In February 2014, Seattle independent publisher Compendium—known for its stationery, journals, and gift products—released a picture book about imagination, What Do You Do with an Idea? Written by Compendium president and CEO Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom, the book pictures a child whose creative idea takes the form of a speckled egg with a golden crown and birdlike legs. Skeptical at first, the child nurtures the growing idea until “I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”

By now it’s hard to imagine Compendium without What Do You Do with an Idea? Yamada’s debut has sold upward of two million copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages, adapted as an orchestral composition, choreographed for dance and theater, and used in mindfulness courses. “It’s humbling and surprising to see the reach that the book has found,” Yamada told PW, because Idea “has become a go-to gift for graduation, for new babies, and in the general children’s book category.”

This wide appeal led Compendium to repackage the volume for the 10th anniversary. “We foiled the cover, added an author’s note, did new end sheets, and refreshed the intro to make it a little more special,” Yamada said, and to “hang a bit of a bow on the 10 years it’s been out in the world.”

Yamada attributes Idea’s all-ages audience to its “universal” account of creativity. “Not only has it found an audience with children and teachers and school districts, but it’s found an audience with entrepreneurs and with people who have wanted to stretch for something more—a dream, a hope, an aspiration of theirs,” he said.

He set out to create an Everyperson tale that readers easily could inhabit. “I left room for them to insert themselves into the story,” he said. “We never identify the idea, on purpose. We don’t get too specific about our characters because this is an internal dialogue for someone with their own ideas. It’s also a tool to deepen conversations about creativity.” Yamada revisited What Do You Do with an Idea?’s formula, prompting readers to think about their solution-finding processes, in the sequels What Do You Do with a Chance? and What Do You Do with a Problem?

An Optimistic Vision

Initially, Idea felt like a one-off to Yamada. “I didn’t really think I’d write another picture book,” he said, but one of Compendium’s directors encouraged him to try again, “and once I was able to get my head around both being CEO of an organization as well as an author and creator, it got more comfortable.”

What Do You Do with an Idea? helped steer how he thought about Compendium’s mission, too, Yamada said. “We set out a strategy for our company, but I didn’t foresee the massive success and adoption of picture books authored by myself, so [the situation] organically started to say, ‘There’s maybe more for me to do here.’ ”

Yamada’s newest title, Chasing Dreams: How to Add More Daring to Your Doing, illustrated by Charles Santoso, came out in November, part of a trio that includes Finding Muchness and Feeling Grateful; he says the “minimalist palette,” small trim size, and “ages 99 and under” label on Chasing Dreams are calculated to invite a broad readership. His 2019 picture book Maybe, a paean to potential illustrated by Gabriella Barouch, is being adapted as a musical and is Compendium’s top-selling book of the past few years; a companion to Maybe titled Why Not? arrives in spring 2024.

Compendium is a company of more than 50 staffers now, Yamada said, and every book is a collaborative effort. “A book isn’t just about an author and their vision—it’s a team, it’s editors, it’s illustrators, it’s people who apply their talents to the different products and books that we do. I think it’s that level of caring and intention that’s being recognized by readers.”

Since Covid, Compendium has been fully remote, too, except for its fulfillment centers in Everett, Wash., and Louisville, Ky. Surveys of the staff indicated a desire for the virtual workplace environment, although sacrifices were made. “We had a gorgeous office space that overlooked Eastlake [in Seattle], and we don’t have that anymore,” Yamada said. “We had to grieve some of that, and there’s a lot we miss. But as a team, we gain so much in flexibility and work/life balance and not commuting that we felt like the benefits outweighed the shortcomings.”

To make up for the separation, Compendium sets funds aside to rent restaurant space for meetings, host guided nature walks, or purchase a block of seats at a Seattle Mariners game. “You can’t underestimate or even overestimate the value of getting together as human beings, not necessarily as workers,” Yamada explained. “And it should be said, we don’t have a lot of turnover, so we can keep adding to that culture.”

Yamada notes that Compendium seeks to model its “Live Inspired” motto while being a “thriving, sustainable enterprise.” Looking ahead, he believes that picture books will “naturally be a growing segment of business for Compendium, both in volume per title and in the number of titles we produce.”

The question, What Do You Do with an Idea?, might even be an expression of Compendium’s modus operandi. “As we talk about the legacy and lineage of a book, it’s so cool how ideas build on ideas,” Yamada said, observing how people in other mediums have taken up Idea’s original script. “I didn’t write the musical [of Idea or Maybe], and I didn't do the dance performance, but the way that picture book has influenced other things is such a great example of how we foster more creativity.”