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In 2019, outread your competitors

Jan 06, 2019 Success, Sunday Nation

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

A new year has just kicked off, so regular readers of this column know exactly what I’m about to say: read more books!

I am delighted to see that my regular exhortations seem to be having some effect. A good number of readers checked in during December to confirm that they had indeed read many more books in 2018. Some had read five, when previously they would read exactly zero. Some had managed to hit my recommended minimum of 12 books, or a book every month. Still more of you read 25 or more books for the year. Some even managed to hit the golden number: 50 books in the year. One reader crossed a mind-boggling 100 books in 2018…

Whatever your achievement on the book-reading front, be proud and keep going. Indeed, pushing you to do this has had a salutary effect on me: I clocked 65 books myself in 2018, more than my usual target of 50.

Before we start a new challenge and a new hashtag for 2019, perhaps you need some reminding about exactly why you should read more books.

Tom Peters reads (and writes) a lot of books. In his 2018 release The Excellence Dividend, Tom has a chapter on the ‘Tech Tsunami’ – the acceleration in technological advances that threatens to engulf us all in the form of robots, artificial intelligence, blockchains and autonomous systems.

Being a leading management guru, Tom needs to know this stuff. But he admits that three years ago, he realised that he had fallen hopelessly behind in understanding the myriad new technologies and their manifold implications. His answer, put as Tom puts things, was to ‘outread the buggers!’ He set off on a catch-up odyssey, reading 100-plus books on the subject of new tech. He’s still going, with no end in sight. Now, though, he has a decent feel for the state of play.

I advise on strategy and leadership myself, and a few years back I was jolted by the same wake-up call: the future of business will be driven by technological innovation more than by anything else. If I don’t understand the tech, I won’t be advising jack. My response to the problem was the same: start reading! I don’t think I can match Tom’s 100-plus books – but I’ve certainly read more than 50 on the implications of technology on business and society.

Is it enough to read books, though? Does that give you everything you need? Of course not. My first piece of advice: don’t just read any book about tech; read the people who know, who are authorities, who are leading the thinking. A second: read in order to become informed to do more. You’re not reading the books in order to memorise or parrot them in an exam; you’re reading in order to awaken yourself. Take your reading back into the world. Watch technology work; ask people how it affects them; try it out for yourself and study it carefully.

Now, my seminar on leadership and technological disruption is my most requested; and my monthly newsletter has a section dealing with tech in all our worlds. It all started with reading the right books.

You understand my point: if you don’t know that much about something, you don’t have to sit back in confusion. A very simple tool is at your disposal. Whatever it is you want to know more about, some very good people have written some very good books about it. They have summarized the state of knowledge and handed it over to you. So take the gift!

Don’t just read the books, though; follow the thought-leaders on social media; keep up with new developments; meet experts and talk to them; observe ordinary people in the course of their lives. Learn by doing and watching; but use books to set a base for yourself. That shelf in your library is your war-chest. Protect it, return to it, use it.

So, here we go again. #50BooksIn2019 is now live. Are you up for it? 50 is the stretch target. Read 25 if you can’t read 50; read just 12 if you can’t do any more. But everyone, even those who think they are allergic to reading, should read 12 books every year. That’s just a book a month, 20 minutes every day.

Choose wisely, read books that expand your knowledge, that help you understand things outside your normal range. Read to sharpen your competitive edge; read to keep up; read to enjoy yourself as you enlighten yourself. But read!

#50BooksIn2019. Go…

(Sunday Nation, 6 January 2018)

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