Sydney, 1 January 2016 – I set a new year’s resolution to read one book per week. That’ll be more than 50 by year’s end.
Indonesia, 10 January 2016 – I’m lying on the beach consuming my first victim, Misbehaving, a book about behavioural economics by Richard Thaler. Entertaining and informative.
Canberra, 1 June 2016 – I’m stuck on Chapter 3, realising that I myself am not behaving as planned. Time to find some time.
“Tsundoku” – Japanese, literally meaning ‘a pile of unread books’
In Zero to One, PayPal co-founder and Facebook’s first investor Peter Thiel asks would-be entrepreneurs, job applicants and students to look for contrarian truths, ‘secrets’ in the world around them. If you can discover facts that nearly no one else believes, you’re setting yourself up for monopoly and success.
I have a secret about books. Their value isn’t in ideas but actionable insights.
What is an actionable insight? It’s a technique, concept or piece of advice that you can implement to improve your life or the lives of others. It’s not simply about understanding a theory. It requires doing something new.
It’s the difference between reading merely to know and reading to create a better world.
This is why I read non-fiction. It’s focus on reality is more conducive than fiction to actionable insights, although we can’t deny that fiction has a lot to teach us about the human condition. Non-fiction just tends to be more actionable.
I finished Richard Thaler’s Misbehaving on the 9th of June. Since then, I’ve chosen to maintain the goal of more than 50 books by the end of the year. This means two books per week. Where is that time?
– the average number of hours a U.S. citizen spends watching TV per day
‘Reading more books’ is on most people’s life to-do lists, but we never quite get around to it. One of the main reasons, we tell ourselves, is that we’re too busy.
If you read 20 pages per day (say, 10 in the morning and 10 before bed), you could finish roughly one book per fortnight. That’s 26 books per year. That could change your life – for about 30 minutes each day.
When you consider how much time we fritter away on social media or Netflix-no-chill, this is completely do-able.
What’s more, it’s a bargain. Some of the world’s greatest men and women have transcribed their deepest thoughts in long form. If anyone complains about a lack of good mentors or teachers, they only need a bookstore.
“It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many.”
– Tim Ferriss, angel investor, podcaster and NYT bestselling author
One of the benefits of reading widely and well is the ability to form connections between disparate fields. Far from becoming a useless generalist or dilettante, someone who can synthesise or conjoin separate concepts is uniquely valuable.
In the business world, such people are known as innovation brokers. To take the nearest example, see how the letters and words in this sentence are evenly-spaced and aesthetically-shaped? This is thanks to Steve Jobs, who tied calligraphy to computing to produce the typography in the first Mac.
In academia, drawing connections is one of the most compelling ways to be original. For instance, Will MacAskill, Oxford professor, proponent of the Effective Altruism movement and, at 29 years of age, possibly the world’s youngest tenured professor of philosophy, based his PhD thesis on an analogy between how to choose the ethical course of action under uncertainty and how votes are aggregated in elections.
30, 000 days – the length of a 90-year human lifespan…in days
The name of this blog is designed to remind us how short life is and not to waste it. And yet, thirty thousand days is long. As Seneca said, “it is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it.” Put together, we should refuse to squander time, but we can afford to think long-term and be growth-oriented. Reading fits these aims nicely.
This blog is partly a cheap trick to use social accountability to hold me to my original goal. It’s also a way to consolidate what I learn, share it with others, and encourage them to do the same.
I’ve chosen to present two actionable insights from each of the books I’ve read. Any more items per book is too many to remember, and this blog is about implementation.
I have three criteria for choosing which insights to preserve. They conveniently fit into the acronym, ‘USE’…
Unique – one or both of my insights may be totally different to what you get out of the same book. But they will reflect the lessons I felt were most important at the time.
Specific – advice like ‘be yourself’ or ‘dream big’ might be inspiring, but it’s too general to be useful. NASA wouldn’t have got the Apollo astronauts to the moon if it had just told them to ‘reach for the stars’ (although apparently, as the saying goes, shooting for the moon lets you land among the stars).
Executable – like a computer program, an actionable insight must be an instruction that is capable of being performed.
Our personalities are a collection of habits. Improving them is worth it. Let’s see what some of the world’s best non-fiction books and greatest humans have to offer.
P.S. If you want to borrow any of the books in this blog just let me know.