It's the start of July, which means it's time for a mid-year check in about those business and personal development goals we all set last December.
Last year-- just like every year in recent memory-- I set an ambitious reading goal of the number of books I'd like to read in the coming twelve months. It's a high number this year -- 80 -- but not as high as some, and my self-imposed guidelines are very relaxed. Any genre. Audiobooks count. And no minimum page requirement.
What's particularly interesting about the list of titles on this year's reading list is how few of them would be categorized as a "business book." (But sure, there are some, topped in my opinion by Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, by Brené Brown and Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, by Chip Conley.)
Despite this relative lack of focus on business reading, however, and despite the flow on this site of must-read book recommendations for entrepreneurs, my business is enjoying its most robust year yet.
So what is it, then? What sort of secret sauce infuses the books that are on the reading list, that have no doubt subconsciously-- and in some cases quite overtly-- contributed to the momentum and flow that our business currently rides?
The old cliché seems to resonate here: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
In other words, this year's books have somehow found their way into my hands at exactly the right time, with exactly the right content I needed to take in. Here are a few of those themes that have fueled the fire of my reading habit and business so far this year.
Create Your Own Incubation Period
Researchers call it the "incubation period," which is that break we take from thinking about a problem. It's also when the solution or inspiration strikes to a tough challenge or niggling puzzle. As entrepreneurs, opening a book is one of the easiest and fun ways to create our own incubation period.
My list is full of books-- mainly historical fiction, often with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure-- that qualify as entertainment, pure and simple. Sure, I absorb some history along the way and I'm often drawn in by the humor and dialogue within these fictional works. But their most appealing literary value is as "breaks" from the much more intense concentration of my work.
Recommendations: The American Agent, by Jacqueline Winspear; How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny; and The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog, by Elizabeth Peters.
Follow the Leader
This time I'm not using "leader" in the sense of "leadership," but in the sense of one book segwaying to another. If you've picked up the scent of one particular author or style that speaks to you, chances are good that there's more to learn (and more to enjoy) if you keep going down that path.
For example, I was so enamored by Elizabeth Gilbert's new novel, City of Girls, that I also picked up other books of hers to read or re-read. I've started listening to her short, non-fiction book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and it has inspired more fresh ideas on work-related topics than many "business" books with a capital B.
Take the Long, More Entertaining Way Around
"Following the leader" is one way for your entrepreneurial reading habit to flourish. But another way, a more circuitous path, can be as equally rewarding. Try staying on top of the most recent, worthwhile releases in your subject area.
My business is about data for the wine industry and a book such as Wine. All the Time: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking, by Marissa A. Ross, is an entertaining and insightful read from a fresh voice in the industry.
The other, "data analysis side" of the table is not my area of expertise, so I'm grateful for fresh approaches that make the subject more engaging and, frankly, entertaining and fun. This year, on break from an analytics conference, I stumbled upon Dear Data: A Friend in 52 Weeks of Postcards, by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec.
It's a very basic narrative to follow and the authors draw their visualizations in analog fashion, with pen and paper. Both of those factors bring an über-technical subject like data visualization down to earth and humanize it by making it intimate and tangible. It's an unexpected and endearing approach, which means it's also engaging even for a non-specialist like myself who needs familiarity with the language of the topic.
The common denominator as an entrepreneur for these reads? The books are entertaining. If I'm going to break away from my desk in order to read, which I recommend regardless, it should at least be to read something fun.