Managing Partner, Kenya-Ogilvy Africa
The first quarter of the year is almost over, have you achieved your reading goals? How many books have you read so far?
As an executive who works from home and with two young children, I felt that having a target was setting up myself for failure. So at the beginning of the year, I set to read more than I did last year. So far, I have read seven books.
‘Brands on a Mission’ by Dr Myriam Sidibe is on how brands can achieve social impact and business growth. Every marketer should read this and listen to her TedTalk, ‘The Simple Power of Handwashing.’ ‘My First Time’ by Janet Mbugua is another book that I have read this quarter. As a woman and a mother of girls, this one hit close to home.
‘She Speaks’ by Yvette Cooper is another book that I read this quarter. It’s a compilation of women’s speeches throughout history that changed the world, from Sojourner Truth’s ‘I am a Woman’ Rights’ speech in May 1851, to Maya Angelou’s ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ poem which she read during the inauguration of Bill Clinton in January 1993 to our very own Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “A World of Beauty and Wonder” in December of 2004. I have added it to my daughters’ library for them to read when they are older.
Tiffany Haddish’s autobiography, ‘The Last Black Unicorn’; is the fourth book I read this quarter. She tells her story of struggle, growth and triumph in an authentic and humorous way.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s ‘Infidel, My Life’ is the sixth book that I have read this quarter. It’s a true testament to the resilience of women. ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ by Oyinkan Braithwaite is the seventh book I have read this quarter. I am currently reading Trevor Noah’s ‘Born a Crime’ which I am hoping to finish over the weekend.
Which book(s) are you currently obsessed with?
A colleague gifted me ‘The Mamba Mentality’ by Kobe Bryant at the beginning of this year and I am obsessed. The principles he shares on resilience, fearlessness, obsessiveness, and passion are invaluable.
I have also just started reading Luvvie Ajayi Jones new best-seller, ‘Professional Troublemaker, The Fear – fighter Manual’ and I am obsessed! We’re all afraid of asking for what we want because we’re afraid of hearing “no.” We’re afraid of being different, of being too much or not enough. We’re afraid of leaving behind the known for the unknown. But to do the things that will truly, meaningfully change our lives, we have to become troublemakers.
What is your earliest reading memory?
I got my love for reading from my mum. I remember her buying my sister and I books to read when we were children and reading them with us. My first vivid reading memory was in primary school. I did not enjoy math; I would get through these lessons by hiding a storybook and reading as Mrs Kamau (my primary school teacher) taught fractions.
Which books have changed your life?
It is not one book in particular. I am a huge believer that good leaders must lead with empathy and compassion and books like ‘Empathetic Leadership’ by Michael F Brisciana and ‘Compassionate Leadership’ by Manley Hopkinson have helped me in my leadership journey.
What is your philosophy on books?
Read. Read. Read. Read as wide as you can, on as many topics as you can and by as many different authors. I am a crime buff, so I generally find myself gravitating towards crime thrillers, but I have been intentional this year in expanding my repertoire, reading more female and African authors. I do not watch movies that have been adapted from a book until I have read the book first.
Do you set aside time to read?
I set aside time to read when I know that I will not be distracted by my little ones or other competing needs. That is very early in the morning. I get up at 5am every day and I try to keep 5am to 6.30am as my time. I also keep books in the bathroom which is the only place that I can sometimes get some privacy and I hide to read.
In what ways do you think we create a thriving reading culture among the younger generation?
This is interesting as I have been having these conversations with my nieces and nephews. One is by getting them into the habit of reading when they are young whether that is by reading bedtime stories for our children, nieces and nephews or by getting them to read to each other. Secondly, we need to find a way to make reading fun.
We are obsessed with getting the younger generation to pass their grades and excel in academics. We have equated reading to passing or failing and we are not teaching them to read for enjoyment.
Jeremy van Tongeren
Country Director, SGA Security
What is your earliest reading memory?
As a child, I had a favourite book that I still own; ‘You Will Go to the Moon’ by Ira M. Freeman and Mae Freeman.
What book has changed you the most in this pandemic?
‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond. This is a series of essays about historical societal failures, brought about by environmental, political, social and economic catastrophe.
What book have you been reading recently that you couldn’t put down?
I am currently reading ‘Our Final Invention’ by James Barrat on the impact of Artificial Intelligence and potentially the end of the human era! I think everybody should be looking at the impact of Artificial Intelligence because it is already deeply entrenched in our world (albeit somewhat invisibly) and will increasingly penetrate every facet of our everyday lives.
The knowledge industry has moved digital. Do you subscribe to any reading apps or you’ve stuck to the traditional books?
I prefer paper for long reads because it is easy to insert bookmarks and dare I say it, make notes— in pencil! Online resources are also brilliant, because of the speed of access to relevant information, when building resources for a project or paper.
But for online, everybody can be a publisher. Peer review in the traditional physical publication cycle weeded out the non-factual, which is not the case today. For online, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the useful from the useless.
Which books are on your bedside table or Kindle tab for consumption at the end of the day?
I’m not yet a Kindle convert. However, I have Antony Beevor’s ‘Stalingrad’ on my table. This is a fantastic historical treatise of the battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of the Second World War in Russia. Another military history book well worth reading is 1915 by Lyn MacDonald. Both are highly recommended.
Readers of military history will know that wars are not won by the side with the best plan but the side which makes the fewest mistakes. As in war, so in business!
What it means is, that no plan is perfect, mistakes are inevitable, and speed and flexibility compensate for imperfection. Procrastination is always punished.
Which author or title speaks the most about your personality?
I’m not sure there is a link between someone’s bookshelf and his or her character. But if this is interpreted as a question of admiring a particular author (amongst the living) it has to be Elon Musk. To achieve stunning success in a plethora of industries on a global scale and at the very cutting edge of technology is remarkable. In Musk’s case, he also seems to have had time to write books about it! I can recommend ‘Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’ by Ashlee Vance.
How does reading help you keep up in your industry/trade?
Whilst it remains a manpower-intensive industry, we are seeing huge advances in electronic workflow management, artificial intelligence and information technology interfused with the human element to achieve integrated security solutions. Robotics and telematics are currently hot topics in the industry.
Do you have a system or pattern for organising your books and what’s the size?
I have more books than I have shelf space currently. There is a certain pleasure to be had unearthing a box from storage and discovering books you have not seen for a while.
Any books you can recommend?
In a competitive business environment, long-standing businesses can experience stagnation. I recently read Jim Stengel’s ‘Unleashing Innovations’ which discusses the concept of reviving the performance of old and stagnant businesses by involvement with start-ups. I would also like to recommend ‘Purpose+Profit: How Organisations Will Shape the Defining’ by Rens ter Weijde. It explores the corporate world’s possible responses to emerging world challenges such as inequality and climate change.