My 12-minute “book teaser”

If you’re taking a 12-minute cappuccino break, watch me give this “teaser” about my book at our (The Economist‘s) recent innovation conference in Berkeley.

(You’ll also find most of the other sessions on video now, including those with Arianna Huffington, Jared Diamond, Matt Mullenweg, et cetera.)

I’m not good at “teasers” or “elevator pitches”, especially since I tried to tell a story in my book that would keep you reading for 100,000 words. But I’m constantly being told that I now have to practice condensing that story into two seconds for some occasions (cocktail parties, elevators), two minutes for other occasions, 10 minutes for yet others, and so on.

So, er, I’m practicing. (Even while determined not to give too much away yet.)

Your feedback would be welcome. Do I snare your interest or do you say ‘so what’? Are there howling non sequiturs, or does it make sense? And so forth.

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28 thoughts on “My 12-minute “book teaser”

  1. Thanks for posting this. I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now, especially the new and often unconventional connections you draw between history and today, be it between people or languages. This short video only makes me more curious about your forthcoming book. Best wishes with round 4.

  2. Well, Mr. Narrative Transport, nice going.

    “How do you stay free if success shows up? ” You must be in one of those successful times in your life with a wonderful job and a book almost complete. I imagine you will answer your own question with personal experience.

    You are the consummate storyteller and your tease at the Berkeley gathering showed that. No suggestions from my end…(don’t faint).

    Well, on second thought. Throw in more humor. You are witty and charming. People are attracted to those qualities.

    • Thanks, Cheri.

      Uhm, seriously, no major suggestions?

      Humor: I have it in private, as you know, but I find it hard to have it in public, on a stage, when they’re all looking and I’m losing my breath….

  3. A fascinating talk–and you have a great presentation style.

    Because you asked for critique I might say that this one is either too short or too long. I thing it would be better if you spent the same amount of time on each of your example people. That might not be the way the book works, but Einstein and Jobs come across as afterthoughts here–so maybe you need a clearer segue to them. Alternatively, you could cut down on the amount of time spent on H & S or beef up the sections on E& J. Or better, conclude with a graphic that summarizes your concept. One idea might be to close with a quote from/about each person that would succinctly capture your book’s thesis. The Jobs quote about getting fired would be great. And of course for Hannibal the summary quote has to be “Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis.”

    Looking good! Best of luck.

    • Great point, Thomas. I was thinking about precisely this.

      12 minutes is an arbitrary amount of time, but that’s what I had. So now I had to choose one snippet of the book, and just a few characters. As soon as I did that I knew that I could do neither the theme nor the characters justice.

      Every time I shortened the bits about H & S, i realized that I was at risk of losing most of the audience. For instance, do I need to explain that Carthage was a world power near what is today Tunis? Well, I decided that if I didn’t, people would drop off. And so it went….

      The quotes idea is fantastic — in fact, in the book I do start each chapter with a quote from a character in that chapter that sums up the theme in a surprising way.

      Other readers might not know your Latin quote: “You know how to gain a victory; you do not know how to use it.” This is how Livy records the cavalry captain Maharbal speaking to hannibal after his great victory at Cannae, after Hannibal decided NOT to march on Rome.

  4. Here’s what I don’t understand about the premise of your book, and I’m sure it’s all explained in the book. But until I’ve actually read it, here’s what confuses me:

    According to Kipling—and yourself, as you’ve taken his line as your premise—triumph and disaster are impostors.

    That, to me, sounds like saying blondes are dumb. Well, some are, and some aren’t. More correctly, I believe, would be to say blondes may be dumb. Or the may not be. Impossible to tell just by looking at the hair color.

    Likewise, if a disaster befalls me, there are three possibilities:

    (1) it may be a blessing in disguise
    (2) it may be just as bad as it looks
    (3) it may even turn out to be more of a disaster it looks initially

    Same if I suddenly won the lottery: perhaps I’ll be a happier person indeed, perhaps I’ll be even happier than I thought I would be, or perhaps it’ll destroy my life.

    Hence, thriumph and disaster may be impostors. Without a crystal ball, there’s no real way to predict how anything will pan out.

    Calling triumph and disaster impostors seems to suggest that they are always their own opposite, rather than—as I believe would be more correct— that theymay or may not be.

    • Yes, you’re absolutely right. But that’s the beauty of poetry (ie, Kipling’s): It’s not meant to be mathematically precise.

      If triumph and disaster were “merely” the opposite of what they seem, then there’d be no book, because the stories would be very boring. As soon as something good happens, we’d know this guy is done for.

      So how I frame it is that triumph and disaster are really catalysts that bring out, or amplify, our character. Character A responds in fashion X, B in fashion Y, and so on. Once you do that — or so I am hoping — each one of you will recognize some characters.

    • So in boring poetry, triumph and disaster are impostors. In more exciting real life, however, they are only potential impostors.

      You left your investment bank “with the help of my superiors”? What a coincidence, that’s exactly how I left all my restaurants so far, except in my case, it always turned a disaster into a worse disaster.

      I wish Kipling’s line were mathematically precise.

  5. Hi Andreas –

    a good one. I did as you said: literally made a cappuchino and concentrated on this one. As Sven said: good luck with round 4. And thank you for sharing this.
    All the best.


    • That’s the spirit!! Never stretch the brain muscle without a cappuccino or a good Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on the time of day.

      This is how I picture my audience: reclined, thoughtful and savoring…

  6. I liked the teaser for the book. Since I have followed your blog for a good while the themes were not new but the delivery was. I liked the thread connecting all the stories and it is really interesting to be able to bring figures from times past into current conversation which just shows how timeless success and failure are.

    I think it does the job of being self contained while still leaving the listener wanting more.

    • Wow. Thanks, spi. That’s what I was trying to do.

      I’m not going to let that seduce me into thinking that I got it exactly right, but it does mean I have something to build on.

    • Whoa. That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of memory palaces before.

      As I’m reading, though, I’m wondering whether constructing such a mental “place” and storing memories in it would not diminish your mental flexibility. It seems that you have to “walk” through your palace in the same exact route to remember everything in it. But I like to make lateral jumps (through the walls, as it were).

      But very worth contemplating! thanks

    • It’s true that last minute changes to your presentation might require that you crash through walls and leap tall buildings in a single bound. But so what? It’s been done before, even by a mild-mannered reporter. 

  7. I’ve been reading your blog for some months now. I can’t wait to read “Zen and the Art of World Conquest”. (or whatever the title ends up being) The teaser did its job!

    • Thanks, Jim. Great to have you here.
      “Zen and the art of elephant maintenance,” “Zen and the fart of elephant maintenance,”….. Oh, I wish you hadn’t got my infantile mind cranking in the wrong direction half-way through the work day. 🙂

    • This reminds me, you might give some thought as to how your book title will translate. A Chinese friend of mine once mentioned to me that she had read the book “Zen and the Motorcycle Repairman.”

  8. Dear Andreas

    I was listening to you in rapt attention.Those 12 minutes of your speech are a profound lecture in wisdom and philosophy. In my mind I was already making the comparisons of what you were discussing to the Chapter of Karmayoga in Bhagwad Gita. I am waiting for your book to release and am sure with the amount of creative freedom you sought for yourself it will turn out to be a marvel of a book.

    Thanks and Regards
    Akhilesh Mattoo

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