Warning, this is a bit of a rant. There was a post this morning that was quite popular called How I Consume Books. In it, the author makes the point that he prefers audiobooks for fiction to "save time" and that to maximize his consumption of non-fiction, he takes notes and collects them in a bunch.
The author can read books however whatever he wants-- I have no qualms about people doing what they need to do for their goals. However, if we think one level higher to why we read (I'll explain in a second), his techniques seem to be missing the mark.
I'm arguing that articles like the one referenced are a sign of how we overoptimize, and that the marginal gains that are being sought out with these techniques aren't worth it.
Look, here's something almost everybody knows and nearly no internalizes because it's a strange realization: in terms of density of applicable knowledge on a page by page level, books are no longer the best medium.
Let's take non-fiction for example, which should have more "useful knowledge" than fiction books. Most people consuming non-fiction are reading either business books, memoirs, self help literature, or textbooks. Only the last one was designed to pack the knowledge in-- every paragraph should provide some information, whether theoretical or applicable.
The others in that list are usually filled with narratives and stories that meander around a certain point, ultimately revealed in the last paragraph of a chapter. The average 200-300 page non-fiction book of that nature will have one to three actionable ideas.
If people were really looking to apply advice from a non-fiction book, it's actually much more straightforward to google the notes, watch a youtube video, or listen to a talk from the author than to read the book.
The same goes for fiction. The idea that you read fiction to efficiently gain knowledge of a concept is ridiculous. Usually these ideas are a few societal observations that are reinforced in 300-500 pages of imaginary events. To go into Harry Potter looking for sage wisdom is a bit like joining a startup to get rich-- very small chance it'll happen in reality, and it's more about the ride and experience.
So why do people actually read? It's the stories-- humans are hardwired to love narratives that make sequential and logical sense. It's all about letting your mind relax, enjoying the events as they unfold, and letting the big ideas seep into your subconscious naturally. Someone did this, so this happened. This person approached something this way, and met this person, and this was the result. Our brains love this.
If you're collecting notes and bundling them to refer back to them, you're overoptimizing. These notes will probably never feel like re-reading a non-fiction book because you're necessarily missing out on the backgrounds and stories that were provided, and thus won't be satisfying the deep human craving that draws us to such works in the first place.
Similarly, if you're rushing through a piece of great literature or switching to a different medium entirely just to "get the knowledge", you're also trying too hard to maximize. If you wanted the raw techniques, advice, or wisdom, you can find them in an abundance of summaries, videos, or short articles.
Here's what I'm saying-- just read the book however you want, without worrying if you're "getting anything" out the experience.
Are you enjoying it? Then you are! And that's good enough.
You know careers take off, just gotta be patient.
These words came from Kendrick Lamar.
Yep, that Kendrick Lamar. The man behind HiiiPoWeR, Swimming Pools, Humble, and many more huge hits. If there's one guy who can lay a claim to king of the rap game, it's him.
But did you know he started rapping and making music at just 8 years old? It was when he witnessed Tupac and Dr. Dre film California Love. From then on, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
He didn't achieve commercial success, however, until Section.80 came out in 2011-- meaning he had to hone his craft for 16 years before blowing up.
The Speed of the Engine
How many of us in software dream of moving up to the detriment of today? Have you ever spent more time thinking about your next role than getting good at your current one?
Here's the truth-- careers are thought of in years and decades, not weeks and months. Despite this, smart and ambitious people tend to seek ways to speed things up. Much of it can be attributed to a so-called "digital comparison trap"-- the idea that the internet gives us an impossible standard to attain in every matchup.
This afflicts developers especially, who are in constant connection with this endless stream of perfection and achievement. It's simply too easy to feel bad about where you're at and headed when you have TechCrunch showing you multi-billion dollar exits, Instagram overloading you with physical perfection, and TeamBlind destroying your soul.
What to do instead of sprinting to the finish line? Pull back.
Slow it down. Instead of trying to learn multiple technologies at once, focus on one language or framework a year. Rather than gunning for a promotion this year, be alright if you get it next year instead. If your side projects haven't bloomed in six months, take some time off and come revisit it.
