Fish in a tank Hong Kong 2010

Fresh Ideas Where You Haven’t Been Looking

One of the things I do as a freelancer is write indexes for the back of books. Many people would say this sounds tedious. To that I say, it’s not for everyone. After all, you have to be willing to read a book more than once—even if you don’t think it will interest you.

Most of the books I index are from the scholarly social sciences. I have no background or love of social sciences, so I read books that I never would have picked on my own.

But with each book, I am surprised by how much I get out of it personally. Every book has given me new, relevant insights, and fresh ways of thinking that I can apply in my life.

For instance, Food Sovereignty, Agroecology and Biocultural Diversity has a chapter that describes a pharmaceutical firm’s attempt to do “fair trade” in traditional knowledge. It’s not a typical business story.

Nina Isabella Moeller was a foreign student working in the Amazon with the Kwicha-speaking Napo Runa as part of her doctoral dissertation.

When the drug company set up workshops with the Kwicha federation, the indigenous delegates welcomed Moeller as a volunteer independent adviser. Asked to “follow the whole process and make sure nothing goes wrong,” Moeller took detailed notes.

Her account of the exchange between the company’s facilitators and the delegates is fascinating and painful to read. It shows how a company, despite its noble intentions, can be unaware of its beliefs and attitudes that stop it from getting what it wants.

Another book that surprised me is Collaborative Consultation in Mental Health. I thought twice about taking this project because I don’t know much about mental health. I wondered how much I would have to learn to write the index that this book would need.

To my relief, the book was not actually about mental health. It’s about consulting to people on the front lines of demanding jobs.

With examples of actual dialogue, the book shows how to talk to consultees when all they want is for you to give them answers. It explains how you can help them build their confidence and find solutions using the training and experience they already have.

If you are mentoring someone, this book is for you.

I have examples like these from every book I have indexed.

Are you looking for a book to read this holiday season? Instead of browsing the usual bookstore selections, why not look at scholarly social sciences?

Visit the website of a university press or an academic publisher. Download a book in a subject that’s remotely interesting but outside your field. Don’t be intimidated by long titles.

The writing may be denser than what you’re used to, but stick with it. Prove to yourself that you don’t have the attention span of a goldfish.

The book you choose will provoke new ideas and fresh insights…ideas that you wouldn’t have discovered any other way.