Reading List: Get Back in the Box

If you’ve been thinking outside the box, this month’s book may make you stop.

Get Back in the Box

By Douglas Rushkoff
December 2005, 336 pp., $23.95


Douglas Rushkoff’s digressions and stream-of-consciousness narrative are as perversely fascinating as the caffeinated monologue of a poli-sci major. (And this! Then this! And then this!) You know he’s moving too fast to get there in one piece, but the ride is too fun to hop off. Get Back in the Box, the author’s paean to getting back to basics at work, transcends its ultimately clichéd message of “keep it simple, stupid,” by moving so quickly and so broadly as to champion Procter & Gamble’s “legacies in chemistry, distribution, packaging, and marketing” on the same page as it recounts the “underlying lesson of the Revenge of the Nerds.” Rushkoff may not be shaking the earth, but he sure is fun to hang out with.

Because Rushkoff, a journalist and consultant, doesn’t typically write about business, he isn’t afraid to bite into companies. Or perhaps “chew” is the better word. He sets his personal library of good guys (companies such as BP, Costco, H&M) against their bad-guy equivalents (Shell, Wal-Mart, Gap) and dissects corporate failures misstep by misstep, eviscerating by name the executives responsible. (Don’t look for Gap’s Paul Pressler and Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts, among others, at Rushkoff’s book party.)

Sure, this can go too far. As Rushkoff revels in the tangle of society, business, and culture, he sometimes gets caught in that tangle himself. And the book is sprinkled with duds such as, “When Satan gave Adam and Eve the apple, he was doing something very much like Steve Jobs did by marketing us his Apple. . . .” The irony: Despite the nutshell case studies, Rushkoff actually fancies himself an anticonsultant, deriding the “spells” consultants use to “hypnotize” their clients. And that role suits him. What he really wants is for readers to embrace their careers with passion. We meet his mentor, a filmmaker who studied the anatomy of the eye and the chemistry of emulsion in his quest to better understand every aspect of film. Then there’s his friend the chef, who carries her own sharpened knives to work in a leather pouch because, as Rushkoff explains, “great professionals savor the hands-on aspects of the jobs they do.” It’s this innate curiosity we ought to have for our careers, and that’s a more powerful lesson than what’s spelled out in Get Back in the Box. If there’s anything to bottle up and take home here, it’s not Rushkoff’s (mostly) clever prose, but his infectious passion.