Ten Words by Jeremy Waite
A view from Alexandre Bourgeois

Ten Words by Jeremy Waite

Taking Twitter as its inspiration and emphasising the importance of brevity, the book features a collection of soundbites (no more than ten words in length) and stories from 140 people.


Reviewed by Alexandre Bourgeois, social media specialist, Jellyfish

Ten Words by Jeremy Waite

Published by Lulu

I've been following the work of Jeremy Waite for a few years now so when Ten Words arrived in the post, I knew I was in for a treat. But to be brutally honest, I approached Ten Words as just another book of quotations. I soon realised I was wrong.

Ten Words was written in just 100 days - quite the feat for someone juggling a family and the many keynote speeches he’s been delivering as IBM’s "evangelist".  The book is a collection of stories about 140 famous characters from all walks of life, who all disrupted their industry - inspiring Waite to inspire others today. 

"Businesses should view people not as resources but as sources" 

It pledges to communicate "big ideas" in "small words and short sentences". And it does.

As one of the most influential marketers in the UK, Waite is well versed in understanding his audience. So, when he wrote this book, it’s clear that he not only cared about the content but also the way the stories would be delivered to his readers. 

Ten Words is tailored to those, like me (and probably you too), whose attention spans come up short. Most of the 140 stories are a maximum of 250 words, fit on a single page and can be read from top to bottom in just over a minute. And, to grab the attention of the reader, each character is introduced by one of their own 10-word quotes, statements or philosophies. The rest of the page gives their background or a summary of their innovative way of thinking. Often, both.

To pick out the most interesting stories is a hard and very subjective job. But amongst the 140 biographies, some are definitely applicable to today’s marketing industry. For example, in 1947, Estée Lauder said that "influencers make the brand" – this is a soundbite we’re used to hearing today but back then it was truly visionary.

"Businesses should view people not as resources but as sources," said Whole Foods co-founder and chief executive John Mackey and it’s a quote that definitely rings true in today’s knowledge economy. Adding to this theory with another excellent contribution is American internet entrepreneur, Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, who said: "The value of your network should be your greatest asset". 

Ten Words is a great (and fast) reading experience, not only because I discovered new people and llearnt more about the ones I only knew by name, but also because it helped me to top up my "to read", "to watch" and "to listen" lists. And that, I think, is exactly what Waite intended.

Six key takeouts

  • Elon Musk made $180m from the PayPal acquisition. While that might sound like an enormous amount of money, he reinvested it all into SpaceX ($100m), Tesla ($70m) and SolarCity ($10m). This didn’t leave him with much and Musk confessed that he had to borrow money to pay his rent. 
  • The life of Alibaba’s founder and chief executive Jack Ma is unique. When KFC landed in China, 24 people applied for a job. Ma was the only one who was rejected. He then applied to college, but failed the entrance exam. Today he heads up Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce company valued at a whopping $200 billion and yet he remains very humble. He once said, "I’m a very simple guy, I am not smart. Everyone thinks that Jack Ma is a very smart guy. I might have a smart face but I’ve got very stupid brains."
  • Brevity in marketing has been a topic for centuries. Sophocles is quoted saying "The greatest wisdom is usually associated with the fewest words." More recently, a man who knew a thing or two about marketing, David Ogilvy, said "One should use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs."
  • "The best way to connect with people is through stories" – Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting for Barack Obama. This reminded me that while people may forget figures, they remember stories. An absolute must-know for anyone working in marketing.
  • "People will always sum up your life in one sentence" - John C. Maxwell. So, in Jeremy Waite-style, you have 10 words – how would you like people to remember you?