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Many years ago, during my first startup experience, my co-founder and I coined the term “hedgehog mode” in reference to the way we worked while building the company. The problem was no one else knew what it meant. When we brought in new team members or spoke to investors, we had to explain our methodology all over again.
Years later, Eric Ries wrote “The Lean Startup” and gave a universal definition to a number of the strategies we had been using for years. Suddenly, our team had an easier way to create a shared language that deepened our communication, and we gained even more insights into our strategies than we’d had before.
Since then, by reading business-centric books and more, I have greatly benefitted by utilizing the ideas and definitions in them to accurately describe an activity or practice that I felt was important for everyone on my team to contemplate. With this shared language, we were better able to create a vision for our future while giving us all hope we could reach these new goals. All of this was because I decided to pick up a book that looked interesting.
The more I continued to read, the more I realized how essential frequent reading is to building a business with a strong team. It expands your vocabulary, opens your mind to new pathways and drives inspiration and innovation. And just like eating healthy or working out, its effects are most meaningful when we do it consistently.
1. Build a shared lexicon
When we’re children, we learn new vocabulary through the stories our parents read aloud to us at night. And though the books we read in adulthood may be a bit more sophisticated, their purpose is essentially the same. By reading every day, we are introduced to new vocabulary, including words that may label something we have already been doing (such as the “lean startup movement” I mentioned) or have long been curious about. The more vocabulary we learn, the better our communication will be, allowing us to easily network and engage with our coworkers.
You can pass these lessons on to your team, too. Emphasize learning and create a shared lexicon by offering to buy certain books for team members and shipping them directly to their homes. Using books on specific topics of interest is a great way to create a shared understanding of your goals without spending hours telling each person individually.
Communicating effectively is a crucial skill for all leaders, and reading is one of the most effective ways to expand your Rolodex of communication skills.
2. Foster a growth mindset
A growth mindset is one of the first things I look for when hiring new employees. I am almost always going to hire a person who may know less about the job but displays a willingness to grow, learn and put in the work over a more experienced but pompous candidate. Reading inherently fosters a growth mindset. You are exposed to new ideas and new ways of doing things with every book you pick up — some you will agree with, and some you may not. Regardless, what matters is that we stay humble and open to the fact that there will always be people who know more than us about a particular topic or, at the very least, have a new perspective on it.
Furthermore, when we read, our unconscious mind naturally chews on the material we put in our brain, even when we aren’t actively reading or even thinking about the content itself. Once we get into the growth-based mindset and are feeding our minds with new and exciting information, our brains take off, leading to creative problem-solving and far-reaching growth.
3. Unlock inspiration
Reading can bring us back to that childlike sense of discovery and inspiration — the belief that superheroes just might be real, Santa Claus does exist and magic is possible. Regardless of where you stand on superheroes, inspiration and imagination are key to business, spurring creativity and facilitating progress toward our goals. And when we’re searching for inspiration, there is no better place to look than a book.
When we read about how someone has persevered through personal struggle, we are inspired to continue on ourselves. Or, when a CEO details their rise to the top, we may gain new insight into how to solve problems in our own business. There is nothing new under the sun, and if there is something you are working on or struggling with, the chances are that someone else has struggled with it, too — they may have even written a whole book about it. By reading about how others have gone about paths similar to our own, we may even be able to avoid costly mistakes down the line.
Whether you are growing a business, building a team or product, or developing a new skill, reading is a great way to unlock ideas and build excitement about the potential for you or your team to accomplish your goals.
How to begin
You may think, “I don’t have time to read every day.” And though this may sound counter to everything I’ve just written, you don’t have to — at least, you don’t at first. Like building any new habit, begin by setting small manageable goals. Read books that are genuinely interesting to you and commit to reading one chapter first thing in the morning or before you go to bed a few nights a week. If a book isn’t grabbing your attention, put it aside and try something else. Once you get into the habit and start reaping its rewards, you will find yourself reading more and more, eager to gulp up every new insight you can.
Our first-grade teachers weren’t lying when they impressed upon us how essential reading is to our development. But somewhere along the way, with the hustle and bustle that comes with life in business, we put that advice aside. If we can make space for even 20 minutes of reading per day, the effects can be profound. A commitment to reading improves communication, a willingness to grow and a sense of inspiration — and when you combine all three, you will find that you and your team will become unstoppable.