Ask the most successful people in the world what their secret is and a huge percentage of them will mention reading. But billionaires and founders don't just get through a lot of books (though some of them get through an extraordinary number) Many of them also have specific tricks and practices to remember more of what they read and leverage that knowledge to improve their lives.
Both Bill Gates and Elon Musk suggest working your way from big-picture ideas down to the details of a field by beginning with broad overviews and then digging into more niche titles. Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama recommend making time for fiction (science is on their side). Tim Ferriss has an elaborate system for annotating the books he reads, while author and economist Tyler Cowen recommends reading "in clusters" and giving up on any book that doesn't grab your attention.
And now another billionaire super reader has shared a series of fascinating tips to get the most out of your reading. On The Knowledge Project podcast, Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison digs into the specifics of his reading habits and offers three ideas worth trying.
1. Read what your heroes read.
A significant chunk of the interview revolves around how Collison chooses what to read next. Some of his advice is familiar (like Cowen, he's big on abandoning so-so books), but one idea is less discussed and very useful: Don't read only books written by the people you most admire--also read the books that helped form them.
"The other thing worth pointing out is the line from Basho, the Japanese poet," Collison says. "You shouldn't follow the people you most admire, but you should follow what they most admire. I try to do that."
When he's looking for ideas for what to read, Collison looks to the people he feels are doing great work or producing the most interesting ideas and asks: What did they read to become who they are? The resulting books are often obscure, he says, but off-the-beaten path ideas are often the most unique and valuable.
2. Surround yourself with physical books.
"Read books are far less valuable than unread ones," author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written. He recommends your library "should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there."
What's the point of hoarding dead-tree books in the era of e-books? Taleb argues that having physical books around reminds you of all the things you don't know and could learn. It keeps you humble and hungry for knowledge.
It seems Collison largely agrees. He confesses on the podcast that he probably starts only half of the books he buys (and that his home, including his bed and kitchen, is strewn with unread books). Interior designers (and significant others) might complain about the clutter, but Collison says these unread books are a reminder of all the interesting titles out there to explore. Often he gets an idea about what to read next when an article, conversation, or even stubbed toe reminds him of a book in his pile.
"Part of the reason that I still really value physical books is because, for now at least, we still exist in physical space and it creates a kind of idea space for you that makes productive collisions more likely to happen," Collison explains.
3. Write reviews for friends.
Collison offers advice not just on how to choose what books to start, but also what to do when you finish a truly great one. Occasionally, he says, when he's read something excellent, he writes a quick review for his friends and sends it over via email or Google Doc. Sometimes he just sends snippets of the text and a recommendation.
This isn't just a kindness to friends. It's also a tool for processing and remembering what you read. "The act of summarization aids a kind of synthesis and better recollection," Collison claims. As a final benefit, your note is likely to elicit further reading suggestions from people you admire and who know you well. It's a triple win.
If these sound like ideas worth stealing to you, take a listen to Collison discussing his reading habits in the YouTube clip below.