Naturally, @warbyparker has a book club. Anyone else doing this at work? by @rzgreenfield via @FastCompany

The Warby Parker Book Club

Book clubs are something many of us do in our free time. At Warby Parker, they do it at work. Here's why.

The Warby Parker book club has gone through multiple iterations in the last four years. What began as a few people talking about their current reads has evolved into multiple department-specific book clubs and a company-wide speaker series.

"It happened very organically," Warby Parker cofounder Neil Blumenthal says. In the summer of 2010, he and some of the early employees at the eyeglass retailer started exchanging books. Soon enough, they had all read each others' books and decided it would be nice to talk about them. They would swivel their desk chairs into the office showroom and have informal discussions.

That soon transformed into a weekly book club at the company-wide meeting. Each week someone would read a book and present it to the 20 or so other employees with key findings. "The hope was that if it was fiction that it would spur creativity and that if it was nonfiction there would be inherent lessons from other industries and walks of life that allow us to be better at designing eyewear," Blumenthal told Fast Company. One of the first books the group read was The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which inspired Warby to strive for an exceptional level of customer service.

Today, among Warby's 300 employees, there are 11 mini book clubs, which meet at least once a month. Now, the company-wide book club has turned into a speaker series. At least once a month Warby brings in people like Lucky magazine's Eva Chen and Danny Meyer, who talked about his book Setting the Table.

Although the company-wide book club no longer exists, at the team meeting, Blumenthal or another executive will suggest a book for the smaller sessions (although the clubs can pick whatever they want to read). This month, the recommended read is Wharton professor Adam Grant's book Give and Take. "His whole message is the way to success and happiness is by giving, as opposed to taking," explained Blumenthal. "So the best thing that you can do for your career, but also for your personal satisfaction, is to ask people: 'How can I help?'"

That ethos clearly jibes with Warby Parker's mission, which not only makes money selling fashionable eyewear, but also distributes glasses to those in need through its buy one, give one program. But sometimes the benefits of the book club are more subtle. "From a team dynamic standpoint, it helps build stronger working relationships," explained Blumenthal. "It helps build trust when you create what is a safe environment to share ideas, or to debate ideas."

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Given the success of the clubs in-house, Warby chose to extend its book clubs to the public. The retailer has partnered with The Believer magazine, hosting a reading from each new issue. The retail stores also sell a selection of titles, handpicked from 14 independent publishers that Warby works with, including McSweeney's and PowerHouse Books. Some of the events come straight from the employee book clubs. For example, next week Warby will host an event around Adelle Waldman's The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., one of the books the creative team read.

Reading fits squarely with Warby Parker's brand. Before the recent glasses comeback, eyewear was associated with book-loving dorks. From its beginnings, Warby Parker has taken advantage of that connection, finding inspiration from literature and using it as the connective thread in its marketing. The company name, for example, came from two Jack Kerouac characters. "We've always been inspired by the master wordsmith and pop culture icon, Mr. Jack Kerouac. Two of his earliest characters, recently uncovered in his personal journals, bore the names Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper," the Warby website explains.

The book club helps keep that tradition alive. "At Warby Parker, we're constantly looking to find new ways to both challenge and inspire our employees," said Blumenthal. "One of the most obvious, but often overlooked, ways is simply to pick up a book and read."

[Images courtesy of Warby Parker]

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  • We've been running voluntary book club that meets weekly and it works well. Our library has about 400 books now and people keep making suggestions as they come across something that would be of interest to others or they feel passionate about. I'd recommend it for any company.

  • Barry Lietz

    Silverado High School staff started a book club four years ago that was then shared with the students in the form of a program called GEARS (Get Excited About Reading Silverado). Staff and students spent time reading together and discussing the books that ere selected at the beginning of each semester. Teacher & author Lisbeth Welch Stamos spearheaded this effort that is still going strong today bringing students together with staff to discuss novels in a collegial fashion.

  • Books clubs within companies really do work. I’ve seen it happen! At Meredith Corporation developed a series of them starting in late 2008 for our consumer marketing group. With several teams of 5-6 members each took on a specific title to read, discuss and develop APPLICABLE ideas which they then presented to the total consumer marketing group of 30+ people. Three books, Wikinomics by Dan Tapscott, ZAG by Marty Neumeier and Join the Conversation by Joseph Jaffe lead to the development of a creative services “wiki” and early experiments in digital marketing. Best part was that the books were our "consultants" (several authors actually did conference calls with us!) but WE did the actual discovery, development and application with an eye on improving OUR expertise and how we did business. These clubs were far less expensive than many consultants we had used and far more effective. I still believe Tom Peters' dictate: "Outread the competition!"