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Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion [Kindle Edition]

David Zweig
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Kindle Price: $11.99
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Book Description

What do fact-checkers, anesthesiologists, U.N. interpreters, and structural engineers have in common? When they do their jobs poorly, the consequences can be catastrophic for their organizations. But when they do their jobs perfectly . . . they're invisible.

For most of us, the better we perform the more attention we receive. Yet for many “Invisibles”—skilled professionals whose role is critical to whatever enterprise they’re a part of—it’s the opposite: the better they do their jobs the more they disappear. In fact, often it’s only when something goes wrong that they are noticed at all.

Millions of these Invisibles are hidden in every industry. You may be one yourself. And despite our culture’s increasing celebration of fame in our era of superstar CEOs and assorted varieties of “genius”—they’re fine with remaining anonymous.

David Zweig takes us into the behind-the-scenes worlds that Invisibles inhabit. He interviews top experts in unusual fields to reveal the quiet workers behind public successes. Combining in-depth profiles with insights from psychology, sociology, and business, Zweig uncovers how these hidden professionals reap deep fulfillment by relishing the challenges their work presents.

Zweig bypasses diplomats and joins an elite interpreter in a closed-door meeting at the U.N., where the media and public are never allowed. He ascends China’s tallest skyscraper while it’s still under construction, without the architect, guided instead by the project’s lead structural engineer. He even brings us on stage during a Radiohead concert, escorted not by a member of the band, but by their chief guitar technician.

Along the way, Zweig reveals that Invisibles have a lot to teach the rest of society about satisfaction and achievement. What has been lost amid the noise of self-promotion today is that not everyone can, or should, or even wants to be in the spotlight. This inspiring and illuminating book shows that recognition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and invisibility can be viewed as a mark of honor and a source of a truly rich life.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Zweig’s stint as a fact checker at a magazine no doubt inspired him to look closely at the unsung, behind-the-scenes workers he calls the invisibles. They disappear into their work on two levels, the devotion to excellence and the fact that the more flawless their work, the less it is noticed or recognized. Zweig profiles several individuals who are highly skilled and essential in their jobs but relatively unknown. Among them are the guitar technician for Radiohead, the lead engineer of the tallest skyscraper in China, a cinematographer, and a UN interpreter. He focuses on three traits of the invisibles: no need to be recognized, meticulousness, and a high sense of responsibility. Zweig touches on philosophy, religion, and psychology in exploring the satisfaction derived from work exceptionally well done in contrast to the noisy self-promotion now prevalent. He offers historical context for our current obsession with attention-getting via social media and the Internet and uses the profiles to offer some quiet and thoughtful space to consider the inner value of high-quality work. --Vanessa Bush


“It's a refreshing point of view, written with the precision and detail of the magazine fact checker Mr. Zweig used to be.” 
-The Wall Street Journal

“An encouraging salute to the world behind the scenes, where the ‘Invisibles’ allow the show to go on. Journalist Zweig suggests, with considerable merit, that, in our culture of wanting it all, we have forgotten the hard work of getting there…In Zweig’s fascinating world, the limelight doesn’t hold a candle to the satisfaction of hard work well done.”

“Zweig’s stint as a fact checker at a magazine no doubt inspired him to look closely at the unsung, behind-the-scenes workers he calls the invisibles….[He] touches on philosophy, religion, and psychology in exploring the satisfaction derived from work exceptionally well done in contrast to the noisy self-promotion now prevalent…and uses the profiles to offer some quiet and thoughtful space to consider the inner value of high-quality work.”

"A fascinating tour of the hidden landscapes on which human society actually operates. This will change the way you see the world and, hopefully, your place within it."
-Douglas Rushkoff, bestselling author of Present Shock
"Invisibles is a one-book cultural revolution, fighting the current cultural tide toward narcissistic self-promotion with the truth that real satisfaction is often silent."
-Jean Twenge, bestselling co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic
"Top Business Book to Read in 2014: Invisibles explains why some of the world’s most talented, accomplished people choose to fly under the radar… It’s a clarion call for work as a craft: for generously sharing knowledge without hogging credit and prizing meaningful work above public recognition. An excellent book."  
-Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take
"The genius at the top doesn’t make their team look good. It’s a great team that makes the guy at the top look like a genius…and Invisibles proves it."
-Simon Sinek, Optimist and bestselling author of Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last

