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Work Smart

Why You Should Read 50 Books This Year (And How To Do It)

From Mark Zuckerberg to Bill Gates, all of the most successful leaders are avid readers. Here's how to build the habit.

[Photo: Flickr user Sam Blommaert]

If you want to get ahead in business, sit down and pick up a book. Warren Buffett spends 80% of his day reading. Bill Gates reads for an hour each night before going to bed. And Mark Cuban credits part of his success to the fact that he is willing to read more than anyone else.

"Leaders are readers," says author and syndicated radio host Dave Ramsey, who reads at least one book a week and gives five of his favorite books to every new team member as part of the onboarding process. "It’s in my DNA to always want to grow as a leader. We want our team to always be learning and growing, too," he says.

Business boils down to personal interactions, and exposure to new ideas challenges you and expands your understanding of viewpoints, says Joan Fallon, CEO of the biotech company Curemark, who reads a book a week. "Reading forces me to stop thinking about my day-to-day life for long enough that I often find a new perspective or a new way of thinking about something," she says.

For example, Fallon says Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain gave her tips on how to work with introverts. "This understanding gives me the empathy to work with other introverts when I encounter them in a business, or even in social situations," she says.

Reading 50 to 60 books a year helps Ajit Singh, partner at the venture capital firm Artiman Ventures and consulting professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford University, be a better communicator. "Leadership requires storytelling; the story can be the vision of the company, or an acquisition plan, or an impending layoff," he says. "Telling a compelling story and listening with empathy have contributed much to my skills as a leader."

What To Read

If you’re not sure where to start, get recommendations from friends or mentors. Gates shares his favorites on his blog throughout the year. Buffett shares his favorite picks in his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.

Singh gets inspiration on what to read by talking to independent bookshop owners. "A latte and 15 minutes go a long way," he says, adding that he also checks out The New York Review of Books and Kirkus Reviews.

You can also check your local library for recommendations or join a business book club. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg set a goal to read one book every two weeks, and he started A Year of Books page on Facebook as a virtual book club. He and followers discussed the choices and invited authors to participate via webcasts; by December, he had finished 23 books.

How To Do It

Finding the time to read needs to be a priority. "I wouldn’t recognize a Kardashian, and I don’t know who got kicked off the island," says Ramsey. "My suggestion for anyone who wants to be successful: turn off the TV and open a book. You can become an expert on just about anything just by reading and learning."

Sam Thomas Davis, author of Unhooked: How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones That Stick, reads one nonfiction book each week and says you have to make reading a habit instead of waiting until you’re in the mood.

"Identify a constant trigger for when to read (like an existing habit) and commit to it," he writes in his blog. "I read for 30 minutes every morning, immediately after my wife goes to work. As soon as I’ve kissed her goodbye, I sit at my desk, set a timer for 30 minutes, and read without interruption. By scheduling when to read, you begin to look forward to it, and can enjoy it guilt-free."

Reading on the road is another popular way leaders find time. Singh reads during flights. "During rush hour, I don’t drive; I take Uber and read in the backseat," he says.

Fallon also finds time during travels. "Every day there is time that is idle or spent traveling from one place to another," she says. "If those gaps are long, I can read a book; if they are shorter, I read an article. Everything I read adds value to my life: personally, professionally, emotionally, and on so many levels."