7 Lessons From Reading 35 Books in the First 6 months of 2017

You just got an email. It leaves you stunned.

It’s a lunch invite from Warren Buffett.

The invite comes with one condition: you pay for lunch. Definitely not a big deal if it’s a chance to sit with him one on one.

You start to imagine listening to 30 years worth of successful investing advice. All you have to do is show up and pay for the lunch.

Well, believe it or not. Warren and many of the people you would love to meet with have sent you that very invite. You likely missed it because it came your way a little different than you expected. What do I mean?

Reading a book written by or about Warren Buffett is that very invite. Sure, you don’t get to ask questions. But, you get to quietly listen to a very smart person share from their experience.

In the same way, reading any book by an author you care about fits this bill. You get to sit and listen to years of accumulated wisdom.

I didn’t start the year with a goal on how many books to read in 2017. I identified key domains where I want to grow and improve. I was surprised to look back at the 1st half of the year to see I had read almost as many books in 6 months as I did the entire of 2016.

Figuratively speaking, I had lunch with 34 different authors so far in 2017. Below are the top seven lessons I want to share. A post on all the lessons would be way too long.

Lessons 1: It’s useless reading so many books if it doesn’t change something in your life

“A year in which you do not change your mind on some big idea that’s important to you is a wasted year” — Charlie Munger (Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor by Tren Griffin)

The illusion of competence is one thing we must always guard against. It’s so easy to accumulate so much information and mistake that for knowledge. Even worse is knowledge without action.

Yes! You should read as much as you can. But, if you remain unchanged, it is like looking in the mirror one moment and forgetting what you look like the moment you walk away.

Make it a point to jot down at least one thing you will do differently when you attain new knowledge.

Changed your mind on anything lately still waiting on action? You have 6 more months to put it into action in 2017.

“Knowledge does not change behavior… We have all encountered crazy shrinks and obese doctors and divorced marriage counselors” — Chip and Dan Heath (Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard)

“Knowledge is not power. That’s a myth. It is the potential for power, but it is not power itself. It’s not what you learn or what you know; it’s what you do with what you know and learn” — Darren Hardy (The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster: Why Now is the Right Time to #jointheride)

“Men of action are favored by the goddess of luck” — George S. Clason (The Richest Man in Babylon)

Lesson 2: Measure Your Life by the Right Metrics

“Spend your day pursuing the things you want said in your eulogy.” — Darren Hardy (The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster: Why Now is the Right Time to #jointheride)

“Don’t miss the point”

That’s what “Coach”, Darren’s dad’s longtime mentor and friend, had to say to him on his death bed.

“Coach” was calling out the danger of using the wrong metric to keep score on how you are doing in life. Using wealth, possessions and achievements vs life experiences and quality of relationships.

How are you measuring your progress in 2017 so far? Have your achievements been at the cost of meaningful life experiences and relationships in your life?

Lesson 3: Clarity on how to Think without Clarity on how to Act can Leave People Unmoved

“To make a switch, you need to script the critical moves” — Chip and Dan Heath (Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard)

Clarity is the 3rd point Dan H. Pink stresses in his excellent book To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others’.

It is not enough to convince people on needed action. You need to provide them an off-ramp: clear instructions on how to follow through on that specific request.

Such specific instructions like: ‘Click the link below to donate’, ‘Follow these steps to install the app’, ‘Here are your next steps to mastering machine learning’, can all go a long way.

Have you tried selling someone on an idea recently? Did you leave them an off-ramp with clear instructions to follow through?

Lesson 4: Never do today what you can leave till tomorrow (if possible)

“Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad — at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity.” — Nassim N. Taleb (Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder)

This is an interesting twist to the quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin,

“Never leave till tomorrow what you can do today”

I seem to like the idea of saving for tomorrow what can wait. Adam Grant in his bestseller, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World’, talks about procrastinating strategically.

He says, if done right, it could open the mind to divergent thinking. This is in addition to allowing room for adaptability to changes. When you commit to or make plans too far ahead in time, you are less likely to adapt if something vital changes in the last minute.

If you are pressed to make a decision, it also never hurts to ask, “How much time do I have to decide?”.

