What I've Been Watching and Reading

Ai Weiwei in the Documentary Never Sorry 

Ai Weiwei in the Documentary Never Sorry 

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a handful of the articles, books, shows, conversations and documentaries that informed, inspired and entertained me throughout the year. I hope that a few are also informative, inspiring and entertaining for you.

Elon Musk in Coversation

2012 was a standout year for entrepreneur Elon Musk. After rocky, touch-and-go starts, his three California-based companies--Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City --all hit major milestones. If, like I, you are fascinated by him, then this July conversation with Pando Daily founder Sarah Lacy is worthwhile viewing. He's shockingly accomplished--and incredibly understated. A nice combination.

Commander in Chief

Early in the year I took up watching the 2005 ABC series Commander in Chief on Netflix. Starring Geena Davis as President Mackenzie Allen--a political independent--and Donald Sutherland as Nathan Templeton--her nemesis and Speaker of the House--it aired one season. It took me through August to watch all 19 episodes, and as the contentious US presidential election unfolded and Congress and President Obama duked it out in real life, it made for entertaining viewing. I particularly liked Geena Davis' portrayal of President Allen: smart, tough, bold and compassionate. On that note, this past weekend the headline article for the Financial Times' Women of 2012 feature was a great profile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel: A Woman of Power (registration required).

Artists and Architects: Documentaries

I've written before on the lessons that artists' creative processes hold for innovators. Five documentaries, old and new, that I enjoyed this year: Pearl Jam TwentyAi Weiwei: Never SorryAbsolute Wilson, How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?, and My Architect.

Each tells a story of defying convention--and the challenges and rewards of doing so. Ai Weiwei deserves special note, as he is part artist, part political activist, and I was struck by both his profound courage and his sneaky, mischievous wit. He's an appealing personality (I wrote about his Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads briefly, here). I was prompted to watch the Oscar-winning My Architect as New York celebrated the opening of the Louis Kahn-designed Roosevelt Memorial, Four Freedoms Park, during the Fall.  

Top Chef: Ferran Adrià

As cooking is one of my favorite creative outlets, Bravo's Top Chef is much-loved brain candy. Combine Top Chef with boundary-breaking artistry, and you get the documentary Cooking in Progress--an inside look at assembling a season's menu at Chef Ferran Adrià's renowned El Bulli, now closed. During the film Adrià never once takes a turn at the stove. He's more conductor, quarterback or mastermind than he is originator--it's his team that stirs up the magic. The movie is slow-paced, but for aficionados, worth every second. In his No Reservations episode on the closing of El Bulli, lovable bad-boy Anthony Bourdain offers up a spicier take.

Finding Your M.O.

In June Business of Fashion began running a series on launching a fashion-technology startup: Finding Your M.O.. Now in its 13th installment, written by Moda Operandi CEO and Co-founder Áslaug Magnúsdóttir, the series could easily be a book or a stand-alone microsite. One of the most comprehensive, insightful first-hand resources I've seen on the in's and out's of getting a startup off the ground, it is relevant to fashion and non-fashion ventures alike. If you're starting a business, thinking about starting a business, or working with startup clients, I can't recommend it enough.

Danielle LaPorte

I am a voracious reader of self-improvement and leadership books that have a through line to creativity and work as spiritual practice. I mentioned one of my favorites, The Artist's Way, here, and Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops, here. This fall I discovered Danielle LaPorte. She is a wizard with words, a hipped-up version of Artist's Way author Julia Cameron, an Earth Mother rendition of Steven Covey. Anyone who quotes Rumi and Ayn Rand has my attention: my kundalini yoga-loving, Investment Banker self digs her.

As we move into a New Year, Danielle's theory of goal setting is especially relevant: if we set goals by how we want to feel, rather than by what we want to accomplish, life flows. In working with this idea, I have found it to be powerful, expansive, energizing. I read The Fire Starter Sessions, and she has just published The Desire Map.

Arab Women on the Frontline

Simon Kuper is a columnist for the Financial Times' weekend Life + Arts section. His most recent article Arab Women on the Frontline briefly recounts his conversations about the Arab Spring with four Arab women, all activists in their respective countries. It brought tears. Their quiet courage, fiery passion stirred me. As the conflict in Syria intensifies, Israel and the Palestinians continue to wage battle and Egypt wavers, I marvel at and am deeply inspired by their conviction and persistence.

For me, 2012 was about hard work, heavy lifting and foundation setting for a capital markets initiative I am exploring. I look forward to sharing pieces of it publicly next year. As we head into 2013, I send all wishes for peace, love and happiness for the year ahead, and I leave you with the inevitable in 2012: a Gangnam Style video--sculptor Anish Kapoor's artist-packed tribute to Ai Weiwei, after his Gangnam Style parody was blocked by China's censors.

Photo: BBC via The Telegraph