Transport Yourself With RHB’s Annual Summer Reading List

This year, we’ve got some summer reading picks that have some heft to them and capture a broad array of interests. With two doctoral students represented among our pickers here, we’re excited to show off what they’re working on and pondering at the same time we give you some options for thinking about how music moves the body and shapes our lives; imagining a newer, better future for higher ed and our communities; learning more about the development of an iconic brand, and considering how we can be better of service by centering how we want to make others feel. We’ve also got a pick to help us keep our eyes on the future while we breathe in all we’ve already accomplished—look how far we’ve come! Let’s be transported even further into better self-understanding, a recharged sense of purpose and time spent exploring something new.

Rick Bailey’s picks:

I’m in the middle of writing my dissertation for my doctoral degree, so you might understand that my reading, while interesting, may not be classified as “reading for pleasure.” I am happy to share a few hundred scholarly research abstracts with you if you are interested, however.

I was assigned Knowledge Towns as reading for one of my program’s classes. Staley and Endicott were invited to three class discussions after we read the book. At a time when the future of higher ed looks bleak, the concepts and ideas in this book offer genuine hope if presidents and trustees can capture sufficient vision to engage with their communities. It’s like jumper cables for a dead battery. I recommend Knowledge Towns for any higher ed or community leader who needs a boost of energy to dream more broadly and wisely. We invited David Staley to engage with the RHB team to better equip us to offer such hopeful counsel to our clients. He’s a rock star.

From the oldie but goodies file: In The Shaping of an Effective Leader ( 2011 ), Gayle Beebe is a gifted and exceptional dot connector. His interests in historical context, theoretical underpinnings and practical insight get full play in his new book on leadership. The value of his educational background with the opportunity to study with Peter Drucker, coupled with his own experience as a college and university president, bring a powerful mix to this helpful book. Throughout its pages, you’ll find not only great counsel, but also useful insight and tools to improve your own leadership. As a business owner, I found applicable offerings in every chapter; we’ll implement several of his specific tactics. Beebe’s transparency offers a particularly refreshing perspective. His content is concise and to the point; his principles are challenging, inspirational and encouraging.

I’ve skimmed The Creative Act by Rick Rubin and I’m eager to give it a deeper look. He’s an unusual talent that I find fascinating. If I can find a minute (and I’m planning to take some of these to the beach with me in August), I hope to read When McKinsey Comes to Town, a book that has stirred some controversy. I also have Netta Jenkins’ new book The Inclusive Organization on my list, along with Reparative Universities by Ariana González Stokas. I probably should slip in a great novel for a break. Happy summer reading.

Ken Anselment’s pick:

The Gap and the Gain: The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success by Dan Sullivan

In higher ed–as in many other industries–we often focus so much of our energy and attention on sailing toward the distant horizon that we forget to look behind us and see just how far we have traveled. Too much focus on that distance we have yet to travel (“The Gap”) can be exhausting, even dispiriting, especially when we fail to acknowledge what we have already accomplished (“The Gain”). This is the central takeaway, embedded right in the title of Strategic Coach’s Dan Sullivan’s book, The Gap and the Gain. When I read this book earlier this summer, I had one of those “a-ha” moments when someone describes perfectly something you have fallen into yourself. It’s a forceful tap on the mind that can lead to an important shift in thinking, one that can have a surprising effect on mood. Currently at $2.99 on Kindle, the book is more nourishing and lasting than a grande Starbucks coffee.

Rosa Arroyo Driggers’ pick:

Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect by Will Guidara

The hospitality industry teaches valuable lessons that are applicable to leaders in any field and  can help cultivate leaders who prioritize the needs of their teams and stakeholders.

  • Service mindset: Hospitality is centered around providing exceptional service to guests. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and meeting the needs of others.
  • Effective communication: In the hospitality industry, clear and effective communication is vital to ensure seamless operations and guest satisfaction. Leaders in this field must be able to communicate instructions, expectations and feedback clearly and efficiently. 
  • Adaptability: The hospitality industry often faces unexpected challenges and constantly changing circumstances. Leaders in this field must be adaptable and quick to respond, adjusting their strategies and operations as needed.
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence: Understanding and empathizing with guests’ needs and emotions is crucial in hospitality. Leaders who demonstrate empathy and emotional intelligence can foster a positive work environment, build strong relationships and inspire their team members to perform at their best. 
  • Team development and empowerment: Hospitality work often involves managing diverse teams of individuals with different skill sets and backgrounds. Effective leaders in this field invest in their employees’ growth and development, providing training, guidance and opportunities for advancement. 
  • Attention to detail: In hospitality, attention to detail is essential for delivering exceptional experiences. Leaders in this industry understand the importance of small gestures and how they contribute to overall guest satisfaction. 
  • Crisis management: Hospitality professionals often face unexpected crises, such as guest complaints, service disruptions or emergencies. Leaders in this industry must be adept at handling such situations calmly, finding swift solutions and mitigating the impact on guests and the team.
Aimee Hosemann’s picks:

This summer, I have one fun read and one that’s a good bit denser. Both of these have a great deal of sentimental value to me.

