Tina Brown's Must-Reads: Stories Of Survival The Daily Beast editor chats with Renee Montagne about the best things she's been reading lately. Brown's focus this month: surviving and thriving in adversity, from the challenges of rescuing a major corporation to the difficulties of readjusting to life after wartime.
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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: Stories Of Survival

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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: Stories Of Survival

Tina Brown's Must-Reads: Stories Of Survival

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We're joined now by Tina Brown of The Daily Beast. She brings us reading recommendations for our regular feature, Word of Mouth. Today, stories of managing in tough times - in business, in life, and after a war.

Good morning, Tina.

Ms. TINA BROWN (The Daily Beast): Good morning, Renee, good to talk to you.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with a piece in Harvard Business Review. It's an interview with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and people might remember he stepped down in 2000 when Starbucks was at the height of success, didn't expect to return, only he did, two years ago, to rebuild the company. What's interesting about this particular article is its title, "We Have to Own the Mistakes." What does he mean by that?

Ms. BROWN: Well, he talks about how you really have to own up to the mistakes that you in your company have made yourself, face them, share them with your staff, in order to move on. And he said it's like when you have a secret and get it out, the burden is off your shoulders.

MONTAGNE: One thing, though, he says is he, by coming back, could do things another CEO - an outside CEO - could never have done. And among them was, I mean he could truly embrace what he called - it's a cliche in a way, but the culture or the core values of the company.

Ms. BROWN: What he really saw was that the culture gone off whack, that it had just - two things had happened. First of all, there had been a volcanic climate, suddenly a huge recession where customers' entire patterns had changed. And also a sense that the company had lost touch with its customer core value thrust, because this company had a very, very defined corporate culture which was really about serving the customer, about being a decent human citizen, about giving people pleasure, but also giving people service in a way that he felt had kind of gone off track.

MONTAGNE: There are people who see Starbucks in a very different way, kind of: oh no, another Starbucks.

Ms. BROWN: That's what he wanted to get away from. And he really set about remarketing the company and reinventing it. And he also said, you know, how everybody would of course want him to cut costs aggressively at a time of restructuring, which is what most people would of course mandate.

And he did cut costs, but he also did something very, very inspiring in my view. Just at a point when everybody was saying you must cut costs, you've got to refocus, you've got to do all of this, he actually took 4,500 members of his company to New Orleans to spend a week doing community service, working there, and then having a conference about their core values. And it was a very sort of enlightened, visionary, but also rebranding exercise where he says: This is a company that cares about people, what's the biggest statement we can make that says that? And he did this, and it was a terrific success and really did help an enormous amount in reminding people that Starbucks actually was a company that cared about people and customers.

MONTAGNE: Another example of a kind of growth is last Sunday's New York Times magazine piece on 20-somethings. And Tina, here actually it's an article that many might set aside initially thinking I think I've read this before, 20-somethings living at home, but in fact this article gives a whole other underpinning to what's going on with 20-somethings who are in a way not quite growing up the way they used to.

Ms. BROWN: Well, this writer, Robin Marantz Henig, is talking about something that sociologists and psychiatrists are sort of beginning to think of as emerging adulthood. You know, she says we now know, for instance, that the brains of young people are still developing at the age of 25. And the author says, maybe it's only now when people are allowed to forestall adult obligations without fear of public censure that the rate of social maturation can finally fall into better sync with the maturation of the brain.

You know, in other words, actually, the brain isn't really mature until 25, but in the past, economic, social circumstances have forced kids out really before they're truly mature and that now that there are these new economic and social circumstances, that they are actually taking longer to mature. And of course we also have, to accelerate this issue, a terrible job market where kids are finding a tough time anyway getting a job.

But it is an interesting question. I mean, I have to say that I tend to feel, having read it, that this is really much more an index of privilege than not. I mean, you have to ask yourself how fast kids returning, who go to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, have to mature, like it or not, whether or not they are matured mentally - putting themselves in great stress and danger or something is really going to change their maturity. There's no question about it. But it is an interesting thing because it is very much a modern phenomenon of kids continually going back home to live, sort of looking to their parents all the time still for not just financial help, but also sort of emotional help.

MONTAGNE: You finally take us back in history, and you're suggesting a book by Juliet Nicolson called "The Great Silence," written from the shadow of the First World War to the dawn of the Jazz Age, to a time, I think, very few Americans even think about. This moment after young people - young people in Britain were forced through a really terrible time of change, and death for many of them.

Ms. BROWN: Yes, I think one of the reasons I felt a little impatient with the findings of emerging adulthood was I was simultaneously reading Juliet Nicolson's wonderful book "The Great Silence," which does talk about a moment when Britain lost literally the flower of its youth in that terrible, terrible war to end all wars, as it was called. And she describes brilliantly in a series of social anecdotes and snapshots of real people - 35 characters going about their daily life, below-stairs people as well as royalty, as well as famous writers and artists, where she dips into their diaries, into their letters and creates a portrait of these two years which she calls The Great Silence because of the famous two minutes of silence where everything in England stopped at one moment and the war dead were remembered.

What we don't think about is the devastating trauma of what it was like when one in seven young men in England had died, and she talks about how the everyday scenes of such loss and grief, that no one could really enjoy or rejoice or feel there was a peace because there had been too much loss and pain in the country.

I mean she describes scenes like, for instance, riding the bus and suddenly some woman would just break into wild tears as something had reminded her of her son or her brother or somebody in her family. Or she would talk about men walking the streets of London wearing these strange, eerie tin masks because their faces had been shot away, which became a regular sight in the U.K. at that time. And she also describes a terrifically interesting chapter, actually, on a surgeon called Howard Gillies who was so affected by the tin masks that he saw that he developed a revolutionary plastic surgery technique that actually reconstructed faces, and of course became a lasting legacy to the medical world. So it's really, I found, an absolutely gripping piece.

MONTAGNE: For you, do these tales of survival, do they add up to any one thing?

Ms. BROWN: Well, to me it's really about character in the face of stress, and how in the case of Howard Schultz he showed enormous character and audacity and vision. In the case of these kids it seems that they haven't really faced up to the stresses people like Schultz are writing about yet. They are unwilling to face them, if you like. They haven't yet had their test that could perhaps be their defining character moment. And of course the people in the Great War, they were given the ultimate test and they had to meet it in the most terrifying way, and did meet it, actually, and did so with enormous courage with a very tragic outcome. But you do have to admire these people who returned under such terrifying circumstances and simply had to pick up and carry on.

MONTAGNE: That's Word of Mouth from The Daily Beast's Brown. Tina, thanks very much.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you very much indeed, Renee.

MONTAGNE: You can find links to Tina's reading recommendations at npr.org.

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