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Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal

Every great entrepreneur reads — voraciously. If you’re serious about success, it’s time to jump on their bandwagon.

Allon Raiz

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I hated reading as a kid. I hated reading as a teenager. I even hated reading in my early 20s. And then came In Search of Excellence by Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters, which I was given as a birthday present in 1985. It sat on my shelf unread for seven years. In 1992, at the age of 25, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read… and I’ve never stopped.

The irony is that In Search of Excellence has since been largely debunked, with the lessons it taught regarded by some as fraudulent. Regardless, I found this reading experience incredibly helpful as I tried to apply the book’s lessons in my first entrepreneurial endeavour, the New York Sausage Factory.

I am fascinated by the correlation between successful entrepreneurs and their obsession with reading. Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms. Self-made millionaire and author, Steve Siebold, has interviewed over 1 200 of the world’s wealthiest people and says one of the first things you’ll notice in a wealthy person’s home is an extensive library of books.

All the entrepreneurs I mentor personally are now required to go on a strict diet of one business-related book every two weeks. Any who fail to comply very quickly land up as one of my ex-mentees.

So why is reading so important for entrepreneurs?

1. Opens your mind to new concepts

We are the sum of all our experiences. Books open us up to the experiences of others, too, and show us — conceptually — how they have overcome some of the problems they’ve encountered. This can broaden your arsenal of tools to manage the future. An example of this was when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book completely reshaped my respect for documenting processes; something that permeates Raizcorp today.

2. Reinforces old concepts

We all know how lonely the entrepreneurship journey can be. When reading about how others have overcome obstacles or used a certain ‘formula’ as part of their strategy, it is very affirming when you discover that you are using the same ‘formula’ and it encourages you to continue pursuing that strategy. For example, one of the rules at Raizcorp is that we don’t do training only, and we don’t engage with anyone before they have passed our selection process. Very often, there has been a temptation to relax the rules for the lure of a big contract. It can become a lonely space in your mind when wrestling with that decision. But, when you read about other successful entrepreneurs who have stuck to their principles despite a commercial sacrifice and still succeeded, it encourages you to remain true to your own.

Related: Why You Should Be Reading More Fiction And Watching Less News

3. Apply what works for you right now

The saying that the master appears when the student is ready is particularly applicable to reading a book. You can read the same book at two different periods on your entrepreneurial journey and take away completely different lessons. A healthy way to read any book is not to believe it, but to use it as information that may become applicable to your particular situation. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and every context is different, so it’s important for you to filter and discern the most important information for you to use or adapt.

4. Cheap learning curve

It’s said that nothing teaches you like experience. The only problem with this is that experience generally costs you money or pain. By reading other people’s experiences and thoughts through their books, you can identify different patterns that are replicated time and again. There is a strong probability these lessons will apply to you, too, and I would always err on the side of this ‘wisdom’. If you’ve read 20 books that all reinforce the importance of spending more time on selecting your team, you would be wise to devise a strong selection process even if you haven’t had an issue with this previously.

5. Great way to connect

Recently, I was sitting on an overseas flight and noticed the person next to me was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I had also read the book and loved it. I used the common experience to open up a conversation that subsequently led to a deal. Even if I haven’t read the book someone is reading, my genuine curiosity about whether the book is valuable or not can be a way of connecting with a random stranger. If they are reading a business book, it’s highly probable they are in business themselves, which increases my chances of widening my business network.

Pulling it all together

Reading books is not for everyone but, with apps such as Audible and a pair of earphones, nowadays you can have someone read to you. I never travel in my car or on a plane without an audiobook playing away. I find myself pausing the book and allowing my mind to wander as I reflect on and synthesise what I’ve just heard with a view to how it could be applied to my own business. Every book I have read has provided useable nuggets that have been instrumental in driving my business forward, and I believe they can do the same for you.

“Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms.”

Allon Raiz is the CEO of Raizcorp, the only privately-owned small business ‘prosperator’ in Allon Raiz is the CEO of Raizcorp. In 2008, Raiz was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and in 2011 he was appointed for the first time as a member of the Global Agenda Council on Fostering Entrepreneurship. Following a series of entrepreneurship master classes delivered at Oxford University in April 2014, Raiz has been recognised as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Follow Allon on Twitter.

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How Are South Africans Feeling About The Work Environment?

A new study reveals individual fear that their skills will outdate and a growing need for lifelong learning.

Andrew Johnston

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A research report by MasterStart has found that just 23.8% of working South Africans believe their current skills will keep them employed in ten years’ time. With the burgeoning Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerating the pace of change in the world of work, most South Africans are looking to ‘future-proof’ their careers. And for 95%, lifelong learning is the key to retaining relevancy.

