If you work at CoSchedule, you’ve done a book report in front of the entire team.
Yes, a book report.
Just like the kind that you used to do in the fourth grade in front of the entire class.
It’s already a fairly common practice among startups to assign new hires a book or two to read once they join the team. For us, however, there is one book that is just so special that we need to follow up and make sure they’ve read it. At CoSchedule, that book is Linchpin by Seth Godin.
How Linchpin Turned Me Into An Entrepreneur
Linchpin is an important book for me on a very personal level. I read it at a critical time during my career. I was working at a small advertising agency and felt like nothing more than a cog in a wheel. It certainly didn’t feel like my work was “art” and I certainly didn’t feel like I had the permission to do something else. I was stuck.
For me, Linchpin was a wakeup call.
In his book, Seth Godin outlines a few key perspectives:
- All work is art.
- The linchpin is indispensable because they ship.
- The first step is to give yourself permission.
The key point for me was the third theme: permission. Up until that point in my career, I hadn’t given myself the permission to not be a cog. I was stuck in world where cogs were appreciated and artists weren’t. I needed a wakeup call to leave my job, start a business, and relentlessly pursue my art.
Five years later, after giving myself permission and working my tail off, my art is now 100% activated in CoSchedule, and the lessons learned from Seth continue to pay off. They mean a lot to me, and they are something that I like to share with our entire team.
So, we require all team members to read the book within their first 90 days of work, and give a book report on what they’ve learned.
It’s has become a happy tradition.
The Business Case For Requiring Book Reports From Your Team
So, why should you require a book report for members of your team? Well, here are five of the major benefits that our team has realized from this quirky practice.
1. It Helps Us Foster A Consistent Culture
Startup culture is frequently (and mistakenly) defined by the Xbox or PlayStation in the break room. At CoSchedule, we don’t have any gaming consoles in our break room. Rather, we define ourselves by the core principles of the company:
- Maintain a Passion for Product
- Think Big
- Hold a Bias for Action
- Never Settle
- Every Customer Matters
- Trust in your Team
While the book Linchpin doesn’t specifically address all of these values, it goes a long way in doing so. By doing company book reports, I believe we have found a scalable way to instill some of these values in our team members, and ensures that it stays in place no matter how much we grow.
Core values like “maintain a passion for product” or “never settle” build off of the concept of our work as art, whereas “hold a bias for action” encapsulates Godin’s concept of shipping. I could easily make an argument for how each of these values relates to a principle in the book, so it’s really ideal preparation for working at CoSchedule.
2. It Enables a Culture of Shipping
One of my favorite themes of Linchpin is the constant encouragement to ship the project that you have been working (or sitting) on. In the book, Seth outlines the force against shipping as the “lizard brain.” The lizard brain is a negative fear-monger that prevents us from reaching our potential.
As a startup, however, “shipping” is literally our most important job. We have to learn how to outsmart our lizard brain and beat the fear that will keep us from starting and creating something new.
New blog content, new features, new ideas in action, and crazy marketing experiments are essential to a startup’s survival.
One of my favorite questions to challenge our teams with is “what can you ship today.” Sometimes this involves breaking a larger project down into smaller pieces, and other times it means pressing publish on a product or idea that we are hesitating on, just to see what happens.
Either way, equipping our team members with a mentality of shipping keeps us running like a startup. Fast, willing to take risks, and even more important, willing to learn from our mistakes and move forward.
3. It’s A Reminder That Work Is Art
The concept that “all work is art” is usually the hardest to accept by new team members. We’ve been taught that art is something you do with paint or musical instruments, but Seth makes the argument that human output, whatever it might be, is our art. This could be writing, customer service, code, or actually painting, but the medium doesn’t matter. The art is the delivery of your unique gift to the world.
Art is much more about doing the best work that you were created and enabled to do than it is about any specific method. This makes it a universally valuable concept for anyone who joins our team.
4. It’s A Shared Experience
As a leader, I believe that one of my jobs is to create shared experiences for our team. Shared experience build teams, by giving everyone something in common. Knowing that every team member before you has completed the same task is valuable, and gives everyone that works with us common ground and a shared experience to lean on. This is a small but powerful team building tool.
The book report process also teaches us something about our newest team members. It builds connections, and that is always a good thing.
5. It’s A Tradition
This may seem simple, but reading Linchpin and doing a book report is just a tradition around here. Justin and I have required it since we started our first company in 2010, and the tradition has stuck. Now, it is one of those things that makes CoSchedule, CoSchedule, and that’s a good thing.
Do you have any traditions in your startup? If not, maybe it’s time to add a “company book report” to your on-boarding checklist.
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Is a book report program right for you?
“Linchpin thinking” obviously has a lot to do with our team here at CoSchedule, but I understand that it may not be right for you. Chances are, however, that some book would be a good fit. What book could your team adopt as a company read?
It’s worth noting that many of these same benefits I outlined above could be accomplished at any time during your company's life cycle. Even if you’re no longer a startup, pick a book or a take a vote, and read it together as a company. Conclude this process with a verbal book report by each participant and pass the tradition down to all of your new hires. You’ll be glad you did!
Maybe you already have a “company book” and you just need to add the book report portion. If so, here’s a breakdown of how we do this for our team. You can also download our pre-built worksheet that will work you through the entire book report process top to bottom.
How CoSchedule Runs Its Book Report Program
- Every team member is supplied with a complementary copy of Linchpin on day one. If they prefer a Kindle or audio version of the book, we will also provide that upon request.
- Team members are give 90 days to complete the book, but they aren’t allowed to consider it completed until performing a formal “book report” in front of the entire team. We follow up on this requirement during our mandatory 90 day review to keep everyone honest.
- Once team members are ready to give their book report, they are giving a standard format of three questions that they must answer. I’ve included these questions in the pre-built worksheet that you can download here.
- Book reports are verbal and usually last between two and five minutes during our weekly all-hands meetings. In some cases we do accept written versions of the book report as well.
- Once a book report is complete we all clap and provide a bit of encouragement to the person giving the book report. As a prize, they also get a sticker of their choice from our bag of stickers – usually well stocked with unique selections from StickerMule or other places.
The Final Case For a Company Book Report: It’s Fun
Having every employee complete a book report is unique and memorable. In all honestly, it’s fun. I love hearing our team’s thoughts and comments about the book, even from a few people who didn’t like it all that much. The diversity of opinions and interpretations is always fascinating, and helps me understand the people I work with every day. We always learn a thing or two about he people we work with, and that’s definitely a good thing.