Let’s say you’re at the annual Holiday party. You see Northeast Region Sales Director Ted from afar, but never really interacted with him beyond the occasional “Oh sure, I can take care of that” email reply. Now Ted has a drink in his hand and you finally get to shoot the breeze for a minute. You find out he likes baseball, home brews a wicked IPA, and dreams of one day cycling across China. “Maybe in a few years, when the time is right. Things are busy right now”. You recommend he check out Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. “It’s right up your alley,” you say. Ted expresses interest, ask what the book is about, says “huh, really?” a few times and “that’s very interesting” and shows appreciation for your thoughtful gesture. Then the conversation ends. Ted will never buy the book. And Ted will never read it.
Now imagine Ted’s surprise when a fat envelope hits his desk 3 days later. Inside it he finds Vagabonding, and a small handwritten note that says “For when your time is right. Enjoy!” and your signature.
The next time you have a question about sales, need advice about an northeast account or are trying to setup an informational interview with someone in Ted’s network, do you think Ted might actually respond to your email? You bet he will.
Becoming a master book recommender isn’t complicated, but it does require you to do a little research. Here’s how to get started…
Step 1: Build Your Library
Start by surrounding (and absorbing) yourself with (in) a lot of books. The best way to do this is to spend an afternoon at a bookstore. Shut down Facebook, silence your phone and open your eyes (and nose) to the buffet-for-the-senses at your local Barnes and Noble. I guarantee you that when we have cyborg butlers, Oculus-rift-connected-Thanksgiving-dinners and Skynet becomes self-aware, there will never be a replacement for the sweet, woodsy smell of a good bookstore.
Of course, the alternative (second best) way is to peruse high quality book lists. Stay away from the “Top 50 books of all time” click-bait and focus your attention toward individual curators, tastemakers and folks exploring new books through a cultural or intellectual lens. Below are a few of my favorites and fantastic places to start.
- Maria Papova: http://www.brainpickings.org/
- Tim Ferriss’ Book Club: http://fourhourworkweek.com/books/
- NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/book-reviews/
- Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books.html
- TED: http://blog.ted.com/2014/06/12/your-summer-reading-list-2014/
- Ryan Holiday’s Reading List: http://www.ryanholiday.net/reading-list/
- Tucker Max’s Reading List: http://tuckermax.me/the-tucker-max-reading-list-most-influential/
For this process, you need to redefine your understanding of discovery versus reading. You don’t need to read an entire book in order to recommend it, but you do need to understand the book at a reasonable level of depth in order to discover it. At a minimum, read the first 20-30 pages of the book, the jacket text, and one or two critical reviews. Maybe even look up the author and learn about their background, their dreams and their struggles.
Your goal is to emerge from this process with a solid understanding of about 6-8 really interesting books, and you should be able to explain to a stranger why you find each one interesting. Heck, if you’ve gotten this far, you should just read the damn books too!
Step 2: Exercise Your Active Listening Muscles
A poorly recommended book – or worse, buying and delivering a poorly recommended book – can have serious negative consequences. Ted’s impression of the situation could range from “a nice try” to “what was this guy/girl thinking” to “why the hell is this book on my desk, this just seems inappropriate”. Your chances of successfully impressing Ted draws directly from your ability to accurately read his cues and understand what he means – not just says – during your conversation. That’s where active listening comes into play. Here’s how you do it:
- Start by shutting up – You can’t listen if you’re talking about yourself or compulsively trying to complete his sentences. Especially during moments of silence that last 3 or 4 seconds too long, don’t be tempted to hi-jack the conversation.
- Actually be interested – Use visual and auditory cues to let him know you’re listening and actually give a crap. Look him in the eye, and be very careful to not let your gaze wander away. Nothing kills a conversation faster than one person looking away for just a few seconds too long.
