CTO Compass series
- Welcome to The CTO Compass
- Solving Problems with Precision: The Science of Structured Thinking
- Are you response-able?
- Keep Score and Watch Your Performance Soar
- The Importance of Software Maintenance For Successful Software
- How To Make Good Contracts With Yourself
- Does your business have an operating system?
- 🧹 Messy Code, Messy Kitchen – It’s time to do the washing up
- How to be 37 times better by this time next year
- Good Timber Does Not Grow With Ease
- Create a compelling vision for your organisation
- Why embracing Tsundoku will make you more insightful and a more interesting person
- The Maintenance Burden: What You Don’t See When Adding New Features
- 8 tips for improving your decision-making
- How to fix your time and attention leaks
- Faking It Until You Make It: Why You Don’t Have to Automate Everything (Yet)
- How to turn Positive Thinking into Positive Action
- How to take advantage of alignable differences to make change more acceptable
- Your chair may be trying to kill you – and what to do about it
- How to craft your day for maximum focus
- 1000 seconds to boost your focus, energy and well-being
Three years ago, I started a new Christmas tradition in our family.
On Christmas Eve, we celebrate Jólabókaflóðið. It is an Icelandic tradition of curling up together by the fire to read “a flood of books”.
I have always made it a point to buy books over other entertainment, and I have a rule to buy any book that interests my children. However, one side effect is that our house is littered with bookshelves with books stacked two deep. Many people might look askew at the piles of physical books strewn around. Fortunately, they don’t know the true extent of it–until they also look at the virtual pile on my Kindle.
I’ve always been a bookworm and tend to choose books over other entertainment. To encourage my children to become readers, I have a rule that whenever they show interest in a book, I buy it without a second thought. As a result, our bookshelves are often stacked two rows deep, and we still have piles of books littered around. Some people might think it’s a bit of a mess; fortunately, they don’t know the true extent of it–until they also look at the virtual pile on my Kindle.
There’s a Japanese word, Tsundoku (積ん読), which describes the habit of acquiring books and letting them pile up without reading them. Most people might look at this negatively. I will try to convince you there is great power in embracing Tsundoku and building your own “anti-library”.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb first coined the term “anti-library” in his book The Black Swan when he was describing Italian writer Umberto Eco’s relationship with his books:
Every unread book is a reminder of what you don’t know
I haven’t tried to count my hoard, but I’m confident that between my physical and digital collections, I have at least several hundred unread books. Your perception informs your reality, and there are always different ways of looking at the same situation. I choose to look at my pile of unread books as a reminder of what I don’t yet know, a reminder that our knowledge is finite and imperfect. It inspires curiosity and acts as a catalyst in a lifelong journey of learning.
In our work at Foxsoft, I often say that since we build and maintain a wide variety of business systems, we have an advantage where we can bring what may be considered normal in one industry into another where it is seen as novel and have a dramatic impact on the operations of the organisation. You can gain similar by reading widely and exposing yourself to new ideas from other areas and eras. The larger the anti-library, the more chance of serendipity and insight.
Building your anti-library
Let’s say I’ve convinced you that an anti-library is a worthy endeavour. Millions of books are already in existence, hundreds more are released each day, and you only have so much time. How do you choose which books to add to your anti-library?
Start by listing books you already know you want to read. Then, ask yourself what you are curious about. Part of the goal of an anti-library is to encourage that curious streak; you want books with the potential to change your life and expose you to new ideas and ways of thinking.
If you admire historical figures, seek out works that cover their life. As you read, note other books the author references that interest you. I have an ANTILIBRARY tag in my note-taking system to flag these for later retrieval.
Remember, there is a large second-hand book market out there. We love visiting Wigtown in Scotland- the book capital of Scotland- with at least 7 or 8 second-hand bookshops in the high street. Peruse the shelves and pick books that have attractive covers. There are lots of gems off the beaten path of the bestseller lists.
Reply to this email; I will gladly recommend a few books that have profoundly changed my life.
Invest in knowledge
How big should your anti-library be? I think that’s a personal choice. Some might find having many unread books to be anxiety-inducing. The key is to stay within your means and remember that knowledge is a process and an investment in yourself. Even if you start with three unread books on your bedside table, that is an excellent step into the unknown.