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Top CEOs Don’t Read Getting Things Done

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The New York Times ran an article about the books that sit on the shelves of America’s Top C.E.Os. Surprisingly, there’s not many business or productivity books like Getting Things Done or The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Instead top C.E.Os fill their libraries with fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Take Apple CEO, Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs has an extensive collection of works by William Blake, an 18th century mystic poet and artist. Michael Moritz, the venture capitalist who took PayPal, Google, and YouTube public, reads T. E. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom.’ The article reports C.E.Os with an interest in climate change aren’t reading Al Gore, but rather books from the 15th century about the weather, Egyptian droughts, and even replicas of Sumerian tablets recording extraordinary changes in climate.

Why C.E.Os read fiction, poetry, philosophy, and biographies

It teaches you how to think. Most business books set everything out for the reader in a step-by-step fashion which doesn’t require much mental participation. Fiction, on the other hand, requires the reader to actively take part with the author in order to synthesize the message. The same is true with philosophy or poetry.

New ideas. Reading fiction or the classics from antiquity can help C.E.Os make idea connections they couldn’t make just by reading business books. Perhaps Aristotle could shed light on how to lead or maybe Crime and Punishment can give a marketing director an idea for a new ad campaign.

Learn success from the lives of successful people. If you want to be successful, read about the lives of successful people. Biographies are the original self improvement books. From biographies you can learn how history’s most successful people thought and worked. Take what you read from biographies and apply it in your life.

This article reminded me of the value of reading fiction and other non-business/financial books. I think reading fiction and other genres of literature will help me get new insights for law school and my blog. Perhaps Ovid has something to say about personal finance or maybe Joseph Heller has an insight on how to succeed on law school exams. It’s time I go to the library and find out.

Hat tip my wonderful wife Kate for the article.