For Morning Edition's monthly feature "Word of Mouth," Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown joins NPR to talk about what she's been reading — and what's made an impression. This month, Brown has been reading about work: how to keep a job, how to lose a job and how to make it all meaningful.
'The Acceleration Trap'
At the top of Brown's list: What happens when companies "take on more than they can handle." In "The Acceleration Trap," Harvard Business Review writers Heike Bruch and Jochen I. Menges explore the destructive nature of badly executed corporate expansion. When companies grow too quickly and take on too many initiatives, they write, it often leads to worker burnout.
Brown says this study is particularly resonant in the current down economy.
"What you have is a situation where people are so worried about the economy, they're kind of biting off initiatives, thinking 'That sounds like a great initiative; I can't be left behind.' But they go after it with fewer people than they had in the company before, so everybody feels extremely overloaded, and nothing is being digested well."
The bottom line: Sometimes it's better for companies to observe a moratorium on new projects rather than spreading themselves too thin.
'The Case, And The Plan, For The Virtual Company'
Brown's next recommendation is an account of what happened when the staff of Inc. magazine tried to put an entire issue together from their living rooms.
In "The Case, and the Plan, for the Virtual Company," writer Max Chafkin provides "the why, the how, and the why not of going virtual." Chafkin delves into the role of the office in people's lives, noting that while workers can still be productive at home, there's something about keeping up a routine that directly contributes to keeping your sanity.
"He says taking a walk to buy lunch, or leaving work at 6:30, are effective buffers against stress, frustration and all manner of instability," Brown tells Morning Edition.
"I know that when my magazine Talk folded, it was very hard for me to get readjusted to not flying out the door in the morning and having my little routine: stopping at that coffee shop on the corner, picking up the paper. You think of them as chores, but actually when you're not doing them you feel somewhat at a loss. And of course a lot of people are going through that at the moment."
Author Dominique Browning recounts what happened after she lost her job as a high-powered editor at House & Garden — and with it the desire to get out of bed in the morning. She also talks about re-engaging with the parts of her life she had never had time for before being laid off.
"It's a very interesting exploration of a soul in rebound from an overstressed lifestyle," Brown says. Browning details "what she misses from that lifestyle — which is profound — but also some of the things about her character and about her goals that she has to confront for the first time."
It's an uncomfortable but authentic read, Brown says, and another story that she can completely relate to, given her own experiences with Talk.
"I just became a sort of cheese-aholic, and I used to go downstairs have enormous slices of cheese, telling myself that this was instead of lunch," Brown says. "And you know, it never was."
Brown frankly admits that despite the possibilities that come with being home all day — picking up her daughter from school, rebonding with her cat — an interrupted career is still a difficult experience.
"It's a great sense of mourning when you can't do the thing you're really good at, and do it with satisfaction — and you suddenly fear that you may never do it again," Brown says. "This extract certainly whetted my appetite for more of this kind of reflection on who we are when the music stops."
Finally, Brown recommends Ian McEwan's new novel Solar, whose hero is an overweight, pompous Nobel laureate who hasn't had a new idea in 20 years. He gets by in life by securing a number of prestigious gigs that don't actually require him to do any work.
"It's a beautiful portrait of that kind of blowhard, who McEwan wonderfully skewers," Brown says.
But Solar also speaks to "The Acceleration Trap," in a way. McEwan's hero is one of those bosses who start vanity projects — and then refuse to kill them off, even when they prove to be a total waste of time.
"It's a delicious satire on so many of the themes that we've been talking about," Brown says. "Awful guy, but a very good read."