How collaborations, and friendships, can benefit from a little courage

In May I published a book by my friend and colleague, Tobias Mayer called The People’s Scrum. As business books go, it is unique in that Tobias holds forth with a vehemence of conviction that is usually reserved for religion or politics. The customer reviews on Amazon that have been pouring in indicate that a readership exists that is hungry for passionate, polarized—and polarizing—thought, especially when it comes to parsing the world of work (that bland, fluorescent-lit limbo where too many of us spend our days acting out tableaux from Office Space or Death of a Salesman).

Tobias and I…


Gabrielle Chavela’s author photo

Books are selling better than ever. So why are publishers so scared?

When Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was outed as Robert Galbraith, the pseudonymous author of the crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, my first thought was of the novel I just published, Part of Your World by Gabrielle Chavela, also a pseudonym. The two books have similar histories but came into being for nearly opposite reasons, and comparing their two paths sheds some fresh light on the state of publishing.

First, let me say that it is unlikely Robert Galbraith’s novel would have found a publishing deal at all on his own merits, not because the work isn’t solid—by all accounts…


My Dad, my brother din, and me

On growing up with a serial entrepreneur

My father, Morgan Johnson, has all the elements of the wildly successful entrepreneur: a concoction of exuberance, irreverence, cockiness, and brilliance. All his life he’s angered and annoyed people with his eccentric, impulsive behavior, yet kept them hooked by his talent, and even more so, by his brazen optimism. He holds 11 patents and has burned through several million dollars’ worth of other people’s money in a series of start-up ventures. But so far, large-scale commercial success has eluded him. Now in his sixties, he’s banded together with a bunch of other old guys and mounted a last ditch campaign…


You probably shouldn’t, but if you must…

Write an outline, then stick it away where you can’t see it. The only helpful thing about an outline is the act of writing it, because it gets you to set down—and set aside—all of your bad ideas. The good ones are mostly subconscious at this stage.

Once you’ve ceremonially buried that outline, go with your gut. This is not mushy advice, but a technical practice. Storytelling is a complex process that your subconscious understands far better than your conscious brain. If you aim to make your entire writing process explicit rather than implicit, you will dumb yourself down and…


The actress Hedy Lamarr was once widely considered the most beautiful girl in the world — did she also invent wifi and cell phones?

I first heard the story of Hedy Lamarr at a microwave electronics convention in Anaheim, tagging along after my inventor father. Microwave technologists are some hardcore geeks, guys so smart they can barely comb their hair and button their shirts. If they could, they would live in Matrix pods and exist merely to dream. They first told me the apocryphal story of an inventor who filed a ground-breaking patent that is a precursor to wifi and cell phone technology: the glamorous 1940s movie star Hedy Lamarr.

Lamarr was considered “the most beautiful girl in the world” during the WWII era…


Social media survival skills for the disinclined

I got into publishing because I was tired of the way I was being published. I didn’t think the people running the show knew what they were doing anymore. Neither did I, but in a situation where no one has a clue, I would rather bet on myself. So I started Dymaxicon.

But here’s the thing: Publishing a book today absolutely requires voluminous social interaction—and I’m an introvert. Not a mild introvert, but 97% pure on the Myers-Briggs scale. When I first saw pictures of the Unabomber’s cabin, I thought it looked like a nice place to live. I enjoy…


It’s time to do away with a lazy concept that does more harm than good

Imagine waking up tomorrow to find that your world has been divided into two camps, those who are “loving” and those who are not. This ability to love is a quality many admire, and few understand. Some say it can be learned, although most of those identified as “loving” don’t remember learning how to “do” it. Others say the ability to love lies dormant in all of us. Most see it as some kind of alchemical gift.

In this new world, a lot of books are written about how to foster the ability to love. Other books are written about…


Illustration by Juliette Borda

This is the story of my Chanel suit, and how it has changed my life (so far)

I bought the suit secondhand, at a little shop near the Los Angeles Farmers Market, for $125. It had the classic cardigan jacket, in a red-cream-and-blue bouclé, with braid trim and patch pockets. I was the suit’s third owner, the shopkeeper told me. The Beverly Hills woman who had owned it last inherited it from an opera singer, who bought it in the early ‘80s at Bergdorf’s in New York. At the time, it retailed for the price of a good used luxury car.

The conceptual artist Charles Ray has an early work titled “All My Clothes.” It’s a series…


I don’t know what to make of Arnold’s return to action movies, but he’s a figure I have thought about a lot over the years. I wrote this piece in 2003, on the eve of the gubernatorial recall election that put Arnold in office. At the time, I was the editor of a weekly newspaper, the Ventura County Reporter. My paper was the only one in the state of California to endorse Schwarzenegger. We did so after administering a blind quiz to every member of the paper’s staff, in which they ranked candidate statements from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”…


I wrote this piece for Worth Magazine in 1997, when the big question on tech journalists’ mind was: How will anyone ever make money off of the Internet? What is interesting here is that the now-defunct startup he was helming, Tribal Voice, was in effect a social network before its time. Interesting, and embarrassing, that I called out its competition as Microsoft’s NetMeeting!

"No one here would even recognize a computer if they saw one, probably," says John McAfee, who is dressed in blue jeans and affecting a Marlboro Man mustache. "This is the very edge of civilization." McAfee is…

Hillary Johnson

Writer, Editor, Publisher, Designer.

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