To wrap up our Thinker in Residence series, Nicholas Carr answers a few quick questions on business and books.
"Whenever I'm in need of inspiration, I find Emerson's essays to be a reliable source."
I understand the tendency to turn to a specific author when in need of something specific, like inspiration. Working everyday in business books, however, inspiration is not something missing from my daily reading diet. I'm pretty much constantly reading books that tell me I can change the world, and prompt me to do so. Even if they aren't stating that directly, most business books espouse an ethos of progress and our personal place in perpetuating it in our own lives, our organizations, and in the world at large. It is, by and large, a profoundly positive thing, but like everything it needs to be looked at deliberately, from every angle, and be moderated at times.
And so, I often turn to is Nicholas Carr—visiting his Rough Type blog and revisiting his books—to stay in touch with the notion that all this progress has a Panglossian element to it. As I mentioned in the original installment of this series, his books are not contrary to the likes of Walter Isaacson's Innovators or Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now, recent books that focus on the upside of innovation, but should be seen as companions to them. They remind us that the tools we implement to augment our memory and skills can sometimes, in fact, also diminish them, and that we should make sure we're at least using technology to more fully experience and immerse ourselves in life instead of escape from it while we're here on Earth. And, so, they are just as uplifting and speak to the best in us just as those other, more universally upbeat books do. Carr's books simply question more.
But what books helped him construct this narrative and outlook, and what business question does he want answered?
What is the one unanswered question about business you are most interested in answering?
In a rational world, what would a CEO be paid?
What book has influenced your work the most?
I'm not sure that there's one that stands out above all others. In writing The Glass Cage, I found Langdon Winner's Autonomous Technology and John Dewey's Art as Experience to be particularly helpful. And whenever I'm in need of inspiration, I find Emerson's essays to be a reliable source.
What is the book you wish you had written (or admire the most) and why?
Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Because it's beautiful and fearless.
What book are you reading right now?
I'm reading a book of contemporary philosophy called After Finitude by Quentin Meillassoux. It's extremely slow going, but very interesting. Just don't ask me what it's about.
"In a rational world, what would a CEO be paid?."