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In an issue of Strategy+Business, management guru Tom Peters suggests a number of books he considers valuable to read. In the interview, he quotes a respected business leader friend who argues that the No. 1 problem with big company CEOs is “they don’t read enough.”
While it’s impossible to stay on top of everything, Peters urges us to read, voraciously:
“I’ve read my way to the point where I am willing to say confidently that (a) I am not that far behind; and (b) because I am reading, I am ahead of a lot of people who ought to be way ahead of me.”
I’ve long urged lawyers to read more than legal updates, legislative alerts and things directly related to their billable work. Mostly, I encouraged reading business publications, business news, and news specific to clients’ industries so you’d have a more relevant and useful context — first to understand issues from the clients’ and prospects’ perspectives, but also to develop a broader context based on a greater awareness of the business world.
Peters has persuaded me that, while I was on the right track, it was far too narrow. Yes, it’s important to keep your skills fresh and to develop context. However, it’s also important to escape the linear thinking for which lawyers seem hard-wired, and that makes it hard for them to absorb seemingly unrelated information and synthesize fresh ideas from it.
Perhaps this is what people mean by thinking outside the box. You can’t think outside the box if everything you’re exposed to is inside a single box.
Before I got into the business of coaching lawyers, I worked at a prominent sports marketing agency. We sold athlete endorsements and corporate sponsorship for professional tennis tournaments. My first day on the job, the CEO gave me a wallet card containing 10 principles he wanted me to embrace. The first eight have long faded from memory, but the final two stuck with me and have proved to be very wise:
The first one makes it easier to do the second. In fact, in Peters’ advice above, to his (a) and (b) there was also a (c):
“I can talk to people who are kind of famous … and give them six things to read they haven’t read, which gets me through cocktail parties. There is a strategy, and the strategy is to read.”
The more diverse your reading, the more interesting you are, and the greater the number of people you can make at least an initial connection with.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve learned a little bit about a lot of legal stuff. Similarly, business stuff. I’m a mile wide and an inch deep. Not enough to create any competition for lawyers or CEOs, but enough to establish a modicum of relevance with almost any lawyer I meet. This is partly the result of spending time with so many lawyers and probing to understand their practices, but also of voracious reading on many topics.
After his “cocktail party” advice, Peters added, “If you read 100 books on a topic, you’ll get a lot smarter.”
I’m under no illusion that time-strapped lawyers will read 100 books on a topic, much less one. I do believe that even those who must bill 1,800 hours, manage a practice and generate business can squeeze out some time to indulge a bit of intellectual curiosity.
If you want to make it easier for people to connect with you, get yourself a Kindle or iPad. Download samples of a lot of unusual titles, expose yourself to some different thinking and buy the books you like.
Below are links to some books that I’ve found interesting and useful.
P.S. Peters offers what I interpret as a caution to successful rainmakers considering a lateral move. Of the book “Chasing Stars,” by Boris Groysberg, he says, “I loved its conclusion: If you are a superstar in Place X and you move to Place Y, kiss superstardom goodbye.”
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