I love to read. It is my true happy place. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I know zen is only as far away as my current book.
I am in the habit of always reading two books at any given time, one fiction and one non-fiction. I think to neglect either does you a huge disservice. I truly believe that your imagination is like a muscle and that reading fiction is one of the best ways to exercise that muscle. And maybe it is just my learning style, but I learn through stories and for me, a good non-fiction story is the absolute best way to consume and learn new information. I generally read my fiction book before bed every night and I listen to my non-fiction book throughout the day on runs, my commute, or while doing the dishes.
The act of reading, just in and of itself, is rewarding, relaxing, and helps me expand my intellectual world. The beauty of reading two books at once is that, every so often, they align in the most magical sort of ways.
The fiction series I am currently reading is the Wheel of Time and I can honestly say that it is among my favorite fantasy series ever. The world, the magic, and most of all, the characters. All serve to paint an incredibly rich and compelling world across the course of 14 books (just started book 10, The Crossroads of Twilight).
What starts as a seemingly generic fantasy trope (a group of teenagers from a small village has greatness thrust upon them by a mysterious woman and embark on an epic quest where the fate of the world hangs in the balance) turns into so much more across the various twists and turns of the series. One such surprise is the Seanchan, who are the returning descendants of an army sent to a far off land thousands of years ago. They are as culturally unique as they are powerful and they have many interesting customs.
One custom that I found especially compelling was the role of the Soe’feia or Truthspeaker in the Seanchan’s imperial order. A Truthspeaker is a servant who is the trusted adviser of the Empress and the Imperial family. Despite their role as a servant, their purpose is to speak truth to their masters, no matter how harsh or unwelcome. Multiple times throughout the story characters are shocked by the brutal honesty displayed by these Truthspeakers to the most powerful of Seanchan royalty.
We all need Truthspeakers in our lives.
People who can hold a mirror up to ourselves. Even the ugly parts that we don’t like admitting we have.
I am lucky to have Truthspeakers in my life through friends and family, which is important because I need to be called on my own bullshit. A LOT. (my wife is seriously a saint I have no idea how she puts up with me).
Just as important to having Truthspeakers in our personal lives is to have someone who can tell it to you like it really is in our professional lives. This can be a boss, co-worker, or mentor, but it is vitally important to have someone that can help you see around the corners of your own bias and emotion.
How do you do this on a company level?
Enter book two.
The non-fiction book I am currently reading is Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar and Disney Animation. Creativity, Inc takes readers insides the halls of Pixar throughout its, at equal times, tumultuous and triumphant history. The book’s focus is not simply on presenting the facts that occurred over that time but exploring what sets Pixar apart as an organization and how other companies can break down similar barriers to creativity and success.
One such secret to success for Pixar has been the Pixar Braintrust, the company’s ace team of directors, operators, and creatives that are brought in to fix problems when they inevitably arise as part of the production for each movie. The only membership requirements for the Braintrust are a knack for storytelling and a willingness to be candid with one another. Ed view’s his primary role, not as a leader of this group, but as more of a facilitator whose focus is on maintaining the integrity and honesty of its process. Some of the absolute key changes made to the movies we have come to know and love over the years like Woody being a lovable cowboy to WALL-E being saved by EVE were hatched during braintrust meetings.
I love this concept and found the parallels between Pixar’s Braintrust and the Seanchan’s Truthspeakers simply too delightful to not write a post on them.
In the world of startups and venture capital, being an entrepreneur can feel isolating. I believe it is absolutely essential to any company’s success to develop a culture where the CEO has Truthspeakers around them that they can be relied upon to tell it like it really is. As a venture capitalist, I see my role as doing just that.
I haven’t run a company before.
I haven’t developed a world-changing technology.
But if I can do just one thing to add value to a company, I hope it is that I can speak with truth and candor when an entrepreneur needs it most.