The Most Important Reason Why You Need to Read

Elon Musk runs two huge companies, dabbles around with countless new ideas and is probably involved with several projects on a day to day basis. 

Does he read books? How on earth would he find time to do that? 

He does, on his iPhone because he travels a lot. And he said this in 2014 when iPhones came with tiny screens. 

“ … it may sound like it’s tiny, but it’s always with you.”

If the world’s richest and possibly the busiest man can find time to read and doesn’t care about the time or the way to go about it, then so can we all. 

Why read? Well, there are some obvious answers of course, like a number of world’s most successful people have been voracious readers. Warren Buffet has attributed his success to hours of reading every day. 

But then there are immensely successful people who’ve probably not read a lot of books. They compensated for it with their excellent people skills, extreme ambition, specific skillset etc. Think politicians, artists, sports stars. 

So why read? 

Well, firstly, no matter what you do, reading will give you an edge over others. Elon Musk and Warren Buffet are geniuses in their own right, and if they think reading helps then it surely does. 

Reading a great book is a different experience than watching a bunch of videos on the same subject. 

A book helps you focus on the details. Your mind has to do the work because there are no visual aids for it to relax (which is what happens when you watch a video). Your brain fires up its neurons to help you imagine. 

And make no mistake, imagination is critical to creativity and hence, to success.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” 

Albert Einstein

Read to focus. Read to deep dive. 

And, most importantly …

Read to imagine. 

A Homeostasis of Worry

My 3-year old had a tough day at school today.

It’s a new campus with a new bunch of classmates and teachers she doesn’t know and it’s taking time for her to settle in.

We thought she did well yesterday when she walked in and didn’t ask for her Mom until the school was over.

But today was different. She clung to Mommy the entire day, sobbing and whining.

I dropped them off at school slightly worried and couldn’t focus at work. I was constantly thinking how to make her adapt to the new environment.

Then, it suddenly hit me: Why am I so worried about this? Why am I always worried about things that do and don’t concern me?

Paul Graham recently wrote a thread about founders and this particular tweet caught my attention.

“There’s a sort of homeostasis of worry. People worry a roughly constant amount regardless of whether things are going well or badly. This may work well sometimes, but it’s not suited to startups.”

True. And I’d argue that it’s not suited to any human being, let alone startups.

We’re a generation that seems to be on a constant loop of anxiousness over trivial things.

Anxiety and worry have their purpose but we seem to want them to overstay their welcome in our heads.

Why was I worried about my 3-year old crying in school? She is healthy, doing alright and will settle in when she will settle in.

I decided to stop thinking about it (yes, you can “decide”) and focus on writing about it instead (which helps).

After all, if we say “no worries” so much, we should walk the talk and not worry so much.

Take that risk ….

abhijeet mukherjee

2008 was a transformational year in my life. That was the year when I took the biggest risk I had ever taken. 

I was working in a call center, living paycheck to paycheck. My family was dependent on me and we didn’t have enough money. 

I had been researching on this new thing called blogging and making money on the internet. 

Mind you, it was 2008. The phrase ‘making money online’ didn’t exist. iPhone hadn’t arrived in India, smartphones didn’t exist, high-speed internet at low prices didn’t exist … the world was very different, at least for us here in India. 

I had this belief that I could do something on my own if I had the time. I could start a blog and make money in one way or another, or do something else, but it had to be online. 

But how do I get the ‘time’? 

I was able to research and learn while taking calls, but creating something requires more time. And call center hours plus the long cab drives were very very exhausting. 

Also, not to forget the graveyard shifts. From 10 PM to 10 AM, it was just crazy. 

In April 2008, with the encouragement from my mother, I decided to take the plunge. She told me that if you want to do it then do it, don’t overthink it, we’ll manage.  

I quit my job. 

It was a risk. Our savings were minimal. And jobs don’t come easy. 

It was beyond my comfort zone. 

But leap of faith is what you need to take sometimes. That’s what brings about the transformation that you so hope for in your life. 

I started a blog, it worked out okay initially but didn’t make enough money. I immediately decided to approach big websites around the world for content writing. I was hired as a freelance writer and for 2 years I did that before starting my own site called Guiding Tech. And then, for the next decade I built it out into a site that attracted millions of visitors, plus Youtube channels with millions of subscribers. The GT brand became a hallmark of authentic and high-quality tech content in India and around the world. 

In 2020, I sold Guiding Tech to a US-based media company for an amount that made sure that I don’t have to worry about money for a long long time. 

Sometimes, you just need to believe in yourself and take that risk. The path may have obstacles and it may not work out exactly as you imagine, but you will figure it out. 

Don’t Ignore the Role of Perception in Success

abhijeet mukherjee

Here’s the story of how PERCEPTION helped me secure a home loan.  

In 2013 I had been working for myself for more than 5 years and it had been 3 years since I started Guiding Tech – the consumer tech content business which I would eventually sell in 2020 to an American media company. 

