Nothing is better than reading and gaining more knowledge.”
– Stephen Hawking
The Picasso Paradox
Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a woman approached him.
“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
After some initial reluctance, Picasso agreed to sketch her. He studied her for a moment, and used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“But, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”
Picasso understood and realised the value of his work which took him his entire life to perfect and learn. As a result, he wanted to charge £5,000 for the brief sketch. Books don’t cost as much as a Picasso sketch, however the essence is the same. When you read a book, you’re reading what someone has spent on average, 20 years of their life learning. This is the typical time scale people take from starting in any niche to launching a book.
It is often said that the cost of a book doesn’t signify it’s value. Due to various printing agreements, license distributions and basic laws of supply and demand, we can get great classics for a few pounds in todays market. There are numerous printing press companies that sell the same version of the book. However, what if there was only one copy of a great classic that existed like a Picasso painting, how much do you think people would pay then? Such books exist, and are often kept as priceless items in museums.
When you read 100 books in 1 year, it means that you’re theoretically taking in 100×20 years = 2,000 years worth of knowledge in 1 year. Sounds crazy? Yes it is. Imagine for one second how much you can learn from 100 people who’ve each spent 20 years in the niche your interested in. Not only will you learn how to solve the current problem you’re facing, but you’ll also learn what to expect next as a result of solving a problem in a specific way.
Why I started Reading:
I truly believe that books are the greatest gift to mankind. The honest truth is if I spent 3 years reading instead of 3 years at University I truly believe I would have widened my perspective far greater than doing a course I no need to apply in day to day life. When you’re starting out as an Entrepreneur in your young twenties you really don’t know where to start. All you know is that it is possible to succeed when you look at the likes of Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel. If you speak to your friends and family, they will often tell you that you’re crazy for starting up a business, or that you’re “too young”, or that you “need experience” which are all nothing more than fads that they were told by people who never went on to run successful businesses themselves. I went to many “workshops” which where often disguised as being sneaky marketing techniques that make you perform a series of tasks that all direct you towards buying their product or course which usually costed thousands that no student ever had.
In the end, I remembered watching this video of Will Smith when I was younger. Will Smith talks about the importance of running and reading. He implies that millions and billions of people have lived before us, and someone at one point has experienced what I was experiencing at a particular point in time. There is no “new” situation that could arise that someone in the past has not previously dealt with. Therefore, no matter what problem you are in, someone in the past has also experienced that problem and has written a book on how to solve it. I remember my first purchase was Anthony Robbins: Awaken the Giant Within. Once I realised how quickly my problems started getting solved due to a change in perspective, I never looked back.
Lesson 1: Human Psychology
Entering and understanding any new industry is particularly difficult. I often studied how incredibly successful people broke into new industries and excelled at an unprecedented rate. There’s nobody better to study than Elon Musk. Musk is dominating in three industries: Solar, Space and Automotive. This is incredibly rare to find considering most people can just about excel in one! From research, I found that one of the major contributing factor for Elon was reading:
How does this relate to human psychology? Well, any book i’ve ever read on a fundamental basis it relates to human psychology. Here’s some examples from the most common type of books I read:
Business Books: Talk about how to get people coming back for more and how to generate business in the first place. It does this by talking about a variation of cognitive triggers and psychological traits that make users feel like they are getting value for money. Wether this is putting items for sale, or generating loyalty cards – fundamentally it all revolves around making people “feel” like they want to do business with you.
Self Help Books: Talk about the power of “Law of Attraction”, Belief, and Visualisation which is ultimately a mindset that goes back to human psychology.
Marketing Books: Talk about cognitive neuroscience and how companies like Facebook apply cognitive neuroscience to psychologically affect users. Here’s an example of a well known company like Facebook and a theory on how it applies cognitive neuroscience:
“When you are a kid, and your parents give you a new toy. You play with the toy for a while, but then you chuck it. Your parents then buy you a new toy, which arouses and stimulates the brain, and then you get bored and you chuck it again. Here, the cognitive trigger which is being “triggered” is that of variable reward. Your brain craves the stimulus of getting something new, this causes the pleasure sensors in your brain to light up to keep you coming back for more. It is the basis of why reward based systems work. Why is Facebook so addictive? The reason is, because every time you log into Facebook, you expect to see something new on the home feed. Similar to how the child craved getting a new toy. That variability and unpredictability causes the brain to stimulate its pleasure sensors usually by the release of dopamine and therefore causes you to get addicted. Similarly drugs also trigger pleasure sensors which is why people find them addictive. This may also explain why people almost subconsciously type Facebook into the address bar without even thinking, because eventually cognitive triggers aid into creating habit forming products. Therefore just like the cognitive trigger of “variable rewards” there are many triggers that effect human psychology knowingly or unknowingly that get users to behave in a certain way and therefore you create and sustain a loyal following that grows.
