Strands of Genius: Paid Attention & Pop Culture, Fancy Like & Chairwork

plus our thoughts on: summer reading, reading for pleasure

WRITING FROM | Toulouse, France
WORKING ON | Planning & Preparation for our annual Whiskey Weekend!
LOOKING AHEAD | Toulouse, France :: Sept 23-30 | Barcelona, Spain :: Sept 30-Oct 6 | United Kingdom :: Oct 6-Nov 2 | Miami, FL :: Nov 2-4 | Isla Mujeres, Mexico :: Nov 4-9 | Tulum, Mexico :: Nov 9-17 | Isla Mujeres, Mexico :: Nov 17-22 | Nashville, TN :: Nov 30-Dec 2 | Beersheba Springs, TN :: Dec 2-18 | Atlanta, GA :: Dec 18-20 | Nashville, TN :: Dec 20-30


We’ve arrived here in Toulouse and we’re absolutely loving it, mainly thanks to having our lovely friends Paul & Anais around. This year has been especially hectic work-wise, and while we have a few commitments in October, we’re slowly starting to get back go finding a life filled with more ease. That means less work in favor of more reading, more cooking, more yoga, more seeing friends, and more time for personal projects. If you know me, I’m happiest when my personal projects include an upcoming event to plan. I’m especially excited to plan two events in December, and to start thinking about how we can bring our School of Stolen Genius members together in 2022.

This week, we’re especially thankful for:

Paul&Anais&Apolline, Anais’ parents, Victor Hugo market, langoustines, cooking with friends, Kindles, Dune (quite long, not much happens, but it’s beautiful), Leffe Blonde, yoga, the parks of Toulouse, marinated duck, all of the French cheeses, our tiny home, our gorgeous outdoor space & YOU.


  • Faris got to speak to one of our favorite people Joe Cox on his excellent Pop Marketer podcast. There’s is a wide ranging discussion breaking down “down the relationship between brands & pop culture, explore America's "Mickey Mouse" strategy of cultural imperialism, discuss why brands have been so slow to integrate with gaming and the Zen of Fortnite”. (Pop Marketer / Apple Podcast / Spotify)


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With Summer officially over, I found myself reflecting on all that I’ve read this year. 2020 was an especially unsatisfying reading year for me. I found myself opening a book, and re-reading the same page, lacking the ability to focus. This year, I began the year with a long list of books I wanted to read — those that friends and acquaintances recommended to me, those that NPR recommended, those that the NYT recommended, and so on, and so on.

Looking at these recommended reading lists is relatively new to me. I began in 2019 when I decided that I should read more than just mysteries and crime procedurals. I wanted a little more variety, and wasn’t sure where to start. I also thought that if I was re-vamping my reading habits, I should aim to read more non-fiction. I set myself the goal of reading 5 non-fiction books in 2019. By October 2019, I had read only one, Michelle Obama’s memoir, and narrowly met my own deadline, mainly by googling “non-fiction that reads like fiction.”

Sometimes the recommendations I receive from trusted sources are thrilling page turners. Others are tough reads, that end up taking me longer than I’d like to spend on them. I recently lamented to Faris that the books on my Kindle are like my old school Netflix queue (back when you could only have a certain number of DVDs out at a time): You want to watch the documentaries, but when it’s time to pick what comes next, sometimes you’re looking for something a bit more fun.

Which got me thinking - Why does reading mysteries or thrillers or crime procedurals have to be a guilty pleasure? Why do I feel like I “should” read more non-fiction? Or tougher books? When I asked myself the question, the answer that popped into my mind was “to expand your worldview!” The conversation with myself, the interior dialogue, continued: But don’t I do plenty to expand my worldview? Or is it a case that one can never do enough to expand his or her worldview? Wait… What if reading doesn’t have to be about expansion but just satisfaction? If that’s the case, I can read whatever I damn well please!

