In a recent issue of strategy+business, management guru Tom Peters suggests a number of books he’s considered valuable to read. In the interview, he quotes a respected business leader friend who argues that “the number one problem is with big company CEOs is that they don’t read enough.”
Peters urges us to read voraciously. “I’ve read my way to the point where I am willing to say confidently that (a) I am not that far behind; and (b) because I am reading, I am ahead of a lot of people who ought to be way ahead of me.”
I’ve long urged lawyers to read more than legal updates, legislative alerts, and things directly related to their ability to perform billable work. Mostly, I encouraged them to read business publications, business news, news specific to their clients’ industries so that they’d have a more relevant and useful context, firstly to understand issues from their clients’ and prospects’ perspectives, but also to develop a broader context based on a greater awareness of the business world per se.
Not only for context
Tom Peters has persuaded me that, while I was on the right track, it was far too narrow. Yes, it’s important to keep your skills fresh, and to develop context, but it’s also important to escape the linear thinking for which lawyers seem hard-wired, and which makes it hard for them to absorb seemingly unrelated information and synthesize fresh ideas from it. Perhaps this is what people mean by thinking outside the box. You can’t think outside the box if everything you’re exposed to is inside a single box.
Before I got into the business of teaching lawyers how to market and sell, I worked at a prominent sports marketing agency. We sold athlete endorsements and corporate sponsorship for professional tennis tournaments. My first day on the job, the CEO gave me a wallet card containing ten principles he wanted me to embrace. The first eight have long faded from memory, but the final two stuck with me, and have proved to be very wise:
Read unusual things
Cultivate unusual people
The first one makes it easier to do the second. In fact, in Peters’s advice above, to his a) and b) there was also a c): being interesting enough for people to engage with you.
I can talk to people who are kind of famous in this world and give them six things to read they haven’t read, which gets me through cocktail parties. - Tom Peters
You’ll be more interesting
The more diverse your reading, the interesting you are, and the greater the number of people you can make at least an initial connection with.
In the course of coaching thousands of lawyers over the past 25 years, I’ve learned a little bit about a lot of legal stuff. Similarly, business stuff. I’m a mile wide and an inch deep. Not enough to create any competition for lawyers or CEOs, but enough to establish a modicum of relevance with almost any lawyer I meet. This is partly the result of spending time with so many lawyers and probing to understand their practices, but also of voracious reading on many topics.
After his “cocktail party” remark, Peters adds, “If you read 100 books on a topic, you’ll get a lot smarter.” I’m under no illusion that time-strapped lawyers will read 100 books on an array of subjects, much less one, but I do believe even those who must bill 1800 hours, manage a practice, and generate business can squeeze out at least some time to indulge a bit of intellectual curiosity and make it easier for people to connect with them.
P.S. Peters offers what I’ll interpret as a caution to successful rainmakers considering a lateral move. Of the book, Chasing Stars, by Boris Groysberg, he says, “I loved its conclusion: If you are a superstar in Place X and you move to Place Y, kiss superstardom goodbye.”
Get yourself a Kindle, download samples of a lot of unusual titles, expose yourself to some different thinking, and buy the ones that you like. (No, I don’t have stock in Amazon.)
Here are some books that I’ve found interesting and useful.
Albert Einstein: Essays in Humanism