Jennifer Allen on the five books that have inspired her creative journey and its 'endless iterations'
Jennifer Allen, COO and president of Handsome, believes that the first version won't be the best, so "iterate, iterate, iterate". This endless motion is the hallmark of her career so far and can also be seen in her five favourite books.
With a mission to establish meaningful connections between individuals, Jennifer builds teams inspired to redefine the future of creative brand experience for companies like Audi, 7-11, Axios, and Meta. She is devoted to breaking down "traditional team-client walls", completely rethinking how to approach creative outputs and serve clients best.
Before relocating from New York to join Handsome in Austin, Jennifer served as managing director of Hyper Island, the global design and technology education and services company. She has also held VP and Managing Director titles at Continuum and R/GA.
Jennifer comes by her love of books honestly, having a degree in English Studies from NYU. In her own words, she shares with us the five books that have helped her through her creative journey and its endless iterations.
1. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola
I first came across this title as a Brian Eno album collab with David Byrne from the '80s, which is an amazing album I still love. There is a pretty tenuous connection to the book, though. It is a fictional, fantastical, weird and terrifying novel written in English by a Nigerian writer in 1954. In some ways, it reads like a children's book, with some of the unexpectedly acute perceptions of a child. Reading it is a wild experience that challenges your concepts of time, death, and reality.
2. The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
There is always plenty to be afraid of and worried about with the technology of any era. I never want to be naive to the realities of the dangers that come along with them. However, I choose to be a "techno-progressive" because I also need to believe that humanity is more self-preserving than self-destructive. In his other work, What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly provides a thorough case for technological progression being entirely out of our conscious control – and shows how this inevitability does cause a lot of destruction. Still, ultimately there is more creation on balance. In The Inevitable, Kelly offers a provocative framework of 12 "forces" that "will shape our future". I love reading this book as a creative brief for our future.
3. Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault
When I was in grad school, I studied all the French philosophers of this ilk and still have a special place in my heart for Foucault – despite, or especially? – since the historical accuracy of a lot of this work has been under scrutiny. I love this book for its perspective on the concept of 'sanity' itself as a relatively new construct and how it opens up new ideas about imagination.
4. Groundwaters by Charles Russell
This book has some of my favourite artists that I find endlessly fascinating. While I am interested in the stories of the artists, which are usually quite incredible and often heartbreaking, I do genuinely love looking at the art. This book goes into depth on a dozen artists, detailing everything known about them and their works, and provides some very well-written background and insights into this category of 'outsider art'.
5. Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky
I think about the concepts in this book a lot. Even though it was written in 2010, it is even more relevant today, as the movements that Clay Shirky was writing about have progressed faster than we might have imagined. What interests me about the book is how technology has revealed that the human desire for collaborative creative expression is primary.