I hope you will read whatever you damn well please, but if you’re looking for any suggestions, I’ll share with you my favorites (and least favorites) of the 43 I’ve read so far in 2021.

First, my favorites - all of which are books that have me thinking about them far after they’ve finished.

  1. The Rook by Daniel O’ Malley | Probably my favorite book that I’ve read this year. A female main character who is a total badass and deals with things out of the X-Files?! Yes please. Stiletto, the second book, is not as good as the first, but still worth a read in my opinion.

  2. XX by Rian Hughes | This book is thoughtful and thought-provoking, filled not only with words, but also with art. And a book within a book. I’m aligned with the Goodreads description: “Propulsive and boldly designed, XX is a gripping, wildly imaginative, utterly original work.” Note: I read this on a Kindle, but I wish I had read the paper book, because some of the artwork was hard to read.

  3. Recursion by Blake Crouch | A woman conceives of a technology that allows her mother with dementia to store memories, and a mysterious disease called “False Memory Syndrome” starts to take over the world. These two stories are related, and brilliantly woven together in a stop-the-world-from-exploding thriller. (I’m also a huge fan of his other work, like Dark Matter.)

  4. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid | This is the story of two women. One, a white entrepreneur and speaker with a young baby. The other, a 25 year old black babysitter. One day, the babysitter is out with the young baby when a security guard at a posh grocery store accuses her of kidnapping. The white woman considers herself woke and wants to “make it right” but the black woman wants her to just let it go. Many white women told me that this book was tough to read. There were certainly moments I felt uncomfortable, but it was also an absolute page-turner.

  5. The Nexus Trilogy by Ramez Naam | A NPR Best Book of the Year, this trilogy explores an experimental drug called Nexus that can link humans together. The author spent 13 years at Microsoft and holds 20 patents, so the book kinda reads like The Martian, in the sense that while it’s science fiction, you almost believe the whole thing could be true. I sped through all three of these books.

  6. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano | The premise is this: A plane crashes and only one person, a young child, survives, while the rest of the passengers on the plane (including his whole family) die. I feel like saying “it’s a coming of age story” somehow sells this one short. A New York Times Bestseller, it was also named one of the best books of the year by Washington Post in 2020.

  7. Charm School by Nelson DeMille | Perhaps unexpected on my list, as this book was written in the 80s, but I read this book while we waited in lines at Disney World, and honestly I found myself celebrating longer queues. The Charm School is a Russian operation where US Prisoners of War have been forced to teach KGB agents how to be model citizens. Once it’s been discovered, there’s the question of how to bring the whole thing down, or if it can be done.

Least favorites:

  1. Wolf in the White Van by John Darnielle | Winner of many awards, and reviewers seem to love it. I’m left puzzled and confused about this love, and how this book could be life-changing. Essentially, it was about a teenager and a mail-in game the teenager wrote when in recovery from an accident. It was incredibly boring, lacked any real plot, and I struggled to finish it.

  2. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam | This book was an Orwell Prize Nominee and a National Book Award Finalist for Fiction in 2020. Ryan on Goodreads summed it up better than I could: “the problem I have is that once you've moved beyond the original set-up (stereotypical 2.2 family from NYC rents an Airbnb in the back of beyond, strange things relating to a major power cut start happening, and the owners return and ask to stay in their own house because they fearful of traveling to NYC), nothing happens, other than lots of short chapters promising some sort of grand denouement, which - spoiler - never comes!”


Spotted in Toulouse, this is the work of local street artist James Colomina, known for his distinctive red statues. See more of his work on his website.

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It's called Genius Steals because we believe ideas are new combinations and that nothing can come from nothingBut copying is lazy. We believe the best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions.

Co-Founders Faris & Rosie are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway since March 2013, working with companies all over the world. Our Director of Operations is nomadic like us, our accounting team is based out of Washington, our company is registered in Tennessee, and our collaborators are all over the world. Being nomadic allows us to go wherever clients need us to be, and to be inspired by the world in between.

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