How My Love Of Reading Nearly Destroyed My Startup

   Sometime around the third grade, I discovered my love for reading. I can remember the day it started like it was yesterday.  I walked into the local library and suddenly felt like I was in a candy store. I had questions, and in these books were answers.  I just had to find them!  

 For most of my life, I have looked at my ability to read as one of my key personal strengths.   That is until I realized my reading habit was killing my startup.

The Reading Habit

   From the third grade on I have carefully cultivated the habit of reading daily.   In high school, I would read fiction and nonfiction or anything that caught my interest.  I just loved learning and books opened up so many new possibilities. In college,  I learned to devour class textbooks and assigned readings in a way that I could answer any question I asked.   I became very efficient and prided myself on the ability to tear apart any reading assignment that was put in front of me.  

 Reading was my habit, and I was hooked big time. 

You Can’t Read Your Way Into Business

   When I started my business, I had a ton of questions about the whole startup process. Without even thinking, I went reading through textbooks, business books, and academic research to find the answers. I started to sort out books that contained knowledge I could quickly apply.  I was going through four or five books a week like a fish in water.

 Months begin the pass, and I slowly started to sense that something was wrong.  I wasn’t progressing as fast as I thought I would.  My startup knowledge was growing, but not a lot was happening on the ground.   How could that be?  I was stumped.  I knew a lot about the startup process, but it just wasn’t translating to results.  

 And then it hit me: My reading was getting in the way of taking action.  I was focused on the wrong type of learning!

 Knowledge and information are not equal. Information is useful when making a decision, like learning the facts about keeping and maintaining an employee handbook.  Knowledge will mean something to you, like learning your employee handbook is a time saver by keeping you from sounding like a damned parrot that repeats the holiday schedule every few months.  

As Jim Balsillie put it, “You can’t learn surfing from a textbook.” I’d say the same goes for entrepreneurship.

A Startup Is Like Living A Question

  I began to investigate how other entrepreneurs learn, and I stumbled on something rather profound.   Entrepreneurs learn by doing things and use outcomes as feedback.  They also learn through their interactions with other entrepreneurs.  It is primarily through their actions and actions other entrepreneurs have taken that they develop the startup knowledge they need to succeed.

 Thus, the type of knowledge you seek to answer your startup questions comes from your experiences.  A startup is like a living question, and you find answers by taking action and paying attention to the outcomes. 

 Don’t get me wrong, books can be invaluable resources, and I still read voraciously.   Reading can give you insights, help you solve problems, inspire you and more.  Reading can validate and deepen your learning on the ground.  Yet learning primarily through reading can also overwhelm you with information and cause you to overthink your current situation, stopping you dead in your tracks. 

  Develop the habit of answering your startup questions through action.   Experiment, reflect and listen to the experiences of other entrepreneurs.   Constantly test how you see the world against reality and develop your own insights.  Let your outcomes become feedback to guide you to your goals.  Focusing on your experiences can dramatically speed up your startup learning. 

  Don’t let your reading habit sabotage your startup.  At the end of the day, success is about what you accomplished that day and not about what you read in a startup book.  


Also published on Medium.

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