Tina Brown's Must-Reads About ... This Working Life Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown shares with Renee Montagne the best things she's been reading lately: on the growing pains of ambitious companies, working in your PJs and how losing your job can mean finding your life.
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Tina Brown's Must-Reads About ... This Working Life

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Tina Brown's Must-Reads About ... This Working Life

Tina Brown's Must-Reads About ... This Working Life

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People these days are thinking a lot about their work life, how to make it meaningful, how to hold onto or even lose a job, how to embrace and stay current with new technologies. Those are the themes of the reading Tina Brown has been doing lately. She is, of course, the editor-in-chief of the The Daily Beast, and she came by our New York studio to share her thoughts for our regular feature: Word of Mouth.

Tina Brown, good morning.

Ms. TINA BROWN (Editor-in-chief, The Daily Beast): Good morning. Very good to be here.

MONTAGNE: Nice to have you as always. Now, your first pick, "The Acceleration Trap," that is an article from the Harvard Business Review.

Ms. BROWN: Yes, it's a very interesting piece. It talks about how companies can form the trap of just going too fast. Very often after mergers and things, too, you see this, is that these mergers are ill-digested. They're acquiring too many things. They're starting too many initiatives. And it describes how companies that are in this trap where they suddenly feel that people are burning out because they're really working on all cylinders all the time with no sense of a change of rhythm. It's just one, long constant overburdening, and they lose focus and they leave - they lose ownership, really, of the things that they're working on.

And it describes, really, how that sometimes, it's better for companies to take this moratorium or new projects and say, OK, you know, no new projects for the next three or four months. We're actually going to just digest these ones and do them properly.

MONTAGNE: Why now, though? And this would seem to be a problem for companies when the economy is heating up or very hot, not for the moment that we're in right now.

Ms. BROWN: Because I think that a lot of the mergers that took place when the economy was hot weren't properly digested. And furthermore, because companies are downsizing constantly, they keep throwing people out and then expecting the people left to absorb all the work that was once done by several more people than they.

So what you have is a situation where people are so worried about the economy, people feel they can't miss an opportunity, they have to try to go after it. 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.

MONTAGNE: OK. So your next pick is about a workplace experiment. And this was one done by the editorial staff of a very real magazine: Inc.com. They decided to try out a virtual office.

Ms. BROWN: Yeah, this was a fascinating piece. I really enjoyed this piece in Inc. It's called "The Case, and the Plan, for the Virtual Company." The members of the staff decided that they were going to conduct this experiment. They were all going to go home and put out their magazine as a virtual office and see, really, whether or not they could.

And, you know, it describes, really, the meaning of the office, in a sense, in people's lives, because yes, a lot of the work could get done. There's no doubt with a laptop, Skype, forwarding calls, and all of these tools that we have today with our new technology, people can go home and work from home. And very often, it can be very productive.

But it also describes the importance, in a sense, of routine as a buffer in one's psychology for really keeping one whole, in a sense - which is true, I think. You know, I know that when I - my magazine, Talk magazine, folded, it was very hard for me to get readjusted to not sort of 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 know, 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.

MONTAGNE: Which brings us to another of your picks, and that is the tale of a women who lost a job she never thought she'd lose when her magazine House and Garden went under.

Ms. BROWN: Sure. Dominique Browning has written this book now called "Slow Love." It was extracted at the Sunday Times. It tells a story of exactly this kind of experience. This was not an experiment in a office, losing an office. This was a highly motivated, highly respected and hard-charging glossy magazine editor with a mighty Conde Nast magazine, who suddenly finds that the plug is pulled on her mighty magazine.

And she's sort of living on her own with no motivation, no staff, literally living in her pajamas. She's very amusing about the love affair with her pajamas, how she gets more and more involved with buying pajamas, choosing pajamas, because she finds it harder and harder, really, to get out of bed and do things. And even when she does get out of bed, there's no reason to take off her pajamas.

And it also talks, though, about her kind of reengagement with her own life and surroundings, the - her garden, the things that she loves, who she is and why she is as she is, but also some of the things about her character and about her goals and so on that she has to kind of confront for the first time, having always had that distraction of the bolt-out-the-door-with-the-briefcase-in-the-morning. So I think this book is extra right(ph) anyways, certainly whetted my appetite for more of this kind of reflection on who we are when the music stops.

MONTAGNE: Although, it is when the music stops, and as it's titled in the magazine, the New York Times Magazine, it's called "Losing It." And she begins with losing the job. I mean, she loses it in a way that is very uncomfortable to read.

Ms. BROWN: It is uncomfortable, but it's unfortunately the way people are losing their jobs all over. I mean, you know, when my magazine folded, as I say in 2000, I went through all of this myself and then took on The Daily Beast and became - you know, I crossed over into the online world.

But day after day, I get calls from my friends in magazine world who are very often of the same stature of Dominique Browning who come in and, you know, what are they going to do? Their magazine's folded. I mean, these very high-powered people are suddenly deprived of a lot of the things of - what their identity was wrapped up in. And it's very painful.

MONTAGNE: Although, well, I mean, did you find yourself obsessing about food in the way that - or any parallel to - at some point in this article? And it's weirdly funny, but also quite sad: She's sitting there eating peanut butter on a nice little plate, because she wants to keep up the form, and drinking a glass of wine at the same time.

Ms. BROWN: Oh, my goodness. I completely related to it. You know, I mean, I just kind of became a sort of, you know, cheese-aholic and used to go downstairs and have enormous kind of slices of cheese, telling myself that this was instead of lunch. And, you know, it never worked.

No, you become completely sort of miserably unfit for a time. But there are, of course, benefits. I mean, I became - it was wonderful for me to be able to pick up my daughter from school at times which - where I never could have. And I rebonded with my cat. There were many upsides, too.

But, you know, what she does talk about, and I think it's true, it's not only the financial issues - which, of course, is a theme of anxiety through this. But also people, you know, you can love your work. I mean, this woman, Browning, loved her job. She loved her work, you know, as I did. And, you know, 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 suddenly fear that this - you may never do it again.

MONTAGNE: Well, it's interesting you included as one of your recommendations Ian McEwan's new novel "Solar," because although the protagonist trying capture his former professional glory - you know, it pushes the plot forward, it's a running theme - it's not everything to him.

Ms. BROWN: Well, and it's not, but I chose the McEwan book, actually, because the hero of Ian McEwan's wonderfully funny, and deft new book "Solar" is this really overweight, pompous Nobel-laureate physicist who hasn't had a new idea in 20 years, but he continually assembles new wonderful gigs for himself which get paid a salary, you know, chairman of this and chairman of that. I think we all know people like that, who just simply coast around accumulating consultancies and adding very little to the entire sort of enterprise, so that it's a beautiful portrait of that kind of blowhard, quite frankly, who McEwan wonderfully skewers. It's a delicious satire on so many of the themes that we've been talking about.

MONTAGNE: Well, Tina Brown, pleasure to talk to you.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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