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“Always be reading”

Francisco Homem de Mello

This is a sample of Unlocking Potential: my newsletter about how to unlock your potential – and that of your team. Views are my own, and do not represent Qulture.Rocks’ views in any shape or form. The newsletter goes out weekly(ish) and you can subscribe to it here.


Hello folks!

I was away for almost a week in Mexico helping one of our customers run its strategic planning offsite (a theme that’s intimately related to our OKR feature at Qulture.Rocks). As a startup CEO, I questioned every minute of my being away from the office and helping out another company, almost as a consultant. Shouldn’t I be back at the office, doing 1:1s and helping people, for example? It led me to question how I should measure my productivity as a CEO and a leader, and I decided to write a bit about this.


On a leader’s productivity

I’ve read once, somewhere, that a CEO’s job is to make a handful of critical right decisions per year. Even tough it sounded too simplistic a view (it excludes, among other things, getting the culture right and making the executive team work well together, two very laborious tasks,) it struck me as enlightening. Since then I’ve been questioning myself constantly about whether I’m looking at one of those.

Mathilde Collin, founder of Front, and one of the most thoughtful founders out there, has written along those lines about taking half a day-off every week just to think about pressing issues, unplugged from the internet. She calls it stepping back time, and describes as

half a day each week where I allow myself only a notebook — no computer — to really concentrate on a key issue.

If I take the few decisions thesis as true, I’d be fine with taking more time away from the office and aiming for a clearer schedule to think about the business and make better decisions. But I have to admit it’s very hard for me to accept that a high volume of hard work is not what I need to do to make my team successful. I feel guilty. And I question myself whether I will be a bad example to my team.

But I can say this week away was very “productive.” Being removed from the office noitse allowed me to think a bit more clearly and objectively about challenges we’re facing, and that thinking will surely make our company better than would a regular week of busywork.


Always-Be-Reading

A habit I can say I have nailed is reading a lot [2]. People always ask me what I do in order to read so much. So I thought about writing a bit about that.

In order to read a lot, the first thing I do is to always be reading.

You’ve probably heard of Alec Baldwin’s character’s monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross. “A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing. Always be closing.” It’s made its mark on my brain. The other day one Q.Player asked me for tips on how to read more. And the gods of “wordsmithing” gave me this Glengarry Glen Ross-inspired meme, always be reading.

The point of A-B-R is to always have reading material at hand. I have my Kindle on me at all times (I’ve even bought the latest waterproof version so I can read inside the steam room). I have the app installed on my Iphone, ob my Ipad, and I can always connect to the web app. I always carry a physical book on me too. Currently, it’s Marketing High Technology, which is amazing and full of Intel stories.

Two other things I do that I think help me read more: First, I am always reading a number of books at a given time. My bedside table currently looks like this:

What’s beautiful about being reading many things is that if I don’t feel like reading something, I just read something else. Having options makes me read much more, because the chances of not having something I’m interested in at some point are really low [3].

I take a somewhat “darwinian” approach to reading: I’ll just read whatever I feel like the most. If I don’t feel like reading a book for a while, it will most likely move down my Kindle “feed” or be taken away to my library (by my wife, who I drive crazy by leaving piles of books around). You can probably infer I have absolutely zero clinging to finishing every book I start. If I don’t enjoy one, I’ll happily put it aside and open another. Maybe I do get back to it at some time in the future, but many times I don’t.

My wife works quite differently. She reads books sequentially. She can’t start the next book before finishing the current one. So whenever she doesn’t like a book, she’ll refrain from opening a new one, and just procrastinate her way to not reading anything at all.

By the way, I was really happy to hear that Patrick Collison (amazing interview, by the way) kind of does the same:

I think a corollary of that is that it’s actually valuable to – or I actually find it useful to buy a lot of books that seem interesting and high quality but before I’m necessarily ready to read them at that moment. And maybe I’ll read the beginning or a couple of chapters or something but not really commit to finishing it.

But I’ll leave it out around the house. There are books on the bookshelves. There are books on the kitchen table. There are books beside the couch. There are books in my bedroom. There are usually books on my bed and so on. And it’s in your mental landscape. And I often find that six months later or 18 months later, something happens. You’re reminded of something. And you realize, “Oh, man. I really should get back to whatever book it is.”

So, in summary, my tips for more reading can be summarized by Always Be Reading. Have reading material on you at all times, in different media. Read many books “at once.” If one book is boring, pick another. Don’t cling to finishing everything you’ve started, specially if it isn’t interesting.


Recommended readings[1]:

In The Heartbeat (Continued,) Fred Wilson, from Union Square Ventures, talks about the importance of a constant rhythm of OKRs at companies of all sizes.

Tim Ferris interviewed Patrick Collison some months ago. I’ve heard the interview about 4 times.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor teaches us about applying stoicism to our daily lives. It’s amazing.

Another stoicism (and venture capital) gem is my good friend Pedro Sorrentino’s Stoic Capital newsletter.


That’s it for today. I hope this helps you get 1% better ????

Have you got any feedback for me? Please?

Cheers and have a good week,

Kiko

[1] And “hearings.”

[2] I can’t say that about many other habits.

[3] I also don’t read only books: my Twitter feed is highly curated, and suggests me many great articles and blog posts every day. I’ll open up Twitter at whatever short time I have (a Taxi ride, bathroom, whatever) and read a couple pages of something interesting.