What are some of the keys to entrepreneurship, leading remote workers, and keeping up with robots?
With technology nipping at our heels it’s never been more important to keep up with the latest tools in your trade. Thankfully that’s never been easier now that there are hundreds of books out there on business, productivity, time-management, and working your side hustle, all of which are incredibly helpful if you can ever find the time to read them. If only you could get the most important information in a way that fits easily into your busy schedule…
Patrick Brigger is the co-founder and chairman of getAbstract, a subscription service where you pay a monthly fee for access to their library of over 15,000 different books, each one summarized into a really short read. They went on to do a Chinese language version, it was a number one hit in China. I recently interviewed Patrick for the LEADx Podcast, where we talked about his most recommended books, how he sees the future, and the right way to lead from afar. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: In your own words, how would you describe the value proposition that getAbstract offers?
Patrick Brigger: We started because we love books and we love the knowledge that's inside of the books. People don't read that much anymore. We would like to inspire people to read again and that this knowledge is incredible and it is in so many sources, and it doesn't get lost. The idea of the summary is not a revolutionary idea. It has existed before. The Library of Alexandria had these paper rolls and at the top there was a little summary so you knew what was inside. Even today with Google, you can find everything. You search for Six Sigma for instance, you get thousands of hits. What we would like to do is to find the relevant knowledge then also rate it. If it's not good knowledge, we don't need to summarize. Then we bring it to the client so in a short time they can learn something that helps them and may improve their lives a little bit.
Kruse: Take us back to when you first had the idea of getAbstract. This was brand new for you.
Brigger: That's right. We were three friends. Well, actually, I have to go a step back. getAbstract wasn't the first entry that we started. We started a couple of other things and they worked for short time. It took some iteration until one of us had that idea about summaries of the book. The three of us had different expertise within our knowledge. Each one brought that specific expertise into the company. One guy was good at literature publishing. One guy was good at sales or rights organization. Another guy was good at the technological implementation.
Kruse: How are you finding people who want to learn quickly through these book summaries?
Brigger: I'm not sure if people don't want to learn. I think at the end, everybody would like to learn. It's not that I get up in the morning and I say, “I don't want to learn. I just want to consume YouTube movies.” I think a lot of people are afraid or maybe embarrassed or they believe they're not up to it. I know I studied technically in university. I always looked up to these guys who did economic studies as they were like gods to me, because they knew about these business models and all those things. For me that was a black box, and I was almost a little scared because I thought I could never catch up.
I think a lot of people would love to learn but they don't have the tools. They don't have the time to do an MBA for instance or to study chain sequencing or whatever. If they had a possibility to do so without being embarrassed and having to say “Oh I don't know,” I think a lot of people would like to do it. I think that's what we need to try to show them, that it can be fun. It can be easy. It doesn't have to consume a whole lot of time.
Kruse: Who do you think is consuming your summaries the most from a B2C level?
Brigger: When we started the product, we thought it's for the C level, the Chiefs-Something-Officer. Very often it's not those people. A chief financial officer doesn't need to read the financial books, because he knows those. We were surprised to see that we had a lot of people with technical backgrounds for instance who did not know about some business concepts or who started to climb the corporate ladder. Had to lead a small team and they had to do a one-on-one conversation with their employees. They were looking for advice how to do a 360-feedback. A lot of those people love that they can read it and get the ideas in a short time or also find the right books, which they are then to read as a whole.
Kruse: How do you lead effectively when you have remote workers in different locations, in different time zones?
Brigger: That's why one of the books from Lisa McLeod the Leading with Noble Purpose is what I like. In the end, every person, whatever you do, if you have a purpose in what you do and you are engaged and happy, you don't have to be told every day what you have to do. I think that's one of the key points. You have to have a climate of trust also. We have about 100 fixed employees and we have a couple of hundred freelancers. I don't know all the freelancers but all the others I know every single person by name. I know what their backgrounds are, because I think it's important. That relationship I think is a big key in being able to work with people distributed all over the globe.
Kruse: What books would you recommend that the LEADx audience might enjoy?
