What I’ve learned as a startup founder & CEO — lesson five

To briefly recap, so far in this series we have touched upon storytelling, meditation, “stay hungry, stay foolish” and finally focus.

This week I wanted to talk about the importance of reading.

As a collective, we don’t read enough.

We’re “too busy”.

A quarter of British adults (4 million) never pick up a book for their own enjoyment, citing a lack of time for reading. And on top of that, a worrying, one in six adults of working age in the UK struggle with literacy.

As a nation, we’re predominantly ‘knowledge workers’ e.g. we’re paid to think. So why are one-in-four of us not taking the time to invest in expanding our knowledge as much as possible?

Discounting this article’s focus on reading in the context of a startup founder; reading is essential in expanding our horizons, igniting our imaginations as well as teaching us basic concepts.

So back to the main reason British adults are giving for not reading — lack of time. If you’re struggling to find time to read, ask yourself:

  • How much television do I watch?
  • How long is my commute?
  • How much time do I spend shopping?
  • Or what about waking up 30 minutes earlier on a Sunday?

If you presume that the average person spends 3–4 hours a day watching TV, an hour or more commuting, and another 2–3 hours a week shopping, that’s 25 hours a week on the low end.

25 hours.

That’s 1,500 minutes.

That’s huge. If you read a page a minute, that’s 1,500 pages a week.

Why do I read?

Some people read for pleasure. Some people read to acquire knowledge. Some people read for both.

For me, I want to better understand myself and others.

I want to obtain as much knowledge and learning — in the shortest time frame possible. I want to build up an advantage to help me execute upon an idea faster and better than the next person.

I read to make my life better. I read to make fewer mistakes.

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.

As a startup founder & CEO, why read?

In short, you get to absorb all of the knowledge and hard fought lessons accumulated by some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, typically in less than 300 pages.

Why wouldn’t you want to jump into the life of Richard Branson or Elon Musk?

Understanding how they approach problems, their outlook on life and what parallels you can draw to your own journey? Even if you didn’t read the whole book cover-to-cover, you would be able to skim the contents and make notes on the relevant parts.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a fascination with books (and bookstores). I love the smell, the sense of discovery, the freedom to learn something I previously knew nothing about.

When I was fifteen, starting my first company, I found no greater resource than reading. It was from reading that I learnt how to actually form a company in the UK, how websites were hosted, what programming was, how to raise funding, etc.

I also read at a young age so that I would never seem like I was “silly” or “inexperienced”, as a young founder established brands and managers (who you will be negotiating with) will want to come up with any reason to dismiss you. Anything less than showing them that you are the smartest person in the room, will result in an uphill struggle to win that contract, or sign that partnership.

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.

Charlie Munger,
Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation

How do you read a book?

Shane Parish has done a great job of summarising an effective method first published by Mortimer Adler in “How to Read a Book”, I’d recommend reading his post. Once done, return here and check out my recommended reading list below.

My recommended reading lists

For helping you as a founder & CEO:

For helping you with people skills:

For transporting you to another world:

Further reading:

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