In a quest to build a successful company at Exact Media, I continually study other accomplished leaders to understand the root of their success.
Following a piece of advice from AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky, I went to look for “the source”, i.e. common habits that successful individuals share that I could potentially apply myself. Daily meditation was one practice I discovered. The other was the value of reading.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, famously learned how to build rockets by voraciously reading books. Warren Buffet spends 80% of his days reading. Bill Gates reads about a book a week and now maintains a blog recommending books to others. Mark Zuckerberg has gotten on the reading bandwagon too, launching a Year of Books in 2015, with a goal of reading trying to read 26 books in a year.
The fact that successful people are well-read is not a surprise. My revelation came when I started looking into what books they recommended reading. The same books repeatedly appeared.
At that moment, I realized that writing has an incredible, but often under estimated power to influence the world.
Through their writing, these few authors wield incredible influence over the world. Indirectly, their words guide how companies like Microsoft, Tesla and Facebook are lead.
When you add up all the people they have influenced, you could argue that their written work has a larger collective impact on the world than the individual successful companies you and I look up to.
Example: The Power of One Author in Silicon Valley
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel who recently passed away, is a great case study with his two books “High Output Management” and “Only the Paranoid Survive” written in the 1983 and 1996, respectively.
Chesky, CEO of AirBnB, treats “High Output Management” as his primary reference book on management. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, is also a huge fan, saying that High Output Management “played a big role in shaping [his] management style” at Facebook.
Warren Buffet’s right-hand man Charlie Munger, and Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple and Pixar), cite Grove’s teaching about Strategic Inflection Points in “Only the Paranoid Survive” as an incredibly important piece of reading. If you have ever wondered how Steve Jobs developed his infamous management style, look no further than Andy Grove.
By publishing less than 500 pages of text, Andy Grove has guided the leadership of companies worth a combined $1.2 Trillion dollars (just accounting for the companies mentioned above).
Andy Grove’s book, in some small way, influenced the Smartphone, Tablet and Music revolution at Apple, the creation of social networks through Facebook and Twitter, and the creation of the sharing economy through AirBnB.
With more research, I would not be surprised if I found the entire Silicon Valley ecosystem managing their companies based in-part on Grove’s teachings.
It made me realize that while entrepreneurs have a profound impact on the world, the authors they read and follow play an equally big part in their success.
Writing is Powerful because it is Permanent.
Writing was originally invented about 5,500 years ago to keep records of commerce, with many of the early records tracking the sale of beer in ancient Mesopotamia.
In one of world’s first pieces of literature, Enmerkar and The Lord of Aratta, it’s said that writing was developed because the King Enmerkar’s messengers were too tired to remember the King’s long, complex messages.
Writing spread ideas and helped leaders influence people across both distance and periods of time.
The Bible, a collection of texts first written over two thousand years ago, is one example of a piece of ancient writing guiding the modern world. With over 5 Billion copies sold according to the Guinness Book of World Records, with many more printings unrecorded, and each copy being read by multiple people, The Bible has impacted the way the world’s population has made decisions for millennia.
In modern times, the U.S. Constitution, written in 1787 by a group of men who had just won the American Revolutionary War, continues to dictate how the United States is governed today, even though it was written when the United States had a population of under 4 Million people.
The ideas recorded by a relatively narrow set of writers have a huge impact on our world. While learning how to code may help you build a scalable technology, learning how to write gives you an infinitely more scalable tool to influence the world.
Getting Better at Writing is Simple
It should be clear now that writing is an incredibly powerful skill. The hard part becomes getting good enough at it to influence others.
Before I started writing on Medium, my biggest fear was that I would be a terrible writer, so I sought help from an excellent teacher and friend,Herbert Lui to help me in writing my first piece on the CEO of Zappos, that eventually got republished in Business Insider. His Content Canvas was incredibly helpful in planning out that piece.
I also began reading a lot about writing, and uncovered many techniques out there on how to improve my writing skills.
Ernest Hemingway advises that you should stop writing when you know what is going to happen next. This will build momentum by getting you excited the next day to wake up to finish the thought, and prevents you from getting stuck.
As I studied these techniques, and read general tips from successful writers, I had three takeaways:
1. Don’t feel pressured to publish anything you write. Hemingway rewrote a Farewell to Arms fifty times, and threw out 90% of what he wrote.
In my Medium account, I have about 16 pieces of writing in draft format (some entire stories) of which I have only published three.
2. Write in small amounts regularly. Along with Hemingway, Stephen Kingadvocates to write every day, even if it’s just a few words, so you don’t lose interest in your idea.
Every week I take a train between Toronto and Montréal, and use that time to work on my writing. This story, and my last story on meditation were both written on those train rides.
3. Write about things that you have interest in or experience with. Paul Coehlo, author of The Alchemist, is a big advocate of this concept. So is Ryan Holiday, who wrote his third bestselling book on Stoicism at age 27; a topic he had been interested in since he was 19 years old.
If you hope to influence others with your writing, this last point is the most important. Your best writing has to provide value to your readers.
The easy way to do this is to write about things that are of interest to you. Chances are there are others that share that interest. At worst, if no one reads it, it will benefit you by helping you document ideas on something you were already working on.
In my case, I write about topics I am trying to figure out, e.g. Meditation, Writing, eCommerce, Entrepreneurship & Business…etc. The act of writing helps solidify my understanding of these topics. It’s one of the best ways for me to learn.
If you enjoy reading my work, that’s a great bonus!
Daniel Rodic is an entrepreneur; the Co-Founder of Exact Media and a representative of Canada at the G20 Entrepreneurship Summit in Moscow and Beijing. At Exact Media, Daniel and his team are disrupting the Direct Mail industry by skipping the postman, instead leveraging the excess space in parcels that have already been shipped to consumers. Retailers like Zulily, Walmart, Gilt.com and HSN deliver relevant offers from brands to consumers sourced from Exact Media to surprise and delight their shoppers. Brands owned by companies like P&G, L’Oréal, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson have all used Exact Media’s platform to reach consumers in a more meaningful and delightful way.