Enjoy reading

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I love reading essays and poetry, probably even more than I enjoy reading plays. Reading plays is sort of laborious. I prefer watching them or making them. I love reading novels, especially fat ones written in the 19th century. I love reading religious confessions; tales of saints, mystics and wanderers; and philosophy if it has some practical application.

What do I avoid? Probably a certain kind of postmodernism that I find cynical and meaningless, and a certain kind of literary work by some male writers where the women characters are beautiful and get raped a lot, but in a literary way.

Sarah Ruhl: By the book‘ The New York Times Book Review

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‘might be a bother’

What author, living or dead, would you most like to meet, and what would you like to know?

Funnily enough, I don’t want to meet most of my favorite writers. I want to give them their privacy in the afterlife. It is enough for me to live inside their books. Meeting them might somehow degrade the experience of reading them, and I might be a bother to them. But if I had to answer . . . hmm . . . what about a dinner party with St. Augustine before his conversion, Shakespeare before he wrote his last play, and Sappho before her exile. I suppose the conversation would veer from: How to live? — to: Which folio of “King Lear” did you really want published? — to: What was the rest of Fragment 31?

Sarah Ruhl: By the book‘ The New York Times Book Review

‘Starting point’

If the story that staffer wrote today was the sole determinant of the staffer’s success, then editing it would be the manager’s most important job. But if the ultimate determinant of the staffer’s success is his progress over time, then the reason for editing today’s story becomes something more — a starting point for a good conversation with the staffer about asking better interview questions.

-Butch Ward ‘How are you helping your staff improve? Maybe you need a strategy‘ Poynter

‘Not unbend our breakfast’

Taking the curve from the croissant, like taking the circumflex out of circulation, is a way of unbending the world, reducing the store of superfluous civilization that is essential to its sanity, and to our continuity. Let us not unbend our breakfast, or oversimplify our spelling too eagerly, or too soon. Such levellings, however efficient they may seem, in the end merely flatten our minds.

– Adam Gopnik ‘Straightened-out croissants and the decline of civilization‘ The New Yorker

‘But books do not take time…”

We enter the bookstore, see the many volumes arrayed there, and think: so much to read, so little time. But books do not take time; they give time, they expand our resources of both heart and mind. It may sound paradoxical, but they are, in the last analysis, scientific, for they trace the far-flung route by which we come to understand our world and ourselves. They take our measure. And we are never through discovering who we are.

-Arnold Weinstein ‘Don’t turn away from the art of life‘ The New York Times

To share ‘great failures’

What are some other leadership lessons you’ve learned?

One of the things that was most challenging for me was the confidence to open up. I’ve always been a relatively private person, and maybe with a natural tendency to assume that people really don’t want to hear what you might have to say.

Most people want to hear about themselves; they don’t really want to hear about you, and so I probably utilized that over the years to my advantage — to ask about other people, learn about other people.

But one of the lessons I learned is that, in the transition from management to leadership, I had to open up. I had to be vulnerable. I had to share with people. In fact, it was more important than anything to share with people the great failures in my life as opposed to the successes.

I draw a distinction between management and leadership. There’s a contractual relationship with your manager. And you can do your job and fulfill the terms of that contract and never really have your heart in it.

But leadership is something completely different. With leadership, you make a decision every day about whether you choose to follow someone. And you make it in your heart, not your head. The ability to inspire followership is so different than management, and it requires transparency, authenticity, vulnerability and all things that are completely unnatural to you when you are trying to build and achieve and accomplish.

-Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab, interview with Adam Bryant ‘You’ve got to open up to move up‘ The New York Times

‘Never lose sight’

I don’t particularly care about the usual. If you want to get an idea of a friend’s temperament, ethics and personal elegance, you need to look at him under the tests of severe circumstances, not under the regular rosy glow of daily life. Can you assess the danger a criminal poses by examining only what he does on an ordinary day?

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Black Swan

What about lessons you learned in college?

A business strategy course in my senior year stands out. I had maintained a 4.0 average all the way through, and I wanted to graduate with a perfect average. It came down to the final exam, and I had spent many hours studying and memorizing formulas to do calculations for the case studies.

The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, “Go ahead and turn it over.” Both sides were blank.

And the professor said, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”

And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.

It was just a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of people who do the real work.

-Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab, interview with Adam Bryant ‘You’ve got to open up to move up‘ The New York Times