Embrace an experimental approach, with no plan or openness to how things will evolve, this is more likely to lead to something novel.

Lesson 5: Strong Alignment and Competence are Prerequisites for an Executing Culture

“Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative … A vast untapped human potential is lost as a result of treating people as followers.” — L. David Marquet (Turn this Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders)

Our society is still living out some legacies of the industrial age. One of these is in the practice of management and the tendency to be overly prescriptive.

If you are working a manufacturing line, it makes sense to follow a script. Or a map as Seth Godin describes it in his book, ‘Linchpin: Are you Indispensable?’.

Most management are not comfortable with their team improvising or drawing their own map. The reason?

They don’t trust their team is competent to make decisions on their own or on the fly. If competence is not the issue, they likely feel like their team don’t grasp the big picture.

What’s the solution if you care to address this?

Hire competent people you would trust to make the right decisions in your absence. Or train your people up. This needs to come first before promoting autonomy and team improvisation.

“Divesting control without competence will result in chaos” — L. David Marquet

Also, drive for strong alignment on the big picture. Communicate clearly and constantly. Over communicate if you dare. Every team member should be able to describe the priorities and why they make sense.

“Don’t move information to the authority, move authority to the information. Divest control and increase competence” — L. David Marquet

“If all you need to do is what you are told, then you don’t need to understand your craft. However, as your ability to make decisions increases, then you need intimate technical knowledge on which to base those decisions.” — Nassim N. Taleb

Lesson 6: Don’t live by the Average

“From the cradle to the grave, you are measured against the ever-present yardstick of the average, judged according to how closely you approximate it or how far you are able to exceed it.” — Todd Rose (The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness)

It’s important to know the limits of using averages.

Average does not give us a full picture, it’s a snapshot that can lead to deadly conclusions. A sample set of the numbers [4, 6, 5, 6, 5, 4] may have an average of 5 but the story is quite different from a set showing [9, 1, 3, 2, 7, 8].

The average tells us hardly anything about the second set of numbers. The second set of numbers are vastly different in range. The first set hover around 5. All both sets of numbers have in common is the number of elements in each: 6.

We may miss this unique difference by holding strongly to the label of the average.

Considering this makes you rethink such things as average speed, average height or the average student. What exactly is that telling us and how we should treat each entity in that set?

“There’s no relationship between learning fast and succeeding” — Todd Rose

I see this clearly now.

One area where we see a strong imprint on this label of averages is in the educational system.

It is skewed towards judging ability based on an average score or grade. Could performance improve if given more time? We may never know and so each student must live with the stigma of a snapshot grade point average (GPA).

I was great at studying for time based exams. I excelled at them. The grades however only reflected how much correct information I had in working memory during the exam.

This could be a good example of schooling getting in the way of education.

Is the label of average holding a sway on how you view people or your self? Don’t miss out on celebrating individual uniqueness.

Lesson 7: Embrace the Margin of Safety and Negative Optionality in All Aspects of Life

“When you’re going to take a risk in one domain offset it by being unusually cautious in another realm of your life” — Adam Grant (Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World)

Traditional value investing encourages you to invest in a company with a margin of safety. Margin of Safety is the difference between the intrinsic value of a company and the price it’s going for.

This buffer serves to cushion any downsides that might happen in the market. It attempts to protect your principal. When coupled with the idea of negative optionality, you are making bets with high upsides and low downsides

Adam Grant, in his all ready quoted book- Originals — makes an attempt to dispel the myth that originals are carefree risk takers.

He quotes how Bill Gates hedge his bets on dropping out of college to pursue his dreams by taking a leave of absence. He also lists successful startups whose founders kept their day job while experimenting with their big ideas outside of work hours. The lesson?

Balance your life risk portfolio.

Any options that allow you more upsides than downsides makes you antifragile . If you’re right about that risk you have more to gain than to lose being wrong.

You don’t always get the luxury of a cushion or option. But, you are not any less brave by having one.

Are the risks you are embracing in 2017 cushioned with some options and margin of safety? If you have the chance at an option, there’s no shame in embracing it. Actually, you would be wise to do so.

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