- Find the meaning – Ted says he’s busy and that the time just isn’t right for him travel, and that may actually be the truth. But he also told you he loves sports and invests time and energy into his hobby of brewing beer. Clearly he cares about extending his personal development outside of work and is taking the initiative to hone his talents in other areas. Uncovering the meaning, you’re better off recommending a travel book versus a baseball biography or a tome of beer recipes because travel is the one avenue that Ted has not had the chance to full explore. And perhaps a good book can help quench some of his curiosities through the simple joy of escapism.
- Don’t say something stupid – At the end of the conversation, respond with something that shows you were actually listening. “I studied abroad in Shanghai and it was beautiful! I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” is much better than “My dad was a cyclist when he was young…I think.”
Let’s take a look at another example:
It’s the semi-annual cross-department-company-pow-wow. Marketing, Sales, IT, HR, and a sprinkle of managers are in the room. It’s an awkward mishmash of faces jamming away on their blackberries. Everyone has more important
fires to put out places to be. You strike up a conversation with Joanna from HR. She’s been here six years (going on seven) has a kid in middleschool, and wears a different pair of shoes to work every week. Being so busy, she does all her shoe shopping online through Zappos.com. She loves their selection and their customer service. All in all, she’s their ideal a brand ambassador. You recommend she check out Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, the story of how Tony Hsieh got started. You tell her about how, in their earlier days, they lost an entire $500,000 worth of new shoes when a semitruck drove off the road and overturned during an important cross-country delivery. Imagine the sight of an entire highway covered in shoes! “Are you serious? Wow.” She says. (Note: the driver was not harmed).
A few days later, an envelope hits her desk and Delivering Happiness is inside with a post-it flagging the part when the semitruck veered off the road (hint: it’s page 105). Your small handwritten note reads “They’re a great company with an equally great story. Enjoy!”
Step 3: Ship it out!
With a little googling, you shouldn’t have a difficult time finding this person’s office address. If you can’t find their exact office or room number, you can usually get away with sending it to the correct company address, and send it to their attention. Never send the package to their home. This is a business-related gesture that should remain within the domain of their work life. A random book with a small handwritten note could cause a lot of unwanted confusion if your colleague’s partner, spouse or children randomly find it.
Now it’s time to summon your inner Santa Claus. Once you’ve got your book (remove any price tags, of course), attach your thoughtful, handwritten note (never typed!) with a rubber band or a simple strand of twine or string. Then wrap the book in a manila envelope to keep it clean. If you don’t have an envelope, a simple sheet of white letter paper should suffice. The goal here is not to embellish it. We’re not going for style points. We want to keep it uncluttered, simple and sophisticated.
Stuff your package into a mailer envelope and print your own labels at UPS.com or FedEx.com. If you’re sending from one location to another location within the same city, even their cheapest and slowest service should only take a few days – probably no more than 3 days. For a quick pricing example, UPS Next Day Air Saver costs about $25 to ship within New York, NY, with a guaranteed arrival within about 1 business day.
Step 4: Plan your response
Track your package and note when it has been delivered. Once it’s been delivered, wait at least 3 more business days before following up and asking if they have received your package. Depending on the size of the company, your package may have to snake its way through multiple sorting processes, and if you didn’t give a complete and accurate address, that could delay delivery as well. So after it’s left your hands, be patient and let the forces of the universe figure out the rest. Drawing from my own experience, your colleague will receive it in due time, and could quite possibly be the most delightful moment of their day!
Below are a few awesome books I’ve recommended, gifted for birthdays and manila-envelope-bombed onto peoples’ desks in the past.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Paperback | Kindle)
- The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life (Hardback | Kindle)
- Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way (Paperback)
- The Startup Playbook: Secrets of the Fastest-Growing Startups from Their Founding Entrepreneurs (Hardcover | Kindle)
- Walden (Paperback | Kindle)
- Middlesex (Paperback | Kindle)
Have you gifted books that left a lasting impression? What did you recommend? Share your story in the comments!