Today I can easily secure any loan or mortgage. Back in 2013, however, I could neither afford it nor did I do something that a bank would easily understand. 

Running an online content business, or making money doing something online full-time for that matter, was not common then, not in India for sure. 

People didn’t exactly understand what I did for a living. Most would think that I was involved in some shady online stuff, which was quite funny frankly.

I guess the concept of working from home or from wherever one wants just didn’t sink in easily.

This wasn’t a problem for me until I applied for a mortgage for a house I was planning to purchase. I knew I was eligible if one were to consider the finances. I had a good credit history, a steady stream of income, etc. 

So I thought the approval would be easy. 

It wasn’t. Far from it. 

The banks didn’t understand what I did and how I made money. The fact that a company like Google was sending me cheques every month was just unthinkable to them. 

I quickly realized that I was facing a perception problem. Deep in their hearts the bankers knew I was eligible, but their perception of a guy in his mid-twenties in tshirt-jeans working from a coworking space and making a living wasn’t letting them approve. 

This needed a nudge to change their perception of who I was. 

Thankfully, I had previously written for some mainstream media sites. I also had photos with some well-known media personalities and I had a magazine write-up that had covered who I was and what I did.

I had never thought I’d need THESE to apply for a home loan.

I prepared a presentation that showed off these pics along with other credentials. 

I could see the eyes of a banker go wide when I showed this to him the first time. 

The loan approval came through in the next few days. 

We like to think that work matters more than the perception of it. I wish that were always true. 

Human beings aren’t wired to be unbiased. It takes a lot of mental effort to see things for what they are. Not everyone can do that. That’s why they rely on visual cues – how someone’s dressed, who they are with, etc. 

Mind you, perception is also driven by cultural and economic shifts. I am sure today a young web publisher would have an easier time securing a mortgage. People are now more aware of the new rules of work. 

But when you’re trying to do something different, something that’s not part of the general landscape around you, then managing perception of your work could sometimes become as important as your work. 

Remember, perception matters. And sometimes it’s all that matters. 

5 Super Simple Productivity Tips That Can Give Your Workflow a Huge Boost

I have tried all of these personally and they’ve worked wonders for me over the years.

1. Get a big monitor … really big one! You won’t believe the kind of efficiency big screen real-estate can bring to your day to day work. If you have the space and can afford one, this is the first thing you should spend on. You’ll be able to scroll faster, multi-task faster, less window switching … everything becomes faster and better.

2. If you have the habit of keeping your phone on the table while you work, keep it face down. Don’t let the notifications distract you. Looking at the phone multiple times while you work breaks the flow and focus. Keeping it face down means you’d know if a call comes, but won’t be bothered by the notifications.

3. Buy multiple chargers and cables. Keep some in your work bag, one near your desk, one at home where you usually sit with your laptop …. if you were to start adding up the minutes you’ve spend over the years finding that charger or the cable, you’re likely to be surprised. Let’s stop adding more minutes to that list.

4. Use a different account/profile on your computer or browser for non-work stuff. Switch to that profile when you want to have some leisure time like games, social media etc.

5. Identify the most important task for the day before you begin work. This might sound trivial but could have a huge impact on the results you deliver in the long term. Too often our days are spent firefighting, tackling things that may not need our attention. We keep procrastinating on the important tasks because they seem overwhelming. A good way to fix this is to take them up one at a time. And it could be one task that’s spread over several days. It doesn’t need to be a “different” most important task every day. It could well be the same task. But it ensures that you work on it every day, eventually completing it.

Success Requires Mastering the Inner and Outer Game

Shah Rukh Khan, India’s most celebrated actor, didn’t reach the top by just being a good actor.

Warren Buffet didn’t become the richest investor by just spotting great businesses and buying them at low prices.

Roger Federer didn’t become one of the greatest tennis players by just being amazing at playing tennis.

Recognizing your specific skill and then working hard to hone it is one thing. Becoming very successful using that skillset is another thing.

Reaching the top requires you to master both the inner and the outer game.

The inner game is what goes on in your head, what you believe in, how deftly you are able to work at it.

Inner game is about growth mindset. It is the belief that you can get better at doing something. It is spending hours at practicing the right thing.

But that is not enough to be truly successful.

Shah Rukh Khan or any other successful actor for that matter also needed to play the outer game well to make it to the top.

That requires networking with the right producers, doing films that he didn’t like at first, grabbing opportunities which others passed on, persuading good people to work with him, hiring the right managers and agents.

Spotting a great business and trying to buy it at a low price is one thing. Convincing the entrepreneur to sell is another. Warren Buffet did that and that required some amazing persuasion skills.

Playing great tennis is one thing. But the ability to be totally calm in the face of defeat and compartmentalizing it to the extent that you totally forget about your crushing defeat in a grand slam final and immediately start playing with your twins right after the match is a whole another skillset. Roger Federer is a master at compartmentalizing.

He would also go out of the way to help brands and fellow players when it came to things like a commercial shoot or a fundraiser.

Next time when you think that you’re as good as acting or at business or at playing tennis as someone who’s super successful, know that it’s not just about that one game.

