FROM THE CAPTAIN'S WINDOW
Stories on Maritime Leadership
Do we still need books?
“So many books, so little time.”
― Frank Zappa
You see hundreds of posts on social media (including this one), covering a wide range of topics- from leadership lessons from…., ‘5’ points to remember….., ‘secrets’ to ……, to videos on a wide range of topics. There is a lot of information passing through our screens every day. Do we still need to read books?
In this self-serving article, I’m going to share ‘3’ reasons why you should read books.
In no particular order, the most influential books are the scriptures, the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, Tripitaka, Guru Granth Sahib, Hebrew Bible, and so on. Billions of these books have been sold, helping people understand what it means to be human, and distinguishing right from wrong. These are the bestsellers of all time, and I believe they will retain this status. Of course, how much has been implemented by people in their daily lives is another topic for discussion altogether.
Books such as The Communist Manifesto by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler and Common Sense by Thomas Paine influenced the masses to change the course of history, for better or worse.
The Republic by Plato, Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Arthashastra by Kautilya, and Daodejing attributed to Lao-Tzu put moral, political, ethical and economic conduct of people in practical terms.
Elements by Euclid, The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy by Isaac Newton, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei were among the milestones of mankind’s scientific discovery.
Books pass it on. Samuel Smiles observed the success stories of inventors like James Watt and published the book Self Help in 1859. The book inspired Sakichi Toyoda to work hard and excel at his work. So much was the book’s influence on him that it is on display under glass in a museum at his birth site. Sakichi in turn inspired his son Kiichirio Toyoda to build the Toyota Motor Company. Their management model in turn, inspired dozens of books on ‘The Toyota Way’ and ‘Lean Production’.
Books have no boundaries. The Kingdom of God is within you by Leo Tolstoy inspired Mahatma Gandhi to follow a path of non-violence to lead India’s campaign for independence. 'Autobiography of a Yogi' by Paramahansa Yogananda helped Steve Jobs realize the value of his own intuition and used it as a guide to self-realization.
The role of books throughout history in unquestionable. Which brings us to the question- how relevant are books today when you seem to have all information on Wikipedia and social media?
When I was growing up, we had no television or internet. The only window to the outside world was books. We had a great town library and I often read two 200 page books a day during vacations. I still have a boxed encyclopedia set that my father got me over 35 years ago.
I still invest in books more than in clothes and TV subscriptions but that’s me. My daughter has access to the internet but she has developed a healthy reading habit through her school and what she sees at home.
At the same time, we also spend considerable time on social media and we read many posts- insights, travel records, recollections- many of them truly fascinating and entertaining. But I can frankly say, and I speak for myself, that very few of them have left any lasting impression.
Take this article for example. It took me 5 hours to write it based on an idea I got last evening. You can comment below if you liked it or not.
My book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas, on the other hand, took over 5 years from conception to production. For research, I bought several books and subscribed to various online and print journals, spoke to scores of people, and even took a MBA program to absorb cutting-edge ideas on leadership. More time was spent on developing original mental-models, and to have leading industry experts review the book. And the results have been worth it- though I wrote the book mainly for merchant-mariners, reviewers from the armed forces, doctors, airline pilots and university professors have recommended the book for anyone who wants to lead anything, anywhere.
What I learnt when writing my own book is that it’s a much more intense and thought-driven process. A book distils the author’s experience and wisdom, and if he or she is articulate, a pleasure to read. With the current information overload, traditional publishers are very selective about which books they agree to print. They want to be sure that the book will sell at least a few thousand copies. These days, more than ever, when you hold a traditionally published book, you know you are getting great value between the covers. That is why, this article is free to read, and a decent book costs at least as much as a large pepperoni pizza.
Charlie "Tremendous" Jones says in his book (I’ve also heard Tony Robbins say it in his podcasts) “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” Invest your time carefully to choose both. My approach is that every book and every person I meet knows something that I don’t, and there is much to learn. Truly enough, there have been books at several points in my life which have changed my outlook in life and habits for the better.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself or someone else is a good book.
Captain VS Parani is the author of Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas (978-184995-314-6, Whittles Publishing). Originally from the Andaman Islands, he now lives in Cyprus with his family. He is currently writing the sequel to Golden Stripes, and can be reached at parani.org.