If I’m not learning, I’m not happy. I have to be learning, I have to be growing, and I have to be taking on the next challenge. I like to solve challenges by first understanding the problem and then constructing a solution. Once it is solved, it’s solved, and I move onto the next thing. I don’t prefer to solve the same thing again and again and again. That doesn’t feel interesting.
I prefer being a bit uncomfortable as I learn and build the floor under myself. In a professional setting, that can feel super uncomfortable. But there are ways to bet on yourself like this and set yourself up for success.
Books and mentors were a duality that worked for me in my early career which continues to this day. Through them, I curated my own learning. I think with BookClub we can help others curate their own learning, too. Beyond that, I feel we have a part to play in changing how team’s learn and operate, a role in democratizing knowledge, and even showing the world how books deepen connections between people.
Costa Rica: A Connection with Nature, Creativity, and Resourcefulness
We used to go to the bookstore hoping someone from “the outside world” had brought an anticipated book in our favorite series.
While my dad’s startup was beginning to struggle in Boulder my mom decided she wanted me and my brother to have a different experience, to leave the rat race behind and see more of the world. She single-handedly picked up the house and moved us to Costa Rica. We were only going to stay a year, but we ended up living there for three, moving to a new rental every six months. It was common there for women to have a baby around age 15. They didn't know what it meant to have a baby or how to care for a baby. And so my mom would go in and teach in the schools and I got to join her.
We mostly lived on Tamarindo beach, not far from Playa Grande, famous for surfing. I went to school on Guanacaste. There wasn’t much on TV and my days were mostly spent outdoors. That helped my brother and I develop a connection with nature, creativity, and resourcefulness. That genre of environment existed in Boulder too, of course, but it was different. It also helped me realize there are different ways of doing things that I picked up living there or from briefly visiting Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. For this I feel really grateful.
Books were hard to get one’s hands on in Costa Rica. We used to go to the bookstore hoping someone from “the outside world” had brought an anticipated book in our favorite series. By contrast, it’s remarkable how the digitization of books in print and audio, combined with the right platforms, connectivity, and distribution networks, has made books so accessible these days. Because of the way that I would learn things, books became a natural path to learning more.
Did all this time spent in nature, and truly learning from nature, help me understand I could continue to curate my own learning as I grew up?
How Books and Mentors Helped Me Curate My Education
I asked my first CEO what books he read and then I read them. Doing so helped me understand his mental models and how he looked at the world.
With subsequent mentors I continued with this approach. I’m very intentful about finding mentors and finding a regular cadence to match their schedule. In these meetings, I would ask what books they read. I would ask, What resources do you recommend for me? What books would you have me read? Which ones did you really like?
This approach built my library fast and I loved absorbing so much information and being able to integrate it. When you read something, you can then talk about it with someone, and get more from it the next time or open up paths to more books that add to that cluster of information.
All this knowledge gathering felt great, but it wasn’t the end of my learning.
Developing People and Leading Teams
One mentor, Isaac Saldana, who founded SendGrid, suggested that books are not only for your own knowledge, but also a tool to communicate with others. Because once you have the mental framework, you can use that framework to then communicate and lead other people.
This has already translated into how I develop people on my own teams and my overall leadership style.
On the team development side, I regularly share curated lists I’ve made. If someone is preparing to jump from an engineer to a manager, I have a few book suggestions ready and build that into the development process.
From the perspective of leadership, I started by reading two very different books: Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead and Ray Dalio’s Principles. As I read, I made notes of the principles that resonated with me.
You can have fun with this too. In The Culture Code, I read about how former Spurs coach Greg Popovich would get his players’ faces. So at a team Zoom meeting we all put our noses close to the camera and had a good laugh and team bonding moment.
The Democratization of Knowledge
I was around in the very beginning of BookClub when we were actually creating the logo and the branding. I remember us talking a lot about not wanting it to be focused on a book. And to me, where the logo landed is really representative of this idea of democratization of knowledge.
If you think about it, the stars have always been used in mythology, in storytelling, in wayfinding, in knowledge seeking, and in trying to understand the world. We look up and we try to reason about the world. It meant a lot to me that the metaphor embedded in the logo wasn’t confined to one demographic.
Unlike a walled off university, stories and books democratize education for everyone. Instead of access to information being sealed off behind closed doors, everybody can pick up a book. Because of their abundance, you can always be gaining and gathering more knowledge.
Deeper Understanding and Connection
I’ve long been fascinated with how people’s minds work. Books are a great tool to deepen that connection. It’s not only possible to connect with authors across time and space but also with authors in your own backyard. I recently read a book only to discover the author lived in the same city as me! But only through reading the book did I learn this person’s detailed perspectives and the way they look at things in general.
Beyond that, it’s interesting to learn what others' reactions are to books you are also reading. My mom passed down A Course in Miracles, a book about coming into an understanding of love’s presence, to me which she received from my grandmother. In the margins are stored their comments, questions, and often detailed thoughts, which gives me a deeper connection with them as people and where I’ve come from, all in the context of a physical book I keep with me.
Because of how dynamic books are and how many ways they have helped me learn, I’m excited to discover how else they can benefit people and teams and organizations in the years to come.