Passive consumption

I’ve recently embraced passive content consumption.

For every blog post about how to perfectly (and painstakingly) deconstruct a literary work, there is another advocating for listening to audiobooks at 2x speed to get through them quicker. I guess my optimal point is somewhere in between.

If you’ve ever used the Chrome plugin Spreed, you’ll know that your brain can perfectly piece together a word or sentence without seeing all of its individual components, be it characters or words. By that virtue, and in my own experience, your brain can piece together stories with astonishing accuracy even if it misses whole sentences or paragraphs.

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I haven’t had much time to read or consume content of any sorts since I left my job in finance. As my partner and I have taken our business from a PowerPoint deck to a functioning entity, I’ve noticed that my days have become a lot more regimented. As such, there is a two-hour period every single morning where I am totally on my own. While I’m intensely busy during this time, I am not in a position where I need to interact with other GRAB team members or customers.

When this pocket of time first emerged and I was easing in to the first few weeks of operations, I’d to listen to music. As a total fan of all things hip hop, this was great — for a while. Eventually, I got bored. I was on top of all of the new releases and was making my way through the classics which, frankly, I had already paid my respects to in my teens. I began thinking that there had to be a better way to use this time.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and the list of books to read on my phone has quintupled since GRAB became a thing. At first, I didn’t think reading would be a possibility. I’m someone who will read and re-read a paragraph until I am 100% certain I have a deep understanding of its subject matter. How could I possibly listen to a book while prepping for a stressful morning of coffee deliveries? I ended up settling on podcasts which I thought being 20 to 40 minutes in length would reduce my ability to get totally lost. As I worked my way through iconic entrepreneurship and venture capital podcasts I began to realize how much I was retaining. I was surprised that even while carrying out several critical tasks for GRAB, I was totally able to follow along and retain a lot of useful information.

In November, I began experimenting with audiobooks and it’s been an absolute game-changer since then. Since November, I’ve averaged one book per week and have learned and reflected on each day of listening. I discovered that not only did I not need to give up reading, I could actually do more of it in a synergistic manner with my hectic entrepreneurial life.

What I’ve found most helpful is actually listening to the same thing with a friend and catching up once you’ve both reached the end. By doing this, you can fully debrief and synthesize the biggest takeaways from the book. This basically solidifies all of you listening time and ensures the content goes from short-term to long-term memory. By the way, this is a great technique for reading too.

The biggest practical takeaway from my experience with passive consumption has been how deeply it has crystalized my faith in voice. Everyone is talking about how voice is the next frontier for commerce. They are talking about how easy it will be to order toilet paper from your Alexa but what they are fundamentally glossing over is how powerful voice will be at increasing our productivity. I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about the Alexa in your office or in your headphones that will be chiming in with relevant news, listening and understanding as to when to play you your book, or listening and understanding as to when to read you your texts or emails and prompt you for a verbally-dictated response. Voice + AI will revolutionize passive consumption and productivity. Undoubtedly, it will lead to more active AI-driven prompts which will enhance our productivity and make us more disciplined, responsive, and knowledgeable people. Imagine handing Alexa your to-do list and letting her tell you when it needs to get done.