Book recommendations have been a silver lining in all the uncertainty of recent weeks, when nearly all my colleagues and friends find ourselves with more "down time" on our hands than we would have ever wanted.
Sharing suggestions of favorite books is one of the most frequent exchanges between members of my community. That exchange is inspiring for its generosity and helpfulness, and it is a commentary on our shared experience as entrepreneurs.
Reading fiction is actually more useful for entrepreneurs than you might think. It not only helps to offer an escape for just a little while, but it can also help stoke the engine of inspiration for your business, and particularly for your interaction with clients and customers. Here are three ways a little pleasure reading can go a long way in business.
1. Look for authors who are local to your clients' geography or culture.
Your clients don't often write books that give you insight into their way of life or their outlook on the world. But there's still a way to tap into that cultural intelligence by seeking out works of fiction your clients may have a connection to, whether it's historically, culturally, or socially.
For example, a few months ago I was hired to emcee one of the most anticipated wine programs of the year, highlighting the diversity of winemakers across Australia. I searched for a book that would help me paint in a few more of the details about the geography of that country and the personalities that inhabit it.
One winemaker from the Macedon Ranges near Melbourne suggested Breath, by Tim Winton, which was intense, raw, and frankly quite difficult to read. The book, which is ostensibly about surfing in some of the most remote and dangerous places in the world, is also about risk, danger and challenging death. It is one of the most poetic descriptions of the power of adrenaline I've ever read.
Did reading the book tell me anything about winemaking in Australia? No. But it served two purposes for my relationship with this client that are useful takeaways for any entrepreneur: it established rapport and served as a conversation starter with just about everyone in the room, and it gave me insight into their cultural imagination. Those two purposes are difficult to quantify, but they nonetheless factor into the equation of a successful professional relationship.
2. Find novels with protaganists that are nothing like you.
As entrepreneurs with a sensitivity to the needs of our clients, we've no doubt imagined their experience or need that inspired our business idea in the first place. Putting ourselves in their shoes leads to identifying a gap or niche in the market that we believe our business can fill.
The skill of imagining the emotions, speech and behavior of another human being isn't easy. But it is enviable and one worth emulating for entrepreneurs and empathic humans. Reading the Flavia de Luce mystery series by Alan Bradley is like a master class in how to understand another person's behavior, or profile their personality.
Flavia de Luce is the pre-teen heroine of Bradley's series, and The Golden Tresses of the Dead is his most recent novel. There are zero points of commonality between Flavia and myself. Here's why I'm currently tearing through each book in the series, however: The author appears to be a middle-aged man who, so far as I can tell, has never lived the life of a precocious, brilliant pre-teen girl, much less one who's tormented by two older sisters and exhibits an uncanny ability to relate to former POWs from World War II. Yet I find Bradley's narrative and dialogue to be fully believable and nearly pitch-perfect.
It's something that, as an entrepreneur, I find encouraging: witnessing the compassion and imagination it takes to put yourself in someone else's shoes, when that someone else is unlike you yet also utterly compelling.
3. Find novels for the pure pleasure of escape.
I should probably be embarrassed, but I'm not, by the number of books on my "done reading" list that have no outwardly redeeming qualities whatsoever. They don't teach me empathy and they don't help me to understand a particular culture or history, as I've described above. What they do, and all they do, is bring me pure pleasure. Louise Penny is genius at this. Her latest mystery is called A Better Man.
Reading for the simple pleasure of it signals rest to me and helps me avoid burnout. Being an entrepreneur is can be a 24/7 gig. If we let it be only that, however, it's a gig that's short-lived.