A Golden Habit

Published April 2011

Iíve long admired Warren Buffet for his ability to take complex issues and boil them down to their simple core, all the while mixing in his unique down-home humor to make the explanation both informative and entertaining. As an example, while the rest of us were still trying to figure out what hit us early in the Great Recession, Buffet was explaining that we were in the initial stages of a severe housing bubble with basically three cures:

  • Blow up a lot of houses
  • Speed up the formation of new households by encouraging teenagers to cohabitate (ďA program not likely to suffer from a lack of volunteers,Ē he quipped.)
  • Dramatically reduce the number of new housing starts below demand for an extended period

So when I recently stumbled across this Buffet gem, I both chuckled and reflected on the truthfulness of his words, ďIf you want to be an outlier in achievement, just sit on your ass and read most of your life.Ē

Buffet is legendary for his volume of reading. But it his ability to transform reams of information into useful knowledge and then decisively act upon it that truly sets him apart.

Likewise, the colleagues that I have found most inspiring, educational and downright fun to work with are those who can not only cite interesting passages from their readings but feel compelled to find a way to apply their newfound knowledge. This trait seems to have less to do with their formal education (in fact, advanced degrees almost appear to be a deterrent towards action) and more a function of their outlook on life as an adventure to be fully experienced.

Upon finishing my bachelorís degree in engineering 30 years ago, I wanted to get as far away from formal education as possible (4.5 years of equations will do that). But my desire to continue learning only grew stronger, especially across a wider range of topics.

Reading has become my preferred method of learning. It provides ultimate flexibility in terms of time and place. The self-directed pace allows me time to process and, most importantly, determine how the new knowledge can be applied in the real world.

So hereís a quick summary of my all-time favorite books for leaders and managers.

  • Leading Change by John P. Kotter takes the incredibly complex topic of organizational culture and identifies eight critical phases which organizations must successfully navigate if they are to realize true and lasting change. Kotterís work is backed by extensive research and his writing style is amazingly straightforward. I utilize his eight-stage template when working with any organization that is serious about changing its culture.
  • Results That Last by Quint Studer is required reading for any manager. Studer is the founder of the Studer Group, a management consulting organization that specializes in healthcare. Studer shares lessons gleaned from decades of working with numerous organizations and effectively summarizes best practice management behaviors. Almost every page contains a nugget of wisdom or recommended practice which can be applied.
  • First Things First by Stephen R. Covey is the ultimate life management book. Covey is without peer in his ability to address life balance and prioritization issues which all workers, and especially managers, must master if they are to be truly productive and happy people. The book has been a life-changer for me, and I frequently refer back to my notes when Iím beginning to feel a little off-kilter.

In todayís reality of overwhelming information itís easy for the golden main ideas of what we read to get lost amid the noise of all the other data. A habit that has served me well for the past 20 years is to quickly summarize and document the most important points of a completed book.

On a weekly basis I then review the notes from one book, perhaps one that I havenít read for years. This reinforces those lessons and challenges me to apply them during the coming week.

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