When I became the founding CEO of Chartbeat, I realized quickly that there was very little that could have prepared me for doing the job other than doing it. That means that, upon becoming CEO for the first time, you will almost certainly be unqualified for the position. Unfortunately, though, you do not have time to learn everything by experience; you must rely on others. The single most efficient way to do that is to read about others’ experiences.
Let’s say you can read 200 words per minute and that each book is roughly 80,000 words. Choosing to spend an hour a day reading means that, by this rough estimate, you could read 54 books in a year. This is a target I try to hit every year, even when my workload seems insane. I do it because I consider reading to be extremely valuable to my job.
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It’s equally as important to read widely. Read about a breadth of topics, many of which may have nothing directly to do with your chosen field. It might seem strange to read about the design of gambling machines or the Boxer rebellion in China when you have a company to run, but it’s important.
Reading books in different fields enables you to start seeing the thread of common patterns and apply them to your own world. It was reading about how the automotive industry evolved in the 1950s that first gave me a sense for how analytics might evolve on the web and inspired me to create Chartbeat.
Reading about a diverse range of topics also inspires innovation. Most new ideas aren’t truly new so much as the combination of two previously disparate ideas or entities. If you read widely, your brain will create a new alchemy of ideas that might never have existed before. That’s what inspires true innovation.
Tony Haile is the founding CEO of Chartbeat, the leading data toolset for global newsrooms and an adjunct professor of journalism at Stanford University and Columbia University.