I notice my family, friends and acquaintances, not reading books.
Some of them don’t have time in their lives right now, to dedicate an afternoon to even begin to read from a book they bought many years ago. This blog is not for them.
A few don’t like to read books, they tell me. They have apparently lost interest in the written word. I am writing this piece, directly looking at them. Yes, I know who you are.
I am kidding. I promise, I won’t preach why you should read. Nor would I prescribe a bunch of books on this last day of the year. I am kidding again.
This is more about two moments from my 2021 trip around the sun. One acted as an anchor, giving me a sense of what I loved doing, and another that brought out the force in me, and gave direction.
The Greeks again
In February this year, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I saw a tweet by a speech consultant @JohnfBowe. His article explained how two thousand years ago, the Greeks figured out that public speaking – the art of rhetoric – is a foundational skill to be acquired by everyone. Yeah, for once, it is not all about philosophy when it comes to the ancients.
I ended up buying his book. It begins with the story of his cousin whose life takes a dramatic turn after joining Toastmasters. The guy never left basement until he was fifty nine years old, but soon got married, and overcame shyness (not necessarily in that order), helped by the world’s largest organisation devoted to the art of public speaking.
John’s book made me reflect on the way I do presentations. Content is king, they say. I no longer start my preparations researching for what to include. The recipient(s) of the message take centre stage, more than the message itself. Audience is king.
I reached out to the nearest club in Canberra. I wasn’t shy, but curious. I was welcomed into the Woden Valley Toastmasters club as a guest, a pivotal moment for me this year. I soon became a member, learning how to talk more clearly, persuasively but mainly, to keep the focus on my audience, what would be valuable to them. And to ramble less.
Incidentally, around the same time in March, I got an opportunity to present SAP’s product strategy at a customer’s town hall meeting addressing roughly 150 members of their IT team. I remember spending more time on the question: What do I want them to think and feel, when I finish talking.
A random tweet guided me to the book about ancient Greeks, eventually taking me to the Toastmasters, on my way to a successfully delivered talk.
Winning is the (only) way
Later in July, I faced a sudden bout of confusion and uncertainty about the way my role was perceived at work.
One book brought back the fighter in me. It wasn’t a random tweet this time, but a slice of podcast conversation with the NBA star Chris Bosh talking about a book that shaped his thinking: The way and the power – Secrets of Japanese Strategy. Its about how a samurai master deals with confusion and uncertainty; one who controls his mind. One who would not lose. I ordered it immediately.
I can’t say much more. But reading a couple of chapters, it felt as if I had flipped a switch in my mind. I woke up one morning and decided to win. Not merely adapt or survive or manage a situation. To win.
You want the whole meal, not juice
Why bother with a book these days, if one can acquire such insights through tweets and podcasts? I sense, reading a book – even skimming through a few pages – is way different than trying to grasp ideas distilled by someone else – a secondary process. It is the difference between eating a wholesome meal and drinking a juiced up version.
A book could change the way you think about this world. Your world.
Three sixty five days from now, on another new year eve, I will want to hear from you about the pages and words that influenced you.
For the ones in my cohort too busy to read: One page consumes three minutes out of one thousand four hundred and forty minutes in a day. A typical book has three hundred pages.
I rest my case.