“An interesting and important book. It takes us a step closer to understanding how we can be happier and lead more meaningful lives. We can all benefit from the examples of Invisibles.”
-The Buffalo News
“The Radical Power of David Zweig’s ‘Invisibles’ . . . precise and insightful.”
Named one of the “20 Best Books of June”
“Invisibles perform key tasks without seeking credit. And they’re in high demand.”
-The New Republic
“The great workers who get no credit in a self-promotion obsessed world.”
-The Washington Post
“There are high-functioning invisibles in all factions of the economy, and they operate almost in defiance of the prevailing wisdom that self-promotion and self-regard bordering on narcissism are the way to get noticed.”
“The wisdom of this advice is undeniable.”
-New York Magazine
“Zweig challenges the pervasive notion that the people who spend the most time getting others to pay attention to them win.”

Product Details

  • File Size: 3301 KB
  • Print Length: 253 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 159184634X
  • Publisher: Portfolio (June 12, 2014)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00G3L7YCC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,818 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite books this year June 12, 2014
As the host of a podcast for project managers and leaders, I'm regularly looking for resources that are helpful yet easy to miss. Invisibles is a great example. I found this to be a great read, filled with ideas and examples that are helpful to those who lead projects and teams.

David is a gifted writer who weaves each story in a way that keeps you glued to the narrative while delivering the most important points with great clarity. I never knew there were wayfinders and had no clue of how the perfume industry works. But beyond the intriguing backstories, David illustrates the power that comes from loving the job itself, of striving for excellence and mastery instead of applause.

In our self-promoting mania where people fight to get their minutes of fame, Invisibles is a satisfying, refreshing dose of well-researched perspective.

I strongly recommend Invisibles for your summer reading list. And I recommend the book's website which contains many intriguing follow-on examples of Invisibles at work.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
David Zweig brings to light the invisibles and their achievements. Mr. Zweig defines the invisibles as highly skilled people whose expertise and performance are highly valued within the organizations for which they work, and more generally, in their respective industries. Think for example about a "wayfinding" specialist, a perfumer, or a structural engineer of "megatal" buildings.

These invisibles share three characteristics that make them stand out in an age of relentless self-promotion:

* Ambivalence towards recognition;
* Devotion to meticulousness;
* Desire for and reveling in responsibility.

The author comes to that conclusion after conducting lengthy interviews with a selection of these invisibles.

The healthy life philosophy of these invisibles is in sharp contrast with what one can directly observe in some cemeteries. One can ultimately not escape from the impression that too many of their "residents" thought that they were important in their time, but that nobody today remembers. Death is after all a great "equalizer!"

The better the invisibles do their work, the more they disappear. Too often, their achievements are taken for granted. When something goes (horribly) wrong, their work can quickly become visible at their expense. Think for example about the 9/11 failure of the US behind-the-scene intelligence gatherers or the role of some media outlets in the spread of faulty intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War.

Mr. Zweig ends his book with a review of the perception of invisibles across cultures. Unfortunately, this review is very superficial.

Some readers will progressively realize that the book has too much filler. Chapters 7 and 8 come top of mind on that subject.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Whether you're the type of employee who thrives on attention - or one of those invisible workers who prefer to do their jobs in anonymity - this book should be a fascinating and enlightening read. It certainly was for me. Until I read it, I wasn't aware that so many critical products and inventions, even some I use everyday, could depend so much on those who go unheralded.

I was relieved to discover that this book isn't a compilation of research studies and dry descriptions of the type of people who make up "the invisibles". Instead, most of the chapters focus on specific people who have similar traits: they don't seek external rewards or attention, are meticulous, and enjoy having significant responsibilities.

So who are they and how do they shape the world? Well, there's Jim Harding, a "wayfinder" who helps design the cues, from the shape of signs to the type of lettering used on them, to help travelers find their way through otherwise confusing airport terminals. Or David Apel, the perfume designer who has helped create some of the most successful perfumes and men's colognes for Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Tom Ford, and Puff Diddy. Consumers may know the scents but not the man behind them.

