Black and White

Branding Insights for Business Success

Black & White is an ongoing compilation of cogent and compelling essays, articles, whitepapers and presentations by Nocturnal offering actionable insights and practical applications to help transform great businesses into successful, thriving brands.

10 Not-So-Obvious Books Anyone In Business Can Benefit From Reading

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By Ken Peters

Eager entrepreneurs hoping to harness the secrets of success fervently peruse pages and pore over paragraphs in books from "The Art of War" to "The Art of the Deal". Seeking sage advice from Sun Tzu or Donald Trump might help you connect with your inner Machiavelli, but some of the most useful and inspiring wisdom for business owners is often found between the lines in less likely sources.

Put down your highlighter and that dog-eared copy of "The 4-Hour Work Week", and fret not if you lack one or two of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People". Instead, I offer you this eclectic list of books that at first glance may seem a bit offbeat for the subject at hand. You won't find them among the heralded how-to tomes lining the business section of the local Barnes & Noble, but each provides unexpected insight for anyone seeking to prosper as a business owner.


The Lorax
by Dr. Seuss

"He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish. And mossy. And he spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy. Mister! he said with a sawdusty sneeze, I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees." And, the mossy-bossy Lorax was speaking for the trees decades before the snorey-borey Al Gore gave voice to "An Inconvenient Truth". Business owners are in a privileged position to set an example for, and have a far-reaching impact on, environmental stewardship and responsibility. Seuss rhymes right to the heart of the matter with clarity and ease by spinning the tale of the "Truffula Trees".


Lincoln At Gettysburg
by Gary Wills

In our culture of information overload and short attention spans, your brand's ability to communicate can be the difference between success and failure. Take a lesson from Lincoln. The power of communication has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in his dedication of the Soldiers' Cemetery at Gettysburg. Exploring the historical context of the man, the moment, and the message - and how all merged brilliantly into 272 words that launched an intellectual revolution - can assist you in communicating your brand message with clarity.


Design, Form & Chaos
by Paul Rand

Rand was the doyen of modern graphic design and corporate branding. To any learned practitioner of the art of visual communication, his books are sacred texts. Understanding the language of designers - and the profound impact their art can have on the success of your business - can only improve your results when collaborating with them. There is no one more fitting to guide you through the looking-glass than Paul Rand.


Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

What can an 18th Century French epistolary novel about the intrigues and sexual dalliances of France’s Ancien Régime aristocrats teach us about succeeding in modern business? Well, the characters gossip, scheme, collude, connive, lie, and backstab - or naively fall victim to gossiping, scheming, collusion, conniving, lying and backstabbing. In the end, nobody wins (And, somebody even loses an eye. Sacré bleu!).


The Art of Looking Sideways
by Alan Fletcher

Imagination and creativity are the best means of gaining an unfair advantage over your competition. Very often, these are sparked not by what you see, but rather by how you see. This book is an entertaining romp in visual calisthenics designed to help you open your eyes to the extra in the ordinary. Whereas business books attempt to passively disseminate the author's knowledge, this whimsical art book seeks to actively foster imagination. As Einstein quipped, "Knowledge is power, but imagination is more powerful." 


The Elements of Style
by William Strunk Jr., and E.B. White

Somewhere between the abbreviated phonetic frenzy of tweeting and text messaging, and the bloated verbosity of grandiloquence lies an English language that, when properly practiced, is perhaps the most effective business tool at your disposal. Mark Twain summed it up; "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."


Words Fail Me
by Teresa Monachino

Once Strunk and White have tutored you in the proper use of English, dive into this whimsical work of wordplay that makes it even more fun. Words have meaning, but all is not what it seems. For instance, with a quick shuffle of letters a "funeral" can become "real fun". Ironically, monosyllabic has five syllables. There is a LIE in the middle of beLIEve. Monachino serves up a fun, typographic exploration of inconsistent pronunciations, misleading spelling, and other assorted, quirky characteristics that highlight the absurdity in the English language. It’s a fun frolic that just might help you become a more engaging writer and speaker.


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Everything you need to know about leadership you can learn by studying Lincoln. That’s why he makes this list twice. This engaging and detailed examination of the man who steered the nation through its most tumultuous time offers invaluable insight for contemporary business leaders. Though confronted with vitriolic critics, egomaniacal politicians, virulent racism, incompetent generals, crushing personal tragedy, and brutal civil war, he rose above it all and marshaled his immense gifts to navigate the nation toward a “new birth of freedom.” Goodwin paints a portrait of remarkable depth, detail and pathos that reveals the man in full.


Benjamin Franklin An American Life
by Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin was America’s first genuine superstar. But, how did a 17-year old runaway – a fugitive, really – with no formal education achieve worldwide celebrity as the preeminent American inventor, scientist, diplomat, business strategist, writer, philosopher, publisher, provocateur, and practical thinker of his time? By continually evolving, carefully crafting, constantly nurturing, and masterfully managing his personal brand (and all without the internet). More than 230 years after his death, the brilliance of that brand continues to influence and permeate popular culture – and will inspire anyone wanting to make their mark on the world.


The Road
by Cormac McCarthy

How much of your humanity are you willing to sacrifice? How will what you’re doing now benefit the world you leave behind? What, if anything, do we owe our fellow man? Such are the moral meditations in this brooding exploration of humanity set after an unidentified cataclysm has cauterized the planet and decimated civilization. A nameless father and his young son wander the cold, barren wasteland struggling to survive and maintain “the fire” of morality in the grip of mankind’s decay. The ethical quandaries they wrestle with in this fictional apocalypse are acutely relevant to businesses and brands in our real world. This is not a book to be entered into lightly. The Road will lead you places you never planned on traveling. What you do once you reach them is entirely up to you.


Ken Peters is Co-founding Partner and Creative Director of Nocturnal Branding Studio, a full-service branding and design agency located in Phoenix, AZ. He's been known to design for everyone from Silicon Valley giants to start-up cat toy manufacturers. His work has garnered him everything from a host of awards to a grateful kiss on the cheek. He also makes a mean teriyaki chicken dish, but it hasn't earned any awards. To talk to Ken email him at:


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