To conclude, any theory put forward is the amalgamation of years worth of trial and error that ultimately achieved a level of consistency through studying human behaviour and understanding what works.
Lesson 2: 5 Pages & Fundamentalism
5 Pages: After you’ve read 100 books, you notice a few patterns. In most books, the absolute core message of the book can be summarised in 5 pages or less. However, this doesn’t stick with people. People will often read it and forget it within a few weeks, contrary to interesting stories that stick. You will often find that the author talks about the core message of the book and then give numerous examples of how and when it applies. Stories are memorable and are scenario based, therefore when you are in a scenario that is similar to the one in the book, you will be able to apply the methodologies or an adaptation of them to the situation you are in to help you resolve the problem at hand.
Fundamentalism: I often pick 10 of the best books in any niche and read them in a few weeks prior to beginning any further work. At the moment I am reading books on Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality because we all know this is where the future is. I’ve learnt not to expect something necessarily different in the books because fundamentally they all talk about the same thing and you will often find a lot of repetition the more you read about certain books in certain niches. However every book offers a unique perspective and narrative of how to author came to certain conclusions. This helps broaden the perspective and in business it becomes ever more critical to understand and apply a variation of perspectives so you can understand the best possible set of actions to take at a particular moment in time and what the opportunity cost of those actions will be.
It’s like a game of chess, imagine playing chess and knowing only one strategy that would help you check mate. Now imagine knowing 3-4 strategies that could all give you check mate, but you have the power to apply the strategy you feel would work best for you at this very point in time and allows you to leverage off of other strategies later if things do not work out. There’s been many times in business where I have had a situation with two opposing paths where I was not sure which one to take. One book would tell me to take a riskier strategy and one forced me to take a longer term strategy. Perspectives from books combined with our own judgment will help us make the best decisions based on your personal goals. Business can sometimes be about trial and error and sometimes you might not know what decision to take, but at least you would have perspective if your initial path does not work out.
Lesson 3: Blue Oceans
One of the most interesting things i’ve learnt from books is that authors have spent years doing trial and error to achieve success before they write about it. The irony is that they break the status quo and carry out unconventional behaviour that goes against the norm of how society believes businesses should be run, thus creating a Blue Ocean (relative to a bloody Red Ocean which is saturated with competition, and companies trying to kill each other off). The most successful strategies in business, life, and in technology focus on one thing: adding value. However, despite most people knowing this in the business world, they never apply this tactic. One of the biggest reasons is that companies are profit driven instead of value/purpose driven. Too much emphasis is placed on pleasing shareholders and investors instead of truly offering value to their clients.
I am going to talk about two companies (Company A and Company B). This is inspired by this Ted Video:
Company A: Spends minimally on ads. Let’s others copy it’s technology, and gives users free upgrades.
Company B: Spends $2 billion a year on ads, carefully protects innovation, and charges for new versions every year.
Society would typically think that Company B would be more successful than Company A. One of the sad reasons behind this is because in being a profit driven company the essence of why the business is built and the passion is lost, which is why most companies in today’s market are run like Company B.
The results: In one year, Company A grew by 52% and Company B shrunk by -0.5%. Company A is Tesla Motors and Company B is one of the biggest automotive companies that currently exist. Despite being a very small company, in business success is about growing really fast and Tesla is growing faster than anyone.
Examples how does Tesla do it:
Marketing: Instead of spending large amounts on Marketing, which can be deceitful to consumers, they believe in reinvesting the money into creating a better product and offering more value. In doing so, more people talk about the product and it has a larger impact than a marketing campaign, which offers no value to consumers.
Open Source: Tesla focusses on open sourcing their technology to let others have access to it. It sounds ironic as to why you would let everyone including competition access your research and data. However, Tesla is a purpose driven company first, not profit driven. It’s purpose is to start an electrical revolution and make the world free of cars that run on unsustainable fuels, it’s purpose is not to be a 100 billion dollar company.
How I read on the go:
I use Audible (an Amazon company). For those of you who don’t know, Audible is the ability to listen to any book in an audio book format where usually the author reads the book to you and you can listen to it while commuting, walking, running, or sitting somewhere quiet with your headphones in. For me personally, I love this! It takes away the effort of finding the space to pull out a book on the London Underground, and the pain of your arm going numb while holding it up. For those who like Privacy as well, this one’s for you as only you can hear what you are reading. Check it out: www.audible.co.uk.