And then there is Dennis Poon, a structural engineer who is responsible for ensuring the structural integrity of buildings where thousands of people enter and exit every day. Or Wilkins Ary, an interpreter who works at the United Nations, and whose job is crucial for helping representatives from various countries understand the finest nuances of sentences spoken in other languages.

I was particularly intrigued by the information indicating that all of us might benefit from picking up some of the skills of those whose work often goes unrecognized.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
In an article that appeared in The Atlantic (March 12, 2012), "What Do Fact-Checkers and Anesthesiologists Have in Common?", David Zweig explained why some people choose professions where accomplishments go unheralded. They are what he characterizes as "Invisibles" insofar as recognition and (especially) praise are concerned, preferring to work on the given work at hand.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Zweig's coverage. I could have selected hundreds of brief excerpts. Here are five:

o Three Defining Traits of Invisibles: Ambivalence toward recognition, meticulousness, and savoring responsibility

Zweig: "The Invisibles are not an exclusive group; they are simply at the far end of a spectrum we all live within. We are all Invisible to varying degrees, in different ways, and in different contexts. The elite professionals I will spotlight in this book, however, show that living at the apex of this continuum, that truly embodying these traits, directly links with success and fulfillment." (Page 13)

o Giulia Wilkins Ary and other members of the elite Interpretation Service at the United Nations

"Without her and her colleagues, diplomats from around the world would not be able to communicate with each other...Wilkins Ary hears one language, interprets it into another language in her head, then speak the new language [begin italics] while at the same time continuing to listen to and interpret the next lines of the original language [end italics], a practice known as simultaneous interpretation...
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Walk in Integrity in a World of Mirrors
David Zweig opened my eyes and reminded me of many people who work behind the scenes to make the world a better place. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robertalove
4.0 out of 5 stars I would give this 5 stars - I love it - but left off the 5th star...
I would give this 5 stars - I love it - but left off the 5th star because people shouldn't buy books like this because of star ratings. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Keith Lofstrom
1.0 out of 5 stars Meh.
This book annoys me more than anything else. I understand that it is talking about persons who make the world "tick" which is a novel concept for some, but for others it... Read more
Published 2 months ago by CollegeStealth
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This is a must read, especially for the current generation
Published 2 months ago by Rattlesnake
5.0 out of 5 stars This book restored a little bit of my faith in humanity
I got a charge out of this book.

It is remarkable that Zweig manages to pull this off without talking very much about all the relentless self-promoters. Read more
Published 3 months ago by W. P. Gardner
3.0 out of 5 stars A collection of biographies rather than a theory
The main idea of the book is explained on the introduction, the rest of it is a collection of biographies to illustrate the arguments presented on the first part.
Published 3 months ago by a.machado
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, arrived as promised:
Superb,arrived as promised :)
Published 3 months ago by Shaul Shalvi
5.0 out of 5 stars Making Invisibles Visible
This book is amazing! I previously read a review that was unfavorable so I hesitated to buy it. That reviewer could not have been more wrong. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Manny
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Thank you!
Published 5 months ago by Deb Alexander-Friet
4.0 out of 5 stars Building yourself like a brand will not make you happy
The main takeaway of this book is that we live in an age of fame-seeking and facebook self-promotion and these are not things that make us happy. Read more
Published 5 months ago by J-J-J-Jinx
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More About the Author

David Zweig is a writer, lecturer and musician based in Brooklyn, New York. His latest book, Invisibles, is about the power of embracing anonymous work in a culture obsessed with praise and recognition.

He has released two critically acclaimed albums, All Now With Wings and Keep Going. Both albums charted on college radio playlists and garnered accolades for Zweig, with the press calling him a "symphonic pop prodigy."

Zweig's debut novel, Swimming Inside The Sun, a modernist bildungsroman about identity and self-consciousness, was released fall 2009. It quickly gained notice with a rave review from Kirkus calling it a "terrific debut from a talented writer."

Zweig has been invited to lecture at universities, academic conferences, and corporations around the U.S. and the world. As a freelance journalist, his pieces have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. More at


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