The Strategy of Reading Books

Just like everything in an entrepreneur’s life, there is a lot of strategy to the choices we make. In fact, this is a human proverb: your daily choices are the cause of your eternal successes. An entrepreneur’s life is not magic. It is hard work, and few put in the work to plan to make the right choices that lead to success.

This wisdom is equally true when you choose to do something as mundane as read a book.

I’ve always been troubled by the oft-purported claim: ‘CEOs read on average 4 – 5 books every month.’ This has always seemed like a distraction. It’s a distraction from the purpose of a book and why we choose to read books, or choose not to read books. Let’s be honest, there are few good books to read. So I did some research on this claim and found a great article on the claim that CEOs read 4 – 5 books every month. Turns out this claim is an urban myth, and Jeremey Donovan explains why.

My main issue with this claim is that it is based on ‘volume theory.’ Like many pitches being made to service-based firm owners, a higher volume of anything is professed as better. “We help firm owners get 10 new solid high-paying clients every month” or “Our funnel strategy can help you create and earn more leads with no personal involvement.” Even service-based entrepreneurs still believe that more clients and more revenue is what you need to cure their ills. This false volume strategy is so detrimental that it distracts firm owners from actually doing the work to structure, order, and plan their companies in ways that will ensure their success. More is not always better.

Similarly, there is a distracting theory on cause and effect as well. The cause of reading 4 – 5 books per month does not necessarily lead someone to become a CEO. However, the claim that CEOs read 4 – 5 books per month seems to imply that the CEO is a CEO because they read 4 – 5 books per month. Rather, the opposite is probably true. Because a CEO was wise enough to get to the point of running a successful company over a long period of time, it means they now have the time and wisdom to devote their life to reading 4 – 5 books per month (or some similar number). The cause and effect, also discussed in Jeremey Donovan’s article above, can be stated in a way that can imply an opposite conclusion. Again, this is very distracting because it can lead someone who wants to be a CEO to make a New Year’s resolution to begin reading 4 – 5 books a month. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s a foolish volume and cause-and-effect strategy.

Back to reading books. Reading a higher volume of books will not make you wiser. Rather, making selective choices to read the right books will transform you over time. Now, of course, if you are a successful CEO, and you have created the right space in your life, then you may get to read more books. Or you may not. But the volume of books you read is no magical key to your success (a main point of the article referenced earlier).

Books support your journey. Instead of a volume strategy, the right books can be a companion to your journey of entrepreneurial growth. That is, if you are becoming a narrow expert advisor in the healthcare industry, then you probably need to choose books that will challenge your mind and thoughts to aid you on the journey you are on. I am (and will be for the rest of my life) on a journey to learn more and more about the strategy, structure and care of businesses (and their entrepreneurial owners) in the service industry. Since I have narrowed my professional life to focus on this path, then I need to be careful to choose books that help me gain additional wisdom and challenge me on my particular journey. In this way, books support my journey, as opposed to me being distracted by an urban myth to simply read a higher volume of books. Another particular aspect of my journey is that I am becoming dumber and dumber about many, many things (since I am letting others focus on those things), yet I am becoming more intuitive, skilled, and an expert in one particular aspect of my career. So as my professional journey narrows, so must my choice of the education I take in. As an example, devoting time to obtain an MBA would be one of the most foolish uses of my time at this stage in my career. I’m not saying an MBA degree is wrong, or that a book you may choose to read is a wrong choice for you. I’m making a point that the choices you make in your career matter, and they need not be based on false volume strategies or distracting cause-and-effect strategies. Here is my conclusion to this paragraph: wise entrepreneurs get better at choice-making over time. And the basis of any good choice is knowing what not to choose. Knowing what not to read, where not to go, who not to hire, what not to invest in, etc. is your path to success.

Trends suck. Knowing what not to choose will allow you to avoid foolish trends that our economy is constantly putting into the marketplace. There are startups right now trying to convince you of the urban myth of how many books CEOs read per month. This is a trend, and will help you yet not be the transformation you may hope it will be. Customers fall for trends, but entrepreneurs don’t (or rather, shouldn’t). So weigh trends heavily so you can lead your clients through the mountain of market trends your clients have to wade through. A volume of poor choices does not lead to wise outcomes. Trends are distracting and hurtful to your career. Beware of trends.

As you grow and mature, you need to choose your books wisely. You need to stop reading books halfway through that are not what you thought they were. You need to stop picking up books that everyone suggests on Facebook, and you need to weigh heavily whether someone’s Top 10 Book List is the same list that matches your strategic choices in your career, and you need to reconsider whether the broad-based information from newspapers are worthy of your time. We’re all on a particular trajectory in our careers. There certainly is a strategy to reading books, especially as you mature as an entrepreneur. But there is a greater strategy in saying no more decisively to the wrong books over time as you mature. Happy reading!

Jason is the Founder of Thriveal and the Chief Innovative Officer of his CPA firm, Blumer & Associates. He is the co-host of the Thrivecast and The Businessology Show and speaks and writes frequently for CPAs and creatives, his firm’s chosen niche. Jason loves to watch documentaries on just about anything. He lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and their three children.

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