I was a student of journalism and history at university, so to say I was required to read a lot is an understatement. As a consequence, for a time after graduation, I really didn’t deeply seek out knowledge aside from reading the news. I just needed a break.
That didn’t last, for a few reasons. One, I’m human, and I think humans have a thirst to gain knowledge and explore what is out there beyond the realm of their understanding. Second, I found myself working in the technology field, and in that field you either keep up with the trends or get left behind.
A key trait of some of some the most successful entrepreneurs in history—think Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Gates, Jobs—is their ability to “see around corners,” to project where the trend lines are being drawn, and to adjust accordingly. (Hint: That’s not always up-and-to-the-right). Some of that projection is the result of intuition, but a lot more of it has to do with maintaining an intimate knowledge of their industry. It’s their drive to always be learning that gives them the necessary input to make key decisions about when to invest in new ideas like trains, steel, computer operating systems, and a range of devices that begin with the letter i. For more about early entrepreneurs who could see around corners, check out History Channel’s The Men Who Built America. It’s a great documentary series for those of you who’d rather “watch the movie.”
One of the things that impressed me with Gauge, even before I agreed to sign on, was their Required Reading program. The program consists of a short list of books that the founders read and felt were so applicable, that all their employees should read them as well. Now, this could have been dangerous; they could have been forcing people to read flavor-of-the-month fluffy self-help business books that were high on the New York Times Best Seller lists, but light on actual wisdom. Thankfully, that’s not the case. All have been really good choices, some of which we’ve picked as a group, and all of which have given us food for thought that helps us become better individuals, and drives our company forward collectively.
Required Reading has expanded to include Friday Book Club. We decide on a book we feel is particularly applicable to the age and stage of Gauge. Every Friday afternoon is set aside as our Weekly R&D, a time for personal learning and skill development. When the book club is running, we use some of that Friday time to each read part of a book and then discuss it together. It’s a great opportunity to dig deep into ideas and key concepts presented by the author, and then figure out if and how we should apply those ideas personally, and at Gauge. Anyone who wants to participate gets a free eBook or “tree book.” It’s been a great way to continue learning together, get to know each other on a new level, discover innovative new ideas, and experiment with putting them into practice.
Required Reading and our Friday Book Club have already helped us understand how to build software (Getting Real), work remotely (Remote), be better individual leaders (Turn the Ship Around), change our whole pricing strategy (Implementing Value Pricing), and build a healthy organization (The Advantage). This Friday afternoon we begin Good to Great by Jim Collins, and we’re just as excited about where that might take us.
Learning is not just reading, however. It’s staying on top of social media, blogs, podcasts (yes, they’re a thing again), forums, and searches on the Googles. It’s attending conferences, events, networking opportunities, and continuing education courses. Learning happens at the Gauge office or client offices, at coffee shops, the public library, or over beer at the local pub. Learning means talking to your fellow humans and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s listening more than you speak, contributing more than you gain.
Wherever you are, whatever you do, never stop being inquisitive, never stop exploring—always be learning.