You have plenty of time to achieve everything you want.
Some final words from Jeff Bezos:
If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people…Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue.
Action item today: find a way you've been rushing through life and see if you can slow it down.
Ever found a book full of unexpected insights and wisdom? I recently finished reading one of those-- The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone, and found it to be chocked full of wisdom– primarily because it detailed the mindset and attitude of Jeffrey P. Bezos. As most know, Bezos is the masterful founder and CEO of Amazon.com, where you’ve likely made a purchase from in the past.
The book was primarily about Amazon’s early founding, operations, survival, and growth; but it does talk quite a bit about Jeff. I thought there were some fantastic take-aways from the book about how he approached life and career, and thought it would great to jot it down for future reference.
I’ve always admired Jeff’s tenacity and leadership, and it was great to get a close look at what made his career thus far so remarkable.
Most people don’t know that Jeff was actually an uber-successful financier even before Amazon ever existed. Prior to become an entrepreneur, he was a computer scientist at the infamous D.E. Shaw, building computer software for traders.
It wasn’t until he stumbled upon a report talking about the internet’s hyper growth did he apply his (now popular) risk minimization model: believing that when he turned 80 years old, he’d greater regret missing out on the internet boom than leaving a cushy Wall Street gig. This brings us to our first lesson from Mr. Bezos:
Applying the Risk Minimization Model to most people’s problems instantly resolves them. At age 80, what would you regret more: missing out on a night with some random at a bar, or missing out on the love of your life?
Taking a job that pays 5% more, or contributing something really great to the world?
Getting that next promotion, or being able to travel and see the planet?
These are decisions that are made easy, and to Bezos, it was a no brainer: an computer scientist from Princeton, with a decade’s experience in finance, he would always be able to return to Wall Street; but at the rate the internet was moving, he may miss his chance to be one of the primary movers.
Additionally, Amazon didn’t make a profit until over a decade after its inception, and while investors and spectators were tense and up-in-arms over being in the red, Jeff never flinched. Numerous times in the book, he has described long-term thinking as one of the most valuable abilities we have as human beings, and truly believes that it’s easier to succeed in this way.
Instead of thinking about the next few years, he encourages thinking about the next decade or two, which should theoretically give you an advantage because so few people and companies do so. Jeff’s commitment to long-term thinking has also been demonstrated in his investment in the 10,000-year clock.
I can’t recall the exact number, but Stone made it clear that much of Bezos’ thinking and way of life was derived from the multitudes of books that he has read. In The Everything Store, Stone is constantly referencing books as Jeff’s source of inspiration, knowledge, and entertainment– and claims it’s one of the reasons Amazon did so well with books. He simply loved and understood them deeply.
At the end of the book, Stone kindly makes a list of Jeff’s favorite books that “have nurtured Amazon since its creation and shaped its culture and strategy”, and include classics such as The Remains of the Day, Sam Walton: Made in America, Memos from the Chairman and The Mythical Man-Month. This not surprising in the least– where better to learn about business and life than through the written wisdom of those who’ve lived it?
Interestingly enough, Jeff also claims that he actually learns more from fiction than nonfiction novels. This is something that’s been echoed from by the likes of Tim Ferriss and others. Perhaps my next venture will be into fiction reading, and what kind of knowledge one can expect and obtain from that.
It’s hard not to see Amazon’s data-driven nature. Metrics are kept on everything: employee productivity, budgets, cash flow, logistics, call center wait times, etc. I believe Peter Drucker once said that “what is measured is improved”.
Bezos employs this theory radically, making all decisions based on cold, hard numbers– which, most will agree, is the best way to be decisive. This belief is also held at other great and innovative companies, including Google and Bloomberg.
Bezos treats his work and life like a game, and allows himself to have fun with both through experimentation. When there are so many metrics kept, it is hard not to see it as an input–>game–>output format.
Such a mentality affords the control at helm the opportunity to step back and not tie themselves emotionally to the outcome. Jeff employs this beautifully, constantly changing strategies and employees, and later demanding intense self-reflection of himself to best himself, and Amazon, as best as he can.
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