Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to manage the load of unread books ?

Sayta Nadella, the recently appointed CEO of Microsoft, mentioned these words in his first memo to employees-

Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things .

This brings forward an interesting point about how to view a pile of unread books. As one can infer from Nadella's words, these could be viewed as a sign of one's curiosity or thinking opposite, it could be viewed as a sign of procrastination too. How could one better manage unread books ?

Clarify your purpose of reading (don't do directionless reading)

Simon Senik in his book Start with Why says- 
"When most people think, act or communicate they do so from outside in, from WHAT to WHY. And for good reason- they go from clearest thing to the fuzziest thing"

Most clearest thing in reading is which book to read but the fuzziest part is why read the chosen book. We tend to know- what we read, even think of How we read it, but it would be a mistake not thinking about Why we read the chosen stuff. What we eventually want out of our reading efforts greatly impacts how we do it. As an example, if we choose to read for knowledge, we will take notes while reading. If its reading for pleasure, we tend to simply go with the flow. If we are reading to teach someone, we will organize the information accordingly in our minds. 

Have reading goals
Having a reading goal not only helps one remain focused but also adds accountability in the process. The reading goal should not only be closely tied to the purpose of your reading but to reduce the load of unread books it is usually worthwhile having a timebound goal. The essence of timebound goal could be understood from this quote [3] from Prakash Iyer-
If you read for just half an hour everyday, you could finish a 250-page book in just two weeks' time. That's twenty-six books in a year. A hundred books in the next four years.”

If one chooses to think this way, the pile suddenly looks less cumbersome.

Don't pressurize yourself to read complete book
Once the purpose of your reading is clarified and goals established, it gives you ample direction not only on what to read but also on what to omit. Unlike what Steve Jobs did to music i.e. making it unbundled and enabling selling single songs than the entire albums, there is no such equivalent available yet for books. The books come as a complete set with all chapters. This organization may prompt readers to consume it entirely. One ought to remember that like a music album which comprises of good songs and not-so-good ones, a book usually has good chapters and not-so-good ones. So committing self to read the chapters that bring in maximum value and omitting the ones that don't may be a good way forward.

Don't let the sight of unread books overwhelm you
Unread books pile may evoke a sight of unfinished business leading to a negative feeling about something that ought to be done but is not done. It may give one a feeling of being "behind". Remember that negative thinking is a choice and so is positive thinking. Such a pile creates positive atmosphere of being surrounded by books.
The popularity of ebook readers and 1-click ordering and delivery of books purchase and delivery innovation means that one can buy and collect books with fair ease. This also means your unread book stock can get significantly higher than the physical books. The key to truncating the pile is to just start reading.

Do you agree ?

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Being passionately curious

One of my tested beliefs have been that-
"If you have to get inspired, then don't look too far- your immediate surroundings would have a lot to seek inspiration from."

I am a great admirer of Mark Templeton, the legendary CEO of Citrix Inc. And this admiration has a lot less
to do with the fact that he is a CEO (which is great in itself) but it stems more from the way he conducts himself despite being a CEO. I recently stumbled upon one of his quotes on Twitter, which said

"A lot of people will have facts and information. I'm looking for wisdom." and he further adds somewhere that he looks for "scars" while hiring.

My humble understanding of what he meant by scars here is the phases of bad judgments in one's career, something we simply prefer to call as failures. We, being humans can't avoid scars and can only learn from them. As one of the quote I like says-

"Effectiveness comes through good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. And experience comes from bad judgment."

So we are really looking at a cycle here. There is another trait that makes us effective not only in organization but in almost everything we do. To understand that, let me put forward another quote from Mark Templeton-
"People who are curious will develop themselves, They will discover things, They'll invent things."

So the skill that i am referring to here is Curiosity. Moving away from quotes, and looking for inspiration around, i looked at my son few days back. He is 4 and just passed Pre-Nursery. And as a part of his course curriculum he was required to count till 30. I was working with him towards that when he asked me a question, which meant- "Dad- Why does 15 comes after 14 and not 12?". Let’s not get into what i answered him. My guess is that my answer would have been as good as most of yours. J

But the main point that i understood from this instance is that kids are not just "innocently curious" but they are "passionately curious". I don't remember when was the last time i questioned the reasoning behind the sequencing of numbers or for that matter i probably never did. I think as we grow up, our life's experiences crystallizes our thought processes and we form our own way to understand the world. And as our thoughts get more solidified, we tend to compartmentalize things that we know and the ones that we don’t know. And we never question things that we think we know.

The whole essence of curiosity is recognizing a gap in knowledge. Coming to corporate life, where we know we have to be curious like Mark Templeton's above quote suggested but one way to measure if we were really passionately curious is to count how many questions we asked ourselves every day. Was it 1, 2, 10 or none? How many answers did we seek? How many answers that i tried to find that helped me understand the technology better? Ok. Not only technology but also my team members better.

I have heard people say that - As we grow higher, the skills that differentiate us are not only the hefty technical skills but taking cue from Mark Templeton, for most part are the skills that we used to exhibit so effortlessly as a kids (Read: curiosity). Closing in on with Satya Nadella's recent quote that he used to describe himself during the first communication as a Microsoft CEO

"Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things.”

Since I promised that I will write about the work-place behaviors in the coming posts, just wanted to assure that this post also conveys some message about work-place behavior. If we start considering curiosity as a behavior that should enable us to start thinking that this is something that is within ourselves to change. And we can be better at curiosity by just seeking more answers. And how do we seek more answers- by asking more questions. First to self, then to the world around!

Note: This article is a modified version of speech i recently gave at a local event i was involved in.

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