Related: 15 Of The Best And Most Unusual Online Courses For Entrepreneurs

Based on a survey with a sample group of over 1000 people across varying demographics and industries, the MasterStart South African Workforce Barometer uncovered that – while artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) are on the radar – other factors are currently seen as more immediate factors impacting job retention.

Andrew Johnston, CEO of MasterStart says, “Our workforce is clearly concerned, but positively, our research revealed that people are aware that frequent upskilling and reskilling will aid them in remaining relevant and employable.

In a country where unemployment is an ongoing issue, it’s imperative that we empower people to future-proof their careers by making lifelong learning opportunities continuously accessible in order to bridge critical capability gaps and compete with global standards.”

Some pivotal findings in the report included:

  1. It’s tough out there: 80% of the sample believed the job market to be tougher now than it was ten years ago. People in media and marketing especially agreed with this (92.9%), along with those in the manufacturing (87.9%) and financial services (87%) industries.
  2. Why’s it perceived as so tough? Both macro and micro factors were listed, including the political and economic climate, increased competition, fewer employment opportunities and rapid change.
  3. Age and lack of skills are the biggest barriers: While age was referenced most frequently as a barrier to future employment – especially for those over 50 – in the 18-24 and 25-34 year old brackets, lack of skills was seen as the most prohibiting factor.
  4. People in IT and tech felt most secure about their skills: Collectively, just under half the sample felt they’d been held back by lack of skills. 30% of participants in IT and tech were completely confident their skills would survive the ten year test. Those in other industries were noticeably less secure.
  5. We’re not yet comfortable sharing our workloads with robots: Close to a quarter of respondents felt AI had already impacted their industry, but just under 20% said they were completely comfortable sharing their workload with robots or processes automated by AI. Surprisingly, 18-24 year-olds had the highest level of unease about this.

Lifelong learning is the best way to remain relevant

Whilst the Barometer found a workforce in a somewhat sombre mood, positively, people were putting plans in place to learn further to acquire the skills they need.

It was good to see that 80% of respondents were planning to study in the future, with self-enrichment being the primary motivator (66%), followed by the aspiration to get further and be promoted (54%) and the desire to keep abreast with industry-related changes (41%). 58% of people favoured online learning, and a number had already completed courses.

Johnston says, “This shows a workforce that’s committed to continuously learning the new hard and soft skills that’ll entrench the adaptability required to survive the breakneck pace of the workplace.”

Those that had already studied listed the ‘big gains’ as being:

  • Tangible results: like a salary increase, promotion, skills (to be more marketable), more experience and more opportunities.
  • Higher performance: like better knowledge, keeping up-to-date, better understanding of the way the workplace works, faster completion of tasks, and having to employ fewer people as they had the skills themselves.
  • Better motivation and soft skills: like being better at dealing with people, the ability to explain concepts to clients, and overall improved communication skills.

Johnston concludes, “Given the competitiveness of the market – which will only increase with the rise of automation – having a sought-after skillset is the best way to guarantee ongoing job retention.  This means using learning to get to grips with AI and RPA in order to build efficiencies and one’s overall value-add.”

He says we also need to consider providing alternate adult education programmes to give young people the best chance of gainful employment, “It’s important we make ongoing online learning materials easily accessible in ‘snackable’, bite-sized pieces to make learning easier.”

Lastly, he believes a lot of learning is up to corporates, “Providing ongoing executive-level education grooms great leaders and provides turn-key or customised solutions to bridge big capability gaps to foster greater efficiency, productivity and profitability. Our research shows that South Africans are hungry to learn – so companies that provide this opportunity will have a greater chance of talent retention, and attraction.”

To find out more, access the MasterStart South African Workforce Barometer report here.

 Related: 6 Free Courses That Can Help You Become A Successful Entrepreneur

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Company Posts

Building Customer Relationships

Are you working in a retail environment? Explore the Wits Plus online short course in Customer Relationship Building through the DigitalCampus.

Wits Plus

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Most retail businesses agree that providing excellent customer experience is imperative for a retail store to be successful.

But what is customer experience?  According to Forrester, an independent market research company, customer experience is “How customers perceive their interactions with your company”.

They explain that good customer experiences have three relevant characteristics for the customer:

  1. They are useful, thus deliver value and meet customer needs.
  2. They are usable, so the value is easy to find and engage with.
  3. They are enjoyable, and emotionally engaging so people want to use them.

The customer ‘interactions’ are the two-way exchanges that customers have with the company. A customer will make a judgement as to whether the company meets their needs, is easy to use and enjoyable to do business with. These judgements happen every single time the customer interacts with the company: when they navigate the company website, call the contact centre, enter the retail store, buy company products, talk to an employee, respond to an advert and so forth.

Providing excellent customer experience is challenging. The systems and processes required for excellent customer experience include understanding your customers, building a positive emotional connection with them, capturing and acting on feedback, developing and training everyone in the company and measuring the return on investment. All this is difficult enough to manage in a national company but what does it mean in this age of international and multinational companies?

