How we built a group reading system in 2018

(Originally published in our weekly smartletter - subscribe here to compound your ability to raise your game.)

"Read 500 pages [...] every week. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest."

- Warren Buffett


On the 1st of January, we at Choose To Thinq (CTQ) began an experiment. Each day, we would read one summary of a book. This way, we would get something out of Blinkist, the book summary service we had subscribed to over a year ago but never really put to use. 

At CTQ, everyone happens to be an avid reader, so reading a 500 word summary wasn't going to be difficult. But doing it without missing a day? Reading material that someone else had chosen? Now, this was a challenge.

At the time of writing this post, 300 days have passed and we seem to have turned this into a habit. 7 people read one book summary every day - there's a WhatsApp group to coordinate. Each posts a 'takeaway' from the reading as well. A month ago, we even felt the need to raise the stakes (things were too easy), so we've begun doing challenges related to the book's topic. "Write a post about this topic", "identify an Indian company that is like the company profiled in the book""reflect on what you'd have done in such a situation" have been some of the "+1s" that have been attached to a day's reading. 

Oh, and in a nod to the Buffett quote above, we've called this the "Reading Compound".
 

Why this has worked


In designing the Reading Compound, we've used several ideas from the world of habit formation, human behaviour modeling, system design, learning and mastery, and intrinsic motivation. Here are 4 of those ideas:

  1. Unambiguous goal and concrete outcomes: Our brains don't like vague tasks. And it likes getting to a successful conclusion fairly quickly. The chosen book summaries take 15 mins to read and a conclusion is (almost) guaranteed.

  2. Social pressure: The pact is that all of us commit to reading each day. We keep an eye on each other. On days when we don't quite feel like it, our commitment to each other keeps us moving. And we don't get to see the next summary unless everyone has finished the previous one.

  3. A mix of convention and novelty: The format is stable - there are no odd surprises each day. But the content brings novelty and feeds curiosity. Some books are interesting, some are dull. This prevents things from getting too monotonous, but also not in a way that keeps us on edge.

  4. It's a system - it doesn't rely too much on the heroics of one super-motivated person, but on a structure that works almost all the time.

Will this 'compound' in the same way money does when you put away a coin in the right place each day? We believe it does. Over time, the ideas we pick up start to connect strongly with each other, creating a network of insights and unusual intersections. It also builds a strong, common vocabulary for the team.

And 100 days later...


At the 100 days mark, we went out to lunch to celebrate this milestone. One conversation led to another, and we began a 'Writing Compound'. We began to write a 100 words each day. The compound only picked up steam after about 30 days when one of our members took serious charge of picking some great prompts. Now, we try to write each day - whether we like it or not. It's been 200+ days of the Writing Compound as well.

And around the 200 day mark, we began our latest experiment: an Arts Compound. Some of us wanted to learn and explore music and other arts, and so we’ve taken a variant of the same approach to it.

We will soon be offering you a chance to join some of these compounds. Join the watchlist if you want to be informed of these.

[Each day on Twitter, we post one takeaway from the Book of the Day of the Reading Compound.Read them here.]