My first recommendation is Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie, featuring famed and infamous sleuth Hercule Poirot. (In case you’re wondering, Peter Ustinov is my favorite Poirot.) Christie’s life was fascinating. Her fame as an author of course interacted with her personal life in interesting ways. Her second husband was an archaeologist and many of her later novels, including this recommendation, feature excavations in far flung locales. In Murder in Mesopotamia, Poirot brings his camp and humor to the Iraqi desert to find the killer of an anxious gentlewoman who had repeatedly warned of something awry. And, really, you could sub in any Christie novel here. Christie’s books are dependable—there will be danger, but not too much. There will be just enough witty dialogue and mystery, and the nefarious evildoer will be caught. There’s nothing like a pleasant diversion that ends exactly the way you know it will.

My second recommendation is Made-from-Bone: Trickster Myths, Music, and History from the Amazon by the co-chair of my dissertation committee, Jonathan D. Hill ( 2008 , University of Illinois Press). This book explores the myths that traditionally gave structure to the life of Curripaco/Wakuénai Indigenous people of Venezuela and the way musical performance derives its cultural importance from mythological history. Made-from-Bone was a trickster figure whose activities shape Wakuénai social structure. In narratives of his exploits, music opens up the world. Music also plays a formative role in gender relations, social power and establishing boundaries between the self and the other. This book got me started on the road to my doctoral work, in which I compare the lyrics and musical structures of the women’s songs Jonathan translated in this book to ones produced by Kotiria Indigenous women in Brazil. The Kotiria and Wakuénai are connected by a long tradition of sharing musical and linguistic performance genres and intermarriage.

As I was considering which books to include in my entries this year, I got the news Jonathan passed away. One of the most vital people I’ve ever known has gone. A classically trained pianist, he once played a baby grand piano in his living room one evening for a collection of us seminar students and it was breathtaking, a musical performance of a wild storm and its aftermath. He was a model for me about how to find contentment in career and family while also keeping those things in the appropriate balance. I was pleased to acknowledge his influence on my work at RHB in a 2022 conference paper. 

Made-from-Bone captures the way Jonathan would immerse himself in everything he did while also offering readers an opportunity to reflect on the performances that give their own lives meaning. I think about this as I move into a new chapter, now that one of the other important characters has made his exit.

Ryan Millbern’s pick:

During RHB Crew Advance 2023, I did a TAM Talk (our version of TED Talks) on a book that I’ve read three times since I first encountered it in my mid-20s: Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. Levitin, a record producer turned neuroscience professor, describes why music affects us the way it does by breaking down the neural processes that occur when we listen to music. 

Levitin explains the complex interplay between our brain’s bottom-up processing of music—in which our brain stem, cerebellum and temporal lobe extract basic features of music like pitch and spatial location—and the top-down processing that occurs simultaneously in our frontal lobe, where our higher-level thought takes in this basic information and constantly updates and overwrites old information while attempting to predict what will come next.

We map this process to our musical memory—and the expectations it creates for us—and we derive pleasure when our predictions are confirmed or denied in interesting ways. Levitin’s thesis statement, “Music communicates to us emotionally through systematic violation of expectations” has served as a powerful reminder whenever I embark on any creative endeavor.

This idea, juxtaposed with Seth Godin’s definition of brand as “A set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships, that, taken together, account for a customer’s decision to choose one product over another” made me think about the importance of violating expectations in the creative work we do on behalf of our clients at RHB.

By understanding the science behind how expectations affect us emotionally in music, I believe we can better understand how to create memorable and emotional work that truly moves people.

It’s up to us to listen carefully for those things that perk up our ears, make the hairs on our arms stand up, make us feel. What about that line, image or idea triggered that physical response in us? Our brains are trying to tell us something by the way our body reacts to creative expression: this is interesting, this is different, this requires your attention.

So, too, does Levitin’s book.

Rob Zinkan’s picks:

I’ve long been fascinated with the Nike brand, dating back to the first Air Jordans, and I manifest (knees creaking) “Just Do It” most days by lacing up my Nike Pegasus for (slow) runs. Emotion by Design: Creative Leadership Lessons From a Life at Nike by Greg Hoffman, former Nike chief marketing officer, was thus an easy pick and enjoyable read. Hoffman shares stories and lessons spanning his nearly three decades of experience with Nike from design intern to CMO. The stories in Emotion by Design are wide-ranging—one of my favorites was Hoffman getting to work with Kobe Bryant and being in awe of Bryant’s capacity for curiosity—and the lessons extend beyond just branding to topics such as leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion. One particularly resonant takeaway: “We are at our best when we worry less about how people feel about us and more about how we make them feel about themselves and their ability to achieve their definition of greatness.” 

And if you want more Nike content, add Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight to your list. At my previous institution, I organized a marketers’ book club where each semester we read a non-marketing book that had marketing implications, and Shoe Dog was a selection. It recently piqued the interest of one of my sons, a high school runner, who’s reading it now. Nike’s origin story is a wild ride, and Knight—who gives a candid account of the company’s struggles and his own—is an exceptional storyteller. “I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.”

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Rob Zinkan

Rob is the Vice President for Marketing Leadership at RHB.

Aimee Hosemann

Aimee is the Director of Qualitative Research at RHB.