Am I the only one that finds the proliferation of “lists” rather ridiculous? Using the concept of a list, like the “Top Ten Books CEOs read”, seems like a really lazy way to right a new article. It is largely recycled content and so often seems like linkbaiting or thinly veiled SEO efforts. I like a lot of what I find on Business Insider, but I don’t think it is a leap to suggest that they purposefully publish “list” articles to simply generate more clicks. Smart move on their part, actually.
Business Insider put one out recently, not that it is very fresh or interesting, that I think makes a larger point. And, I don’t think they intended to really make this point in doing so. The list was all about books that VCs and founders read, as if to say that you will achieve success or be better prepared for it by reading them. I have no doubt that some, if not all, of these books can help you along the path to successful entrepreneurship, but there is nothing magical about these books and this list is not exactly comprehensive. Again, it drives up the click rates and all that, so there may not have been much thought or editing in compiling the list. But, the books that were chosen suggest something due to their eclecticism. There are standard business titles, some books from the newer wave of entrepreneurship (like Kawasaki‘s “Reality Check” and Blank‘s “Four Steps to the Epiphany“), and some that have little to do with business at all (Pirsig‘s classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“). I think the wide range of these books and the fact that, assuming the essence of the list is true, they were suggested by actual VCs and founders is a strong indicator of two things.
First, that there is a relationship between business success, particularly in areas that are more focused on creation and idea assessment like venture capital or startups, and a balanced education and/or set of influences. There may be studies out there and I will likely do some additional research on this point, hopefully elaborating on it in a future post, but I firmly believe that a broader range of experiences and education better prepares one to creatively assess and solve the problems that one might encounter. Can myopically focused types build great product and companies? No doubt, but I love the line from Jobs that his company was all about marrying technology and liberal arts. I think the future demands that we have a workforce made up of people with both the technical skill to implement solutions and the intellectual abilities to dream them up in the first place. So, do not just read programming books or management theory – read modern American literature, read poetry, read inspiring biographies too.
Second, that the real key is not in reading these books or any particular list of books, but simply in reading and doing a lot of it, period. That continuing to read, to have a desire to learn on a consistent basis, and to not be afraid to expose yourself to new viewpoints or information, are absolutely critical attributes when it comes to building and growing businesses. A budding CEO needs to be able to synthesize a lot of information, much of it new and some of which will force him or her to question their assumptions and decisions. The more they are exercising their mind, challenging their own ideas and beliefs, and simply opening up to consuming as much creative content as possible, the higher likelihood they will be able to do the same in the workplace, effectively handling the myriad issues that will arise. A CEO who is an avid and devoted learner is far more likely to listen to customers, employees, and partners…because that is how they will learn most about their business. Someone with little interests, someone who has no native desire to read new books or magazines…I just cannot imagine that they’d be open to ideas, opinions, constructive criticism, or any feedback or information that could be valuable in building and strengthening their company.
Call me crazy, but I think that smart, inquisitive people are far more likely to kick ass than close-minded, know-it-alls. And I think that the volume and diversity of one’s reading list could be a reasonable indicator of which type of person you are.