About a year ago I found myself on campus at MIT in Boston, participating in the first year of a three year program called the Entrepreneurial Master’s Program — the brainchild of agile start-up and growth guru Verne Harnish and EO — the global entrepreneur’s organization I’m involved with.
One of the many things that really stuck with me was the idea of designing an internal Continuing Education Program within my own organization as a way to be intentional about professional growth and continued learning for my team. The idea is simple and easy to implement: it's essentially a book club with incentives and rewards to help compel participation.
To give credit where credit is due, this idea was inspired by Arnie Malham. His company actually designed a plug-and-go version of this idea at betterbookclub.com for leaders and companies to easily install and utilize. With that said, I found it very pretty to design on my own.
Here’s what we’re doing: we call it "The Marmoset Book Club."
I’ve strategically curated a collection of about 50 books (so far, plus multiple copies of a few), most of which I’ve read myself. The collection is specifically curated to meet the topics, trends, and subject areas I believe to be most critical to my people, my organization, and to our industry. At my company, we’re especially focused in human systems, psychology, innovation, and creativity -- so those are the topics you'll find in our library.
To put it the way Verne Harnish explained it back at MIT, the human brain is better and much more powerful than any computer in the world. If you think of the human brain as a high-powered operating system, you should also consider the software you load into it. Or to put it more simply — think of what you’re doing… and also what you’re reading and learning as the latest software you’re loading into your human OS.
As the leader of my organization, I have the unique opportunity to actually curate and load the latest and greatest software into our collective operating system with an idea as simple as a library. Here’s how we do it:
We ask (i.e. require) everyone in our organization to select and read one book every 6 months, and write a 2-page book report, covering a few pointed questions and critiques.
As an incentive and reward, everyone earns a $125 gift card to the local area restaurant or store of their choice. Further, for those who are especially motivated by learning and continuing education, staff can read up to a book a month — and upon submitting the book report, they earn the gift card.
In the approximately 9 months since launching the Library, my staff has ingested more than 75 books in total. Considering the awesomeness of the human operating system — that’s a ton of new software we’ve just loaded into our collective intelligence. Further, it’s a super lightweight and easy program to implement as part of your Continuing Education plan for staff and a pretty unique value-add benefit for everyone. I regularly get rave feedback from my staff, as they enjoy having a variety of books to choose from.
Okay, for those scrutinizing leaders out there, you can do the math. For a team that's super motivated by learning (or by gift cards), they can read up to 12 books a year and earn up to $1500 in gift cards annually. Multiply that times your staff size -- we have about 40 people -- and at $125 per book, I've got a budget range of roughly $15k to $25k a year (most people do the minimum 2 books a year). Now I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty reasonable cost for achieving high impact, high reward growth and continuing education for a staff of 40 people. It also serves as a bold statement for my people, highlighting the importance of reading, learning and perpetual growth within our culture and tribe.
As you can see, we've had some fun with it -- adding library cards and stamps, so folks can see who's previously checked out the book. We also keep a binder of the book reports, so people can peruse the experiences and reviews of others to help choose their next book.
If this idea hasn't struck a chord with you, think of it this way: In business, there are always competitive games being played publically, on the outside, that everyone can see… And there are also the competitive games and strategies happening in private, behind closed doors, that only you can see from the inside. This "book club" idea is but one of the many inside games or strategies any organization can add to achieve an instant, high impact competitive advantage.
What are you programming your organization’s operating system with?
How are you developing your people? How are you encouraging growth and continued learning?
What's your "inside" advantage?