On Books — Short vs Long-Term Thinking, Formats, And Making Time
Updated as of June 2022.
In the past week, I have had no less than 5 people ask me what I read, when I read, and how I read. So here we go…
Formats that I read:
I’m thoroughly convinced that the source of your reading material directly affects your ability to become a better leader, i.e. how far ahead you can see trends and patterns, your situational awareness of your employees and clients, and how you cast vision for your organization. The shorter the read, the shorter the cast, the more tactical you get. Below is my take on media consumption:
Social media — tactical thinking at best, little to no strategic vision. Line-of-sight: 1–2 weeks out. Maybe.
News articles — similar to social, with maybe a little more strategic insight, if you follow reference articles down the rabbit hole. Line-of-sight: 2 weeks out.
Thoughtful blog posts and long-form magazine articles — these are the baseline for strong, deep thinking. Line-of-sight: 4–8 weeks out
White papers and reports — these are the derivative outputs of (groups of) deep thinkers. Great to stimulate robust, strategic thoughts and insights for your organization. Line-of-sight: 3 months out.
Books — nothing can replace these. These are the result of year(s)-long thinking, thoughtful editing, and multiple rounds of reviews. Line-of-sight:1–5 years. This is where the best leaders of organizations anchor their minds, even as they dive into the day-to-day minutiae and reactive tactics required to run a company.
When I read:
My personal experience with leaders at the highest levels (think two former Presidents) has shown me that effective leaders can’t stay in the tactics; the highest and best use of their time MUST be seeing/processing/developing strategies and vision before anyone else. Thus, consistent reading time that aids in strategy and vision is a high priority for me.
I carve out swaths of time for reading. I try to block out 2–3 hours in a workday for long-form magazine and book reading. I used to feel really guilty about this amount of time, but I got over it once I started to realize that my ability to problem-solve at an industry and market level became so much easier the more I had information from contextual books and long-form magazine articles. These time blocks don’t include my news article consumption, which I intersperse throughout the day. Aggregately, I think I probably spend about an hour or so on news websites. Usually at the beginning of the day.
At night, instead of Netflix-binging (I have a really hard time watching TV these days, aside from the weekend college football game, and some video games here and there), I usually read a non-work book, as well as catch up on more news articles. I am also privy to a number of C-level leadership groups, with Slack channels where I come across mounds of useful links/articles/papers. I usually surf those in the evening, and bookmark articles for the next morning.
How I read:
I came up with this “book justification list” a couple of years ago, and this cheat sheet has helped me immensely when I am on Amazon, about to purchase a book or three.
Biographies: audiobooks and optional physical books. Biographies are narratives, and stories tend to be best when they are told audibly. If it is good enough to share, then the physical book becomes a gift to a friend/colleague.
Business/productivity/self help books: physical books. They are good for underlining, and for note taking, as you can write in the margins, or if you write notes in a journal or note-taking app, you can reference specific page numbers, which you can’t on audio, or even Kindle. They are also easy to give away.
Fiction: audiobooks and physical books. Again, stories are meant to be heard and told orally. But some books are just too big and unwieldy, thus the physical book.
What I read:
Social media — little to none. Instagram, and I sometimes lurk on LinkedIn. I come across some useful news articles via LI. My Facebook account is dormant. Haven’t logged in for a couple of years. Twitter for real-time news, and Wait But Why, easily the most fascinating and accessible science/math writer.
News articles — I have paid subscriptions to The New York Times, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and despite its really dumb paywall, The Dallas Morning News. I will dabble with CNN and CNBC, but stay away from Fox News and MSNBC. Echo chambers of the left and right. Whatever my beliefs/opinions, I make it a rule to read the opposing views twice as much, with a bias towards empathy. It helps me minimize my logical fallacies and gives me insight into what their posture is, even if I disagree with it.
Thoughtful blog posts and long-form magazine articles — Substack is a gem for me. Common Sense (Bari Weiss), Slow Boring (Matt Yglesias), The French Press (David French), The Curiosity Chronicle (Sahil Bloom) and The Weekly Dish (Andrew Sullivan) are all paid subscriptions that are worth every cent.
I have paid subscriptions to The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, The Economist. I’ve also got a number of paid and free email newsletters that curate magazine articles for me, including Ray Dalio, Howard Marks, Grey Matter, 2PM, a16z, Sequoia Capital, and Weekend Reader.
White papers and reports — These are usually circulated by fellow investors and and come from analytics shops, research firms, or the big boys, like JP Morgan’s EOTM (Eye On The Market). Unfortunately, these are limited circulation and private-access-only. Line-of-sight: 3 months out.
Books — Unlike white papers, these are available to everyone! Here is what I’m reading right now. (current as of 06.01.2022)
Breath: The New Science Of A Lost Art — highly recommend this one
Lessons From The Titans — What Companies in the New Economy Can Learn from the Great Industrial Giants to Drive Sustainable Success
Jesus and John Wayne — How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
The Advantage — Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
Bonus: BEMA Discipleship podcast. Trust me, start with Lesson 0 and go chronologically. Game changer.
Bonus Bonus: my boy Greg Crooks has the best business book list. I just read whatever he tells me to.