Brigger: Some of the best books to read are about how to become a more effective leader. Did you write also about effective techniques, time management and things like this? Now I’m in a phase on soft skills. One of them that I really like is The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. He was a professor who was supposed to give his last lecture. He was also very ill. He had cancer. It was really going to be his last lecture because he knew he was going to die afterwards. He wanted to leave a legacy for his children. What I like to keep in my head from the book is that he says, “People are more important than material.” For instance, he had a new car. His sister's kids were going in the car. She was afraid to let them go in the car, because they could damage the car. He takes a can of coke and throws it over the car and says, “Don't worry about it.” I think being a parent I experienced it everyday, you go “Please be careful! Don't do this, don't do that.” Sometimes you have to remember with little kids that sometimes something breaks. It's just material. It can be replaced. It doesn't matter.
Kruse: What else have you been reading?
Brigger: Another interesting one that we actually presented is this book the Little Red Book of Selling. I'm not a salesperson at all. This book we gave to all of our employees, especially the ones in sales. We gave it to everybody else as well. There's just this one quote that I always try to remember when I want to sell something. What he says is, “If they like you and they believe you and they trust you and they have confidence in you, then they may buy from you.” I think it's a very good summary of what you should be and how you should be so that people buy from you. He has a lot of tricks and techniques. But in the end, it comes down to that. They have to want to buy from you and not you selling to them. It's not only with goods you sell where you want to make money. It's probably with anything you do in life.
Kruse: What else you got, Patrick?
Brigger: Another book I like, it has that famous four-letter word in it, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. Maybe not just the book, because that comes a little bit close to my heart as well. It goes along with some of the things that it says in the book. Very often you hear you shouldn't do this or you shouldn't do that. When you are born, it's unconditioned. As you grow up, you get conditioned into what you're supposed to do and what you're not supposed to do. Obviously, you should respect people. You shouldn't kill somebody. These are the laws by nature. These are not man-made laws. All other laws are made by men or sometimes also by culture.
For instance, why when a teenage boy wants to take ballet classes he is embarrassed. These boundaries are sometimes culture-made. If you can shake that off and if you can say, “I don't care,” and that's what this book does, it goes a little bit in this direction, then I think you can have a much wider horizon and that will fill you with lots of joy and energy at the end of the day.
Kruse: It's powerful because I think so many of us have limiting beliefs that are not real.
Brigger: I think that's what he says, that fear of failure adversity. I think it's especially embarrassment of doing what you truly feel is what you would like to do or what your beliefs are. Not caring doesn't mean to be indifferent. Those macho-type people–that's something in us, but to not be embarrassed of what you do. I know a family and they have a boy who wanted to go to ballet classes. There was a bit of discussion, “Oh, should I go? People will laugh at me.” He ended up going, and he's doing really well. For me that’s really the key; don't be embarrassed because these rules, which somebody else made for you, exist.
Kruse: You're a European entrepreneur, so what are your views on failure in different parts of the world? Is there a cultural stigma in some places that doesn't exist in others?
Brigger: I'm a Swiss, as you can hear from my accent. I lived in the States for more than 10 years. I love the culture. I really like it a lot. I think it's true that in the States there is more openness to this, although I'm a little bit scared sometimes. Phone books don't exist anymore, but billboards do. Where’s the ad that's on the most expensive place? In the phone book, it was on the very first page. The ads are always from a lawyer: “have accident call 1-800.” That freedom and you can do whatever you want that you can have failure is in a little bit in jeopardy, I think, because there are so many people now. There are people who try to exploit it. I lived in Miami for a long time.
As I said, I did an exchange here when I was 17 then I lived in D.C., lived in New York, lived in Miami. My kids were all born in the States. I really like the country. When we moved to Miami after a few years already, you had scratches on your car. It's a melting pot. I love it. It's a great place to be, but your car always gets scratches. At first, you get upset and you say, “Who scratched my car? They didn't leave a note!” Then after a while, you get used to it. You tell yourself, “If I ever scratched another car, obviously I'm not going to leave a note.” It's just balancing up. I really got a little bit into that mood. Then one day when I wanted to get my car, I had a note that there was a dent. I wouldn't even have seen the dent for a while probably. That woman, for me, was an angel. She showed me what was right and what you are supposed to do. I got the car fixed and everything was perfect.
