The importance of reading

I’ve just come from a presentation Seedcamp from Richard Reed, one of the founders of Innocent Drinks. For those that don’t know Innocent is a 15 year old startup that makes smoothies and veggie pots. They are now 90% owned by Coca Cola and the company has been valued at ‘over $0.5bn’.

Richard gave us his ten top tips for being a successful entrepreneur. They were all good, but I’m going to highlight #8 “Read, listen, ask and steal”. It’s perhaps less important than some of the others (e.g. #1 Keep the main thing the main thing) but it is more often overlooked, particularly the reading part. There’s a lot of stuff written for entrepreneurs these days advising them to seek mentors and listen to advice from experts, but we could all definitely do more of that. Stealing ideas from other companies is also a great idea – although it’s not really stealing as they still have the idea afterwards. You haven’t taken it from them.

But reading is something that many entrepreneurs struggle to find the time for and doesn’t get mentioned much. That’s kind of strange to me because reading is actually easier to do than getting out and meeting people and is at least as powerful (although not a substitute). I’m talking about reading blogs and business books which help to understand and dissect the world. Great examples abound, including Erik Reis’ Lean Startup and our own favourite Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test. These books help you look at aspects of your business in a new way and find creative solutions to move you forward.

Isaac Newton famously said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. The best way to do that is by reading.

  • Rait Ojasaar

    I believe there are a couple of reasons why entrepreneurs fall behind in reading. I know I have, because I had to pause my Amazon orders at some point, since the unread books were just piling up (I’ve now resumed my book fetish).

    First, in the age of increasingly diminishing attention spans, it is increasingly difficult to find not only time, but also uninterrupted focus to read longer texts. One can always skim the pages to cross the book off the reading list, but that would be reading for the wrong reason.

    Secondly, there are so many books and texts to choose from that it often creates paralysis. Again, my Amazon cart is full of “save for later” books that seemed important enough at one point, but it takes special effort to ensure that these books aren’t superficial, biased, or just extended versions of author’s CV.

    Now when it comes to getting out and meeting someone, then you find yourself driving two way streets instead of one-way. It takes two for tango. The whole situation is much less linear, which sparks excitement. Also, meetings tend to have more short-term benefits than reading. It tends to take great effort and change of habits to put the newly learned knowledge into practice. But meetings often provide instant gratification, such as compliments or business proposals from the person you meet.

    Reading is like solving chess puzzles on your own to up your theoretical skills, while meeting someone relates more to a live chess duel where you learn by doing. Both are important, just different practices is all.

    …with all the above said, I will now continue reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”

  • Thanks Rait. You are dead right that translating insight into action after reading books is difficult and a disincentive to read. Interesting.

  • Absolutely agree with Rait. Finding actionable stuff is harder than read them. So I ended up reading only the books that were recommended by founders searching for the same answers than I was looking for.

  • Seems like there’s an opportunity in somehow making the advice in books actionable. Many have tried this already, I guess.