Business Innovation

NewBoCo’s book club focuses on business, innovation. And it’s OK if you haven’t read the book.

NewBoCo’s Director of Innovation Services Jennifer Murphy (left) and NewBoCo Marketing Coordinator Jessica Abdoney look through “Think Again” by Adam Grant, at Next Page Books in the NewBo District of Cedar Rapids. (Rob Merritt/NewBoCo)

As the director of innovation services for NewBoCo, Jennifer Murphy puts a high priority on professional development.

However, she’s heard far too many people use “I’m too busy” as an excuse to not take part.

That’s why in 2020, Murphy created the I (Mostly) Read It Book Club. She saw the monthly book assignments and subsequent discussions as a way to make more business professionals be a part of the conversation.

Except you don’t have to finish the book to take part in that conversation.

Or even to have read it at all.

“It isn’t your traditional book club where you have to have read and studied each section,” Murphy says. “Nor do we sit around with a glass of wine or coffee, while the book collects dust.

“Instead, we see this as a time to connect and continue to develop your thinking, stimulate your brain in new ways, and be with community … which can help fight some of that fatigue that sets in from being busy.”

Books are chosen by the club’s core committee. Often a previous discussion will inspire the suggestion of future books.

For example, the book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport mentioned the work of author Adam Grant. So when organizers saw Grant’s new book, “Think Again,” was about to be released, it quickly became a new suggestion for the club.

Grant’s “Think Again” promises to show business leaders “how we can embrace the joy of being wrong, harness the surprising advantages of impostor syndrome, bring nuance to charged conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners.”

The group read and discussed “Think Again” earlier this month. During that conversation, members used it as a springboard into a larger discussion about innovation and leadership.

Yet the club is designed to be welcoming to those who didn’t read the book, too. The discussion is designed to allow participants to listen, share reflections on what they hear and ask questions about the book’s content and how it’s described.

Insights from those who did finish the book are equally welcome — including if they didn’t care for it.

“By collaborating to dive into these books, discussing how the ideas apply to our perspectives, and investing in our personal development, we all benefit,” Murphy said.

The program originally launched under a different title. Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic forced offices to close in 2020, Murphy — who works directly with NewBoCo’s Intrapreneur Academy — saw the need to create a new outlet for continuing business development.

In keeping with NewBoCo’s focus on business innovation, Murphy launched the Innovation Book Club with participants from all over the world.

“In one session we had people from Canada, the U.S., Ireland and the U.K., all discussing ‘The Myths of Innovation’ by Scott Berkun,” Murphy said.

“It was fantastic.”

But as Zoom fatigue took hold, the group’s numbers began to dwindle. Among those who remained, many would arrive at meetings with an apology of “I mostly read it” or “I got through most of it.”

That birthed the idea to change the name from Innovation Book Club to the I (Mostly) Read it Book Club.

“Tsundoku is a Japanese term that describes the art of buying books and never reading them,” she said. “This resonates with a lot of people.

“We want to hear thoughts from each other, not just from the book, but from what the topic of the book inspires us to reflect and build on in our own experiences.”

According to Murphy, that is exactly why the I (Mostly) Read It Book Club fits in with NewBoCo’s mission of supporting entrepreneurship, innovation and tech education.

“It is key to host conversations that spark critical debate of ideas, and exchange thoughts with both like-minded and not like-minded leaders,” Murphy said. “I see this as a perfect event for our organization.”

At the moment, the I (Mostly) Read It Book Club is entirely virtual, with meetings taking place over Zoom. Looking ahead, Murphy hopes to see the group grow in both size and in diversity.

She encourages participants to purchase books locally, and said that sellers such as Next Page Books in the NewBo District have ordered the club’s selections in advance.

“We want to discuss books that challenge our thinking even more,” she said.

“We have a core group who come and contribute, and we have lively, trusted conversations. But in order to continue to expand our perspectives, more voices are desired.”

Attendance to the I (Mostly) Read It Book Club is free, though organizers encourage donations. Registration is required, and links can be found at NewBoCo’s website, newbo.co.