Success requires playing both the inner and outer games, and playing them really well.

Notes from Built to Sell by John Warrillow

Hire a sales team to do the selling. By team, I mean at least 2 people, because sales people are competitive in nature and two people doing sales can bring in some healthy competition (and more sales).

The salesperson should be someone who enjoys selling (duh) and also loves the product.

Even if you’re bored of running your business and selling because you desperately need a break, don’t use that as an answer to “Why are you selling your company?”. Nobody wants to hear a founder leaving their business which they built from scratch. Instead talk about why you think the business will grow well under someone else, its potential, etc. and also say that you’re willing to stay for the transition. Details could be worked out later and you could convince them later on your exit.

Things to have clarity on with the buyer before selling your company: What happens to the working capital / cash in the bank

Product-focused companies are more sellable and can fetch a higher multiple than service-focused companies. A product can also be a specific workflow or template that you follow while giving a service. Think of your company as selling products, and use jargons accordingly — company, not firm. Customers, not clients.

The founder/CEO should try to make themselves as dispensable as possible. If a team can run and grow a company without them then that is the business a buyer would be most interested in, and it also ensures a smooth exit for the founder.

Document processes and build systems inside your company. Even creative work, like creating a logo, can be documented step-wise and made into a system. If you want to scale then systems and processes are essential.

Stop doing everything and focus on few things. As a company, becoming known for a few things might work in your favour. That also helps your sales team become experts in that niche and sell it well.

Stop accepting work that’s outside of your scalable product/service/focus. This is easier said than done and there will be a lot of temptation. But in the long-term, this will work in the company’s favour.

If you’d like to have a business you could sell, you need to prove to a buyer that you have a management team who can run the business after you’re gone. What’s more, you need to show that the management team is locked into staying with your company after acquisition. Avoid using equity to retain key management through an acquisition, as it will unnecessarily complicate the sale process and dilute your holdings. Instead, create a long-term incentive plan for your key managers. Each year, take an amount equivalent to their annual bonus and put it aside in a long-term incentive account earmarked for each manager you want to retain. Allow the manager to withdraw one-third of the account’s balance each year after a three-year period. That way, a good manager must always walk away from a significant amount of money should he or she decide to leave your company.

You may also choose to “top up” the balance in a long-term incentive plan with a one-time special bonus in the event of the sale of your business. That way, your key managers will have an increased incentive to help you sell your business and stay with your company after the sale to get their share of the proceeds.

When choosing a broker or an M&A firm, remember that they should work for you and get you competing offers. If you get a whiff of the fact that are in bed with a buyer and usually make their money by helping them buy companies for cheap then you should sever ties from the broker/banker immediately.

Don’t issue stock options to retain key employees after an acquisition. Instead, use a simple stay bonus that offers the members of your management team a cash reward if you sell your company. Pay the reward in two or more instalments only to those who stay so that you ensure your key staff stays on through the transition.

Notes from Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker

Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker focuses mostly on one’s professional life and how to do fulfilling work. It’s a short, easy read that you can finish in one sitting. The author focuses on advice that’s practical and urges readers to test them out over a period of time. This can prove to be a good book to refer to whenever you feel unsure about your professional life and need direction.

Managing one’s professional life is more important in the knowledge and information age, than it was when people were mostly committed to a single, labor-intensive job for their entire work life.

The first step to manage oneself is to know your strengths. You need to know what comes to you naturally because that’s the area of work you can excel at.

The only way to accurately estimate your strengths is through feedback analysis. Check the results of your key decisions and actions after a period of 12 months to see if they’re in line with your expectations. If they are then you know what you’re good at.

Once you know where your strengths lie, begin work on improving them and acquiring skills that’ll help you realize your strengths fully. No matter how good an architect is, he’d still need to work with builders and carpenters to realize his vision and he should know how to get them to work for him.

Knowing how you learn is crucial. Do you learn by listening, reading, writing or talking? Schools force us to learn in established ways but that might not work for all of us. Once you understand how you learn, you can deploy that knowledge into building processes that help you succeed. For instance, readers would want to get detailed reports on a matter while a listener or a talker would prefer meetings.

Do you like working alone or with people? An important question to consider as a knowledge worker in this age.

Do you like taking decisions or giving advice? Some people work best as advisers but can’t bear the responsibility of taking a decision (even though they know what needs to be done), while some are decision makers.

The most important one: What are your values? Sometimes your strengths and interests might align with a job but your values won’t. You might excel in such a position but it’s unlikely that you’ll derive a sense of satisfaction. Knowing your values and how you want to contribute to this world is important if you want to have a fulfilling life.

Managing oneself also means taking responsibility of your relationships and how you communicate with people. Barring a few great artists, nobody has ever succeeded without the help of people.

It’s about knowing yourself, knowing what your strengths are, how you learn, how you work with people and how you want to contribute to this world. “Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values. Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person—hardworking and competent but otherwise mediocre—into an outstanding performer.”