extensively about both the sit-ins at lunch counters and the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). While I found Gladwell’s hypothesis to be flawed, (to take one core example, he treats social networking “activism” as if it is a replacement for traditional organizing, when in fact it’s a new set of tools that people and organizations can use in their broader mission), the essay is typically Gladwellian — provocative and chock-full of relevant and interesting stories that will provide good fodder for discussion at your organization’s water cooler.

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein)

Recommended by Jenny Park, Account Director, San Francisco

Those of us who work for social change may have at some point fantasized about the day when we get to rule the world and ban everything that puts people in harm’s way (please tell me it’s not just me). But knowing the improbability of that dream coming true, I’ve come to embrace “libertarian paternalism”—the idea that it’s possible to steer people toward better choices by altering the environment in which those choices are made. Nudge makes a good case for this with a mix of humor and case studies of how people opt into retirement savings plans, decide whether to become an organ donor or choose greener business practices. Reading this book made me realize that everything around us—from the font on the traffic signs to the schedule of prescription drug benefits in Medicare—is a product of successful (or disastrous) choice architects. So next time you’re at the dentist’s office and the receptionist makes sure to schedule your next teeth cleaning appointment (because you know you’ll never get around to call and schedule it 6 months later), consider yourself nudged.