If you take a look at various Twitter accounts of organisations in your industry, there's a good chance the messaging is rather... monotonous. Most will likely have a very narrow focus on their business, and few will stand out.
The day-to-day business is important, of course. But if you focus on that and only that, you'll end up saying the same things as everyone else, constantly in a battle against others to say the same thing only in a better way.
And that is really difficult. What is needed to standout is a different perspective.
How does one gain different perspectives? By tasting different things, regularly.
This is actually one of the biggest battles we can face in our careers. As the emails pile up and as deadlines loom, it feels like there's little space to think about anything else.
While you'd love to find the time to read that book or listen to that Podcast, other priorities take over.
Thing is, you are doing a massive disservice both to yourself and to your work by not prioritising exposing yourself to new ideas and concepts.
It may seem impossible at first but trust me, it is possible to plan moments of serendipity into your day.
Even if it's just 30 minutes to listen to a Podcast on your way to work and the promise you'll read at least five pages of a book before bed, you'll gain a great deal.
When you make note of what you learned or what you felt, new ideas and new perspectives will begin to flow.
This year I decided to not only read more, but expand the range of my reading.
It's surprisingly easy to start reading outside of your field once you start.
Like six degrees of separation between friends, it's very much the same with topics.
Everything is connected and relevant in some way.
I began this year reading about superforecasting, then the art of persuasion, then later learning about the life of physicist Richard Feynman. They are all to some extent outside of my usual realm of reading, but it's working for me.
Among other things, they all speak about human nature, about how we see the world, about how illogical we behave, and how amazing we can be. And importantly, they bring in perspectives outside of my every day experience.
This got me thinking about books I had read in the past, reflecting on how they might have impacted me today.
In recent years, my scope of reading often fell into what I knew, what I was comfortable with.
But when you are younger, you're in exploration phase. You're trying different flavours to see what tastes good. You're more open to new things.
So, I have decided to make a list of five books I read in my younger years that have in some way stayed with me, and indeed become a little part of me.
While reading this, I also want you to consider how you capture thoughts and ideas.
Consuming the information is one thing. But making note of it is a terribly important next step.
Even a small overview like the following gives you a reference to come back to, helping you reconnect with ideas hidden in your brain under every-day tasks.
Sakhalin Island by Anton Chekhov
I've got a bit of a crush on Chekhov. Not only was he a genius writer, he seemed like he could be the life and soul of a party.
I originally planed to include his short story, 'The Kiss'. I studied it at school and was surprised by how moved I was by this simple, short tale. It made me see the art of writing and storytelling in a way I had not even considered before and it set me on a path to reading hundreds of short stories.
So I read a lot of Chekhov and picked up 'Sakhalin Island' in the library, assuming it was also a collection of short stories. But it wasn't.
In fact, it's a vivid journal from the front lines of a prison colony on a remote island off the coast of Siberia, where he volunteered as a doctor.
I found it to be the most human of accounts. Here's an example:
Then follows Vtoraya Pad (Second Chasm), in which there are six farm holdings. Here the old woman called Miss Ulyana cohabits with a prosperous old peasant in exile. Once, a very long time ago, she had killed her baby and buried it in the ground; at the trial, she said that she had not killed the child but buried it alive—she thought that she would stand a better chance of being acquitted that way. The court sentenced her to twenty years. Telling me about this, Ulyana wept bitterly, but then she wiped her eyes and asked, “Fancy buyin a nice little bit o’ pickled cabbage?”
He describes the lives of prisoners, many whom had committed terrible crimes and living in the most squalid conditions, with so much compassion and good humour.
While reading it, I felt not only closer to Chekhov the man - this legendary and, at the time, mysterious Russian writer - but also connected to life on this island I had never even heard of before.
Despite being written a hundred years prior, Chekhov uncovers the prisoners' humanity in a way that it feels like it could be any person alive today.
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
I read the first tale of Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld series around the age of 12 and it was the funniest, most fantastical thing I had ever read.
While his DiscWorld series actually got better as it went on, this book was an awesome introduction to a brilliantly vibrant new world.
“It was all very well going on about pure logic and how the universe was ruled by logic and the harmony of numbers, but the plain fact of the matter was that the Disc was manifestly traversing space on the back of a giant turtle and the gods had a habit of going round to atheists' houses and smashing their windows.”
We are delivered into the city of Ankh-Morpork, a place populated by wizards, assassins’ guilds, thieves, students of the Unseen University, and Death, possibly one of the funniest characters you would ever have the unlucky opportunity of meeting.
Pratchett simply created his own rules in his own world, and because it was weird and funny, it made me think 'why not?'. That suited me somehow and inspired me to write my own stories, mostly in secret.
Reading 'The Colour of Magic', I not only wondered 'how?' this was done, I also wanted to try it out myself. It was a first novel that gave me the confidence to just write something, just for the fun of it.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
This was perhaps one of the first 'proper' books I read of my own choosing, in the sense that it always featured high on lists of books you must read and that it is quite old.
The tale is so well known I doubt there's much need for me to go into it, which is a relief because there's a lot going on.
“Take my advice and live for a long, long time. Because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.”
It didn't feel like any of the older books I'd previously read at school, being mostly Shakespeare and classic English literature. This felt lighter, it was funny and silly, while also sad and deep. It felt so modern and, flicking through the pages, 400 years didn't feel so far away.
In Book Two, a tremendously modern twist occurs. By then, the tale of Don Quixote and his sidekick's travels had be written and released in Don Quixote's world.
On their continued journey, characters have read Book One and talk to this celebrities. It almost felt like a 'The Usual Suspects' moment, and I couldn't believe something like this could have been written in the 1600s.
It made me less scared of picking up old stories, knowing that much can be learned and, importantly, enjoyed. And I didn't need a degree in Latin to understand.
The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
During my Chekhov-inspired short story phase I began to search for other authors, and came across this collection by Murakami, an author I had never heard of at the time (apparently he's rather big nowadays).
I still vividly remember the front cover: bright yellow text on bright pink with, you guessed it, a vanishing elephant.
It stood out in my dingy library and I was excited to read it because evidently I judge books by their covers.
There's not much to say aside from imagine reading classic Russian short stories, rather serious in nature, and then jumping into modern-day Japan reading about:
- A couple who decides to rob a bakery at 2am because they are hungry.
- A man who must burn a barn every 2 months.
- TV people who are 30% smaller than normal people.
- A little green monster who declares its love to a girl.
It was weird, and wonderful. The best kind of introduction to Murakami and an example of how far you can let your imagination run.
The SAS Survival Guide by John Wiseman
OK so this is half joking, but the fact is I had this book by my side for many years as a kid. This pocket guide, written by a former SAS soldier (the equivalent of Navy Seals in the UK), had all the advice you needed on outdoor survival.
Did I go out into the wilderness after reading this? Not really.
Did I have designs on joining the SAS? No, I'm not Bear Grylls.
Did I use any of the information? No, I don't think I did.
But none of that really matters.
What this book did do was make me think about a different kind reality where I'd be lighting fires outdoors, making tents out of twigs, and fighting off bears with a bunch of leaves.
This very dry guide on outdoor survival ignited my imagination as much as all the other books above.
I'm not really sure what that says about me, but there you go. There's probably a lesson there.
So, there we have it.
I recommend making your own little list to start, and from now on each book you read just write a short paragraph on what it meant to you.
It'll become a valuable library of ideas and inspiration.