Reading my way to a great year

What’s the single most valuable thing you can do for your career this year?

Last weekend while anti-lockdown protests raged just streets away, I spent several hours in our garden digging up several generations of plants and rubble and – particularly at the points when my young boys gave up working with me – listened to an audiobook.

This month I’ve been finishing David Epstein’s Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (↗️). As you’d guess from the title, the general premise is that the most consistently successful life and career path comes from “sampling widely” in education and experience – not from the early, deep specialisation of chess prodigies or child sporting superstars – they indeed are the Outliers.

A world of wicked problems calls for individuals who can lean on a broad range of experiences, who aren’t afraid to quit and try another approach, and who’ll creatively apply their broad experience to reach creative solutions. Does that sound like you? Epstein contends:

  • The problems we typically face require a mix of vertical-thinking specialists and lateral-thinking generalists.
  • We learn who we are when we try new things; we learn in practice, not in theory.
  • We shouldn’t be afraid to quit – we shouldn’t celebrate persistence (or ‘grit’) for its own sake.

Education is a big part of developing that journey, and for me that’s all about reading. I consistently find that a great book has an uncanny ability to stretch my thinking – to place me deep into a new context and challenge my deeply held beliefs.This year a sample of the juicy nonfiction morsels that I’ve chewed on have included:

  • Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most () – Greg McKeown’s follow-up to Essentialism
  • The Bomber Mafia (↗️) – the very engaging (yet perhaps light on accuracy) account by Malcolm Gladwell of the history of WWII American bombing thinking and strategy.
  • Two from Niall Ferguson (whom you might know from the book and TV series The Ascent of Money), Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (↗️), and Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe (↗️)
  • Working Backwards: Insights, Stories and Secrets from Inside Amazon (↗️) by early Amazon leaders Colin Bryar and Bill Carr.
  • Queued up next is Noise (↗️) by Daniel Kahneman et al – you might recall Kahneman as the author of the incredibly thought-provoking Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Never been able to really get into (or stick in the habit of) reading? For me the secret is audiobooks and finding the right setting – definitely not sitting or lying down (zzzz!), but either walking, cycling, or (preferably) gardening.

My Audible monthly subscription feels like a small investment – about the same as Netflix yet far more edifying, and the ATO pays back a chunk of any work-related “listens”. Is developing a wide (or deep) reading habit going to be the key to your career best year?

How are you going to get started?