Related: Customer Control For Entrepreneurs

Providing a superb customer experience is first underpinned by understanding the cultures, history, experiences and sensibilities of customers and then respecting them. Again, this is more manageable if your company is national and its cultural values are aligned with the national values and history. However, achieving this in a multi-national organisation where the historical experience and cultural values of the organisation may not be aligned with the country they are operating in, can be a real challenge.  A diverse workforce is also imperative to providing an outstanding customer experience and the importance of diversity is magnified in a multinational organisation.

This is demonstrated by the infamous ‘H&M hoodie incident’ that happened early this year. In Sweden the only jungle is urban, there are no wild monkeys and the black population is relatively small. As one would expect in a Scandinavian organisation, the H&M group board has good male-female diversity, but there are few black Swedes in senior decision-making positions. Few Swedes have experienced how skin colour can provide an all-pervasive feeling of difference, of ‘us and them’, and they have little, if any, understanding of these issues on a personal level.

However, H&M is a global organisation and therefore needs to have an intimate understanding of the different cultures and sensibilities of their customers in the different countries where they have a footprint; and respect them. The simple expedient of introducing a process whereby a local executive ensures that a new product is culturally sensitive could have demonstrated some organisational understanding of this issue.

The H&M hoodie debacle is an excellent example of how not understanding the customer can negatively impact on customer experience; how it can break the emotional engagement with customers and lose their trust. This incident has made it difficult for South African customers to engage positively with H&M. The importance of diversity in the senior teams throughout a multinational can directly impact the customer experience and the bottom line. In short, one picture and a hoodie nearly undermined the reputation of the organisation in South Africa!

Are you working in a retail environment? Explore the Wits Plus online short course in Customer Relationship Building through the DigitalCampus.

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Company Posts

Forever Learning, Discovering And Empowering

From work-life balance to finding the right support, Constance Kawelenga CA(SA), director and owner of Zuva Financial Services, shares her top tips on how to manage a successful business as a sole proprietor.

SAICA

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constance

“Every business has its own slice of the market; one just needs to define their service offerings and target market.”

“When I established Zuva Financial Services, it was under the ‘illusion’ of a work-life balance. I say ‘illusion’, because when you work for yourself, you put in just as many hours, if not more, than when you work for someone else.

“I also wanted the flexibility to be able to shape my working space around my own lifestyle and family, and not to have to account to anyone else. The rigorous training to become a chartered accountant taught me to be highly disciplined. That means when I work for my own business, I am just as tough on myself, if not tougher, than any boss would have been in a different setting. The plus for me is that I am able to be there for my family when I need to be, and compensate for this in a way that best suits my lifestyle.”

Being your own boss has its pros and cons. However, for Constance, it is all worthwhile. Setting targets for her business every year and achieving those targets is deeply satisfying. Again, this is something she attributes to her training — she values client success and feedback.

“Whenever I get affirmation from clients regarding the value that we are adding to their business, and they refer other clients to us, I celebrate those achievements. The growth of Zuva Financial Services’ has resulted mostly from referrals or word of mouth and that, to me, is a testimony to the value that our clients place on our services.”

Related: The Power Of Finding Your Why

Overcoming a lack of internal support

The hardest thing about being the owner of Zuva Financial Services for Constance is the lack of an internal support structure. However, Constance has developed a network of technical specialists that she can call upon to consult. She agrees that technical support remains the toughest challenge of being a sole practitioner.

“We offer a mixed bag of services such as accounting, taxation, secretarial, payroll and even Black Economic Empowerment consulting. Additionally, I have audit clients — some in industries with specific reporting requirements such as estate agents and attorneys working with trusts. On a smaller scale, the breadth of services is almost the same as those offered by bigger firms. The difference is that I don’t have the internal resources such as a technical department.

Prior to establishing Zuva Financial Services, Constance spent six years in audit, mostly in Zimbabwe, but also in Botswana and South Africa. Since then, she has also been exposed to other financial roles, where she fulfilled financial management roles for different organisations such BMW Financial Services.

Constance advises those aspiring to follow in her footsteps and open their own companies not to overthink it, or doubt themselves.

Related: Can Computers Replace Human Accountants? We Doubt They Can

Don’t overthink it

”It took me such a long time to take my first step because I could not believe that I would be able to build up a client base. Today, there are times when I am overwhelmed by the workload on my plate. It reminds me of my mother-in-law’s advice when I started my business. She told me that every business has its own slice of the market; one just needs to define their service offerings and target market.”

Constance describes herself as “forever learning, discovering and empowering.” She adds: “We each have a unique walk in life — ours is to boldly step out and embrace it”.

Visit www.saica.co.za

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