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.
Escape Linear Thinking: Read Unusual Things
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:
- Read unusual things.
- Cultivate unusual people.
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.”
Expose Yourself to Some Different Thinking
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.
- The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation
- Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
- The Small BIG: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
- Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
- How to Deliver a Great TED Talk: Presentation Secrets of the World’s Best Speakers
- The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career
- Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
- Thinking, Fast and Slow
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On
- We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity: The Mechanics of Compassion
- The Rare Find: How Great Talent Stands Out
- The Solution Revolution: How Business, Government, and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society’s Toughest Problems
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
- Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising
- Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
- Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan
- Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War
- Albert Einstein: Essays in Humanism
- The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
- Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
- Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
- Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines — and How It Will Change Our Lives
- Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
- The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
- The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
- The Brain That Changes Itself
- The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
- The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King — The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea
- The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army
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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