Too Much Time, Too Many Books

By Monty Hagler

In a world of new routines, I have defaulted to extra-long morning walks with my dogs, Nigel and Nina, in lieu of swimming, weights and elliptical machines. We typically make our way in pre-dawn hours to the beautiful Bennett College campus. The dogs run free on the grassy quad while I stick to the concrete paths (honoring the tradition that Bennett Belles do not take shortcuts) listening to audio books, something I cannot do when I swim and choose not to do when working out indoors.two dogs together

As I have written before, I read less and less at night for pleasure because my old eyes are tired at the end of a day filled with reading for work. Hence the unfinished copy of The Overstory and the feeble progress re-reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Headphones and an Audible subscription meet an important need. However, when the pandemic hit, I was overambitious about how many books I could absorb. I downloaded seven books – three fiction, four non-fiction – and listened to them at 1.5 times speed in no particular order or consistency. I do not recommend this approach.

The non-fiction listening held up better than fiction listening for mentally re-engaging after going days or weeks between chapters. I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear (he also has a great newsletter) for strategies on small steps for remarkable self-improvement. Since high school, I have believed that radical life-changing moments are few and far between, but small everyday choices contribute to who, where and what we become. If I can practice just 10 percent of what I learned in Atomic Habits, I will be better off for it.

Other non-fiction listens were Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell and The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. In a nutshell, Isaacson captures the essence (and minutia) of one of history’s most remarkable individuals; Gladwell is always entertaining and makes us look at the world through different lenses; and Johansson sheds new light on how innovation occurs when cultures, ideas and disciplines intersect.

The insights drawn by Johansson reinforced a guiding RLF principle to have staff work on accounts in different industries. Most big agencies silo people to only work in one industry sector (healthcare, financial services, energy, etc) or on just one client account. It is a highly efficient and highly profitable approach for the agency, but it does not do much to help employees grow or generate diverse ideas to benefit the client.

Unfortunately, the principles of The Medici Effect did not apply to creating a stew of fiction books every morning on my walks. I found it impossible to follow plot lines or connect with characters as I flipped back and forth between Ohio, The Three-Bodied Problem and The Once & Future King. For example, although Ohio is beautifully written, it is a non-linear plot line following four major characters across a backdrop of war, drugs, recession and disillusionment. Mix in plotlines involving mysterious Chinese physics and a hilarious retelling of stories from King Arthur, and I came home most mornings both out of breath and mentally disoriented.

As stay-at-home orders are lifted, I hope to return to my lifelong workout routines while still making time for long dog walks while absorbing new books. Less by Andrew Sean Greer is cued up and ready to go next. But I learned a lesson about focus during this pandemic. Just as I give myself permission to put down a book if I am not engaged after 35 pages, I will adopt a policy to shut off a book after an hour of listening if I am not learning, laughing or enthralled. There are far too many good books out there to explore. Many of my book selections come from recommendations from friends, co-workers and clients (shout out to John Dornan and Andrew Applegate for recommendations on two of the books on this list) and I welcome new suggestions.

Lessons in business – and life – from a media giant

By David French

Frank Bennack served as CEO of media conglomerate Hearst Corporation for nearly 30 years. Under his watch, Hearst grew exponentially, launched the A&E, History and Lifetime cable networks, and invested in the ESPN family of sports networks. In his recently published memoir Leave Something on the Table, he offered several nuggets of wisdom in building a profitable, purposeful career:

Office politics has harmed more companies than their most evil competitors. Never have we been at a time when it was more important that leaders put a high priority on culture. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” There’s nothing else in a company that is as important.

The other person doesn’t have to lose for you to win. When the chips are down, I always try to make that call in a way that is fair and recognizes the position of the counterparty, whether it’s an employee, a partner, or whoever is might be. It’s not only polite; it’s good business.

Journalism is indispensable to our society. Maybe after the clergy, there’s no higher calling. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s always been a challenge. People thought radio would kill newspapers, that TV would kill radio, and that cable would kill all three, but they’re still here. There will be a lot of readers of magazines and newspapers, viewers of TV and listeners of radio for a long time to come.

Optimism and a positive attitude are very powerful, particularly for leaders who have tough jobs. If they don’t approach it with an upbeat attitude, it’s very contagious. I love it when there’s a loud noise in the cafeteria or in the halls. You know that people have had a score of some kind or something good has happened to them.

People who pride themselves on being able to get by on little sleep are kidding themselves. Make rest a part of your life. I’m going to rest when it’s time to rest. I’m not going to let a too-difficult day get me to the point where I toss and turn all night. I’m going to say, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Once in a while, “disconnect” and think. Put down the paper, put down the book, turn off the TV, sit and think things over: “What have I missed? What’s the next most important thing for me to do, not only for my company but for my family and for society? Have I done anything today that makes it better? If I haven’t, I’d better double up tomorrow.”

The Bookshelf – The Perfect Mile

By Monty Hagler
(Part of a a continuing series on the books that made the journey to our new office.)
Let’s start with the fact that I’m a swimmer, not a runner. I’m not even fond of walking. So many people are surprised to see The Perfect Mile in my office. This book by Neal Bascomb recounts how the English runner Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute-mile barrier at a track meet on May 6, 1954.
While the task at hand was on the athletic field, I’ve drawn multiple lessons from the story of this historic accomplishment:
If you’re stuck, change your routine
Bannister was a great runner for many years, but he and every other runner chasing the 4-minute-mile kept coming up short. Under the guidance and workout routines of a new coach, Bannister adopted different training techniques that allowed him to build up both his stamina and his speed.
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The Bookshelf – Atlas Shrugged

img_5310By Monty Hagler
(Part of a continuing series on the books that made the journey to our new office.)
“Who is John Galt?”
I find that people either immediately know the opening sentence to Atlas Shrugged or have no idea why it would take nearly 1,100 pages to answer that question.
In the summer of 1986, I had plenty of free time for reading. I was lifeguarding and coaching a swim team, and the smart people I knew (like John and David Hood) kept referring to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy. I dove in, and Atlas Shrugged still sits on my office bookcase 30 years later.
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The Bookshelf – Undaunted Courage

By Monty Hagler
(Part of a continuing series on the books that made the journey to RLF’s new office space)
My father gave me a copy of Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose in 1996. The book focuses on the Lewis & Clark expedition to explore the American West and bring back a weimg_5299alth of knowledge that transformed our country and confirmed the incredible value of Thomas Jefferson’s deal for the Louisiana Purchase.
Ambrose captures how difficult the task was in 1803 as the expedition had to overcome numerous obstacles. Malaria. Leaking canoes. Hostile Indian tribes. Unnavigable rivers. Paralyzing cold. Grizzly bears. Lost supplies. But nothing could stop the small, determined Corp of Discovery. They pushed forward. Took notes on botany, geography, ethnology and zoology. Filled journals with observations on weather, rocks and people. Discovered and described 178 new plants and 122 species and sub-species of animals. Drew maps and recorded the most direct, convenient route across the continent.
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