Then two weeks after I got my car back, I had a phone call from a lawyer company. They said, “Well, your car was damaged and it was in a garage.” I said, “Yes, but it was fixed and it was great.” They said, “Well, but now it's not just a car anymore. It's an accident car.” I said, “Yes, but you don't see anything.” They said, “Oh, but it's worthless. You should sue that woman.” I said, “Are you kidding me? She was so nice.” The guy insisted for five minutes. I couldn't believe it.
Kruse: Kind of like how there are people who know to accuse the company of every ridiculous thing to get more severance.
Brigger: You just have to accept that. It takes 10, 20, 30 times you have to try. If you lose once, you can know that you only have 29 left and the next time I only have 28 left. I'm always getting closer, so that’s a great thing. Obviously, you have to manage that a little bit. You can't be naïve. If you say, “Oh, I have this great idea. I'm going to spend all of my money and I borrow from my parents and friends, everything I can.” I put up the big billboard next to the highway and then sales will come in. If they don't come in and they won't, then you're screwed. No. You have to be also smart about what you do. You have to anticipate that next step. Then it's a controlled failure. It's not a surprised failure. You're totally disappointed that it happened.
Kruse: What's another book you've read that's made an impression?
Brigger: Actually, I didn't read the book. I heard a talk on TED from Thomas Picketty, New Thoughts on Capital in the Twenty-First Century. He's a French guy. They're socialist. I'm not that socialist guy. Anyway, he remarks that the rich grow faster than the economy is growing. In other words, with money you make more money. If you don't have any money, you're not growing as quickly as possible.
Then I read another book by Vivek Wadhwa The Driver in the Driverless Car. I don't know if I pronounced it right. It just came out in 2017. It's about technology and how fast it's advancing. Other people say in 2030 maybe artificial intelligence computers are going to be smarter than people.
Kruse: The artificial intelligence robots are coming.
Brigger: They are coming. Obviously, people are a little bit afraid. When was it, 1415, when Gutenberg invented the printing machine, before that the monks were writing all the books. They were all afraid handwriting would disappear, because now you could print but handwriting didn't disappear. Then during the industrial revolution, people were afraid they would all be out of jobs, because they can no longer be on the conveyor belt but they found other jobs. I think the same is going to happen with artificial intelligence. If all of this technology can do the automatic stuff, then let the machine do it. I think it's great. Let them do it. We can find something smarter and better.
Coming back to Thomas Picketty, we now have this fixed notion of 43 weeks or 40 weeks or in France it's only 35 weeks that you work during the week. I could imagine we're working 20 hours a week and making more money and having more time to go play tennis and sailing on the lake. I don't mind. In that scenario, and it’s an idea that I think he has, is maybe there should be some basic guaranteed income for every person if you don't work. I'm not saying one way or another. I think these are interesting concepts to think about, because it will happen at some point in the future.
Kruse: I think it will turn in this country. Even hardcore conservative politicians will begin to think that this idea is the only way to simplify the support network.
Brigger: I think so, too. A thousand dollar a month if that's all you have that's not a lot of money. You have to save and have some other income on the side, whereas the people that are better off do have it, but others they don't. At the end, if we don't solve the problem, then we have to build those gated communities with the high fences, which is not at all increasing your standard of living. Technology and everything is increasing, that's why it's in the interest of everybody that we have a solution that solves this.
On the other hand, what's interesting is if you look on the very global scale, a hundred years ago the spread from the developing countries to the civilized countries and if you compare wealth and also expectations of how long people would live, there was a big spread. People living in the developing countries had very little money. They died at the age of 30. This has come together a lot now. On the global scale, we have improved a lot over the last hundred years.
Kruse: I always challenge our listeners to get a little bit better every single day. Give us a challenge.
Brigger: If you believe, if you have strong beliefs in something, lift them. Don't be embarrassed. Dare to express it, especially if it makes a better world. Don't be embarrassed about what you think is right and what you believe in.
Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.