You Are What You Read
We are awash in great writing. There’s never been a time in history when so many have had access to so much high-quality content, often for no more than the price of a monthly data plan. As an avid reader, this is a blessing and a curse. I’ve failed again and again to deliberately direct my attention to the things I plan to read, rather than be distracted by enticing articles or blog posts floating along in the current of my Twitter feed.
One of the strategies that’s helping me get better at this has been outsourcing my reading decisions to trusted curators by subscribing to their newsletters. I route these newsletters into a folder in my Gmail inbox and work through them on the weekend. This batching process allows me to scan any links shared in these newsletters in one go and decide which, on balance, seems most relevant, interesting, and thus worth the investment of my reading time.
Over the last year, I’ve carefully cultivated and pruned my newsletter subscriptions to a list of people I can rely on to share thought-provoking and high-quality content from different corners of the internet. They cast a wider net than I ever could on my own and help me ensure that I’m reading things aligned with my interests, as well as being exposed to things outside of my wheelhouse.
The added benefit is the more personal, conversational tone that newsletters typically take, as their authors can safely presume an ongoing relationship with most of their subscribers. When I get a newsletter from one of my faves, it often feels like getting a letter from a friend, and who doesn’t want more of that in their life?
At a time when there are so many corporations and interests competing for our attention, we have a responsibility to choose what we tune into. I’m trying to be a tiny bit better at that. I consider the people who are sharing smart, informative, fascinating, inspiring, and important things with others my allies in this pursuit.
On his podcast Akimbo last week, Seth Godin said:
“… you could have an asset, and that asset could be permission. The privilege of talking to people who want to be talked to. Of working with people who want to be worked with. I was thrilled that in the first day of the signing people up for the Bootstrapper’s Workshop, more than a thousand people signed up. That’s a big deal. How did that happen? It happened because it took me 20 years to get to a point where there were enough people who I had access to, who I could talk to, who would miss me if I didn’t post something tomorrow, and say “Hey! I’m doing this thing; do you want to come?”
And that idea, that permission is an asset, an asset at least as valuable as bricks, or mortar, or oil in the ground, and should be treated that way, is a pretty new idea. Every day there are huge organizations that just flush that permission down the toilet, in a short-term hustle to win for the quarter. I don’t think that’s necessary. In fact, I don’t think it helps. I think the big win is to realize what a privilege it is to whisper to people that want to hear from you.”
So, based on a recent request from a reader of this blog, this week I’m sharing a list of the newsletters I am currently enjoying. If we share a favorite let me know, and if I’m missing one you love I always appreciate recommendations.
- On Management by Anne Libby – Anne describes her monthly newsletter as “People, managing, workplaces, the future of humanity. And so forth.” Who doesn’t love the future of humanity and so forth?? Anne is curious, generous, insightful, and wise. Her newsletter shares what she’s thinking about, what she’s working on, an excellent collection of links to her own and others’ writing, and audio interviews with other management practitioners and thinkers.
- Work Futures Daily and Weekly by Stowe Boyd – Superbly curated links and excerpts, woven together with Boyd’s insights and great writing. I don’t know how he manages to craft these newsletters daily, but they’re consistently thought-provoking.
- Jocelyn Glei’s weekly newsletter – I am such a huge Jocelyn Glei fangirl. I can’t wait until her perfectly produced podcast Hurry Slowly returns next month. Until then, I enjoy this update on what Glei is working on and reading, and curated selection of links billed as “Notes on work life, and creativity in the Age of Distraction”
- The Ready – This weekly newsletter from org design and transformation consultancy The Ready is curated by Sam Spurlin, and chock full of great links, thoughts and updates from Sam, and micro-interviews with his team members.
- Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter – Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, sends out a list of 10 links with a focus on art, creativity, and writing.
- Ann Friedman Weekly – writer, feminist, and co-host of the popular podcast Call Your Girlfriend, Friedman sends out this weekly newsletter that is dense with links to what she’s reading, watching and listening to. With an emphasis on politics and current events, particularly as they impact women, and sections for her reader’s recommendations, this is (as Friedman describes it) “a veritable suitcase packed with great things”.
- The Co-Pour – Melissa and Johnathan Nightingale are co-founders of The Raw Signal Group and authors of the excellent How Fucked Up is Your Management? This is their smartly written newsletter on management, and it never disappoints.
- Breaking Smart – This weekly newsletter from writer, researcher, and consultant Venkatesh Rao is hard to describe. In Rao’s own words it is “devoted to in-depth explorations of the emerging digital economy, resulting patterns of societal transformation, and technological serendipity.” It’s unique format (written in tweetstorm form) and often complex subject matter mean I typically revisit it a few times to properly digest (and tbh sometimes it feels too smart for me).
- Think Clearly – This unique newsletter from Mathias Jakobsen features an illustrated reflection exercise “to help you in your daily life”. It’s delightful.
- Alexandra Franzen – this weekly-ish newsletter from writer Alexandra Franzen is one of my favorites. She shares reflections on writing, creativity, and life stuff. Her writers’ retreat in Hawaii is on my bucket list. I will seriously come up with something to write a book about just so I can justify going.
- Better Allies – Thoughtful newsletter that shares 5 simple actions every week for people who want to be better allies to women and underrepresented minorities.
- Shane Parrish’s Brain Food – Well of course.
- Recruiting Brain Food – This weekly collection of terrific links from Hung Lee related to recruitment, talent, and technology always contains great articles I would not otherwise come across.
- We Need To Talk About This from Sarah Stockdale– This recent addition to my list has quickly become something I look forward to every week. Toronto-based Stockdale, a speaker, writer, and start-up technology consultant, calls WNTTA a “weekly culture, feminism, and comedy letter”. It’s smart, and hilarious and makes this crazy world we