What do you do on long flights?I'll get the provocation out of the way early in today's post. Words with friends, the sports section, Netflix and "in seat entertainment" probably indicate that you aren't serious about your business!
Pissed off at me? No problem. Stop reading here and go do something else more important with your time. (It's probably because you don't read much and without a basis for evaluating my contention, take it as a personal affront. Sorry!)
Still with me? Then let's talk reading.
What's on your kindle?One of the first questions I ask many business people when I chat casually with them has to do with how much they read and what they've read lately that was compelling. I have long maintained that there is a strong correlation between an executives ability to craft a strong business strategy, and the volume, frequency and diversity of their reading. (This may be traced to my time as an Army Infantry Officer - an environment in which, contrary to many widely held stereotypes, an intellectual pursuit of perspective was encouraged, and even structurally ingrained through required reading as part of professional development obligations.)
It seems I'm not alone. A recent blog article (For Those Who Want to Lead, Read1) on the Harvard Business Review site by John Coleman @JohnWColeman suggests that despite an increase in global literacy, a sharp decline in "deep, broad reading habits (which) are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders" is troublesome.
And this isn't just for F1000 types. In fact, if they focus on personnel development, they'll surround themselves with capable folks who are reading. I would argue this is particularly important for the owners and executives of SMBs who are often overwhelmed with daily priorities and rather more insulated from broad trends.
Implications for business strategyColeman argues that "deep, broad" reading habits "can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness." Is that not a perfect list of attributes which executives must cultivate to excel in today's markets?
Crafting and executing business strategy is ultimately about recognizing, understanding and applying big picture trends. (Certainly reading can help with specific operational and technical skills, but in a narrower context.) And in my experience executives who don't read deeply and broadly often vaguely perceive trends, and in a monochromatic and linear way - overlooking the inflexion points and areas of confluence (maybe the Medici Effect should be on your kindle...) where real innovation occurs and from whence breakout growth emanates.
And then there are the big questions. If catalyzed insight is important domestically, and difficult to achieve with a comparatively narrow scope of issues, then how challenging is it to accomplish internationally? I would argue that one of the most critical areas of strategy for SMBs today is international business development, and that absent consistent reading, they will be clueless.
International business development perspectiveIf indeed "reading can also make you more effective in leading others" and "is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information" then it should be integral to the even more complex task of strategizing for growth in today's global markets.
If your business is stagnating, then you've got to look for new growth. You can't raise prices; you may not wish to undertake an acquisition; and your current customers might offer a 5% organic growth opportunity. That means you've got to find new customers (Consilium will shortly be introducing an initiative "BizDev for the 2010s" focused on helping SMBs meet that challenge this decade) and one of the two places to do so today is in overseas markets.
International sales growth opportunities are enormous and dictate the importance of an international business development strategy. But it's a big, complex and fast changing global market. You need every advantage you can score - and reading can give you an international business development edge.
Maybe Reading is Fundamental...to your international business development too!
And FWIW...on United's 777 long hauls out of Newark to multiple Asian destinations, you're going to want more than your kindle. I love those direct flights, but 14 or more hours can only partially be profitably spent on "deep and broad" reading!
Want to explore how Consilium can help you profitably tackle fast growing international markets? Contact us today.
1 - https://hbr.org/2012/08/for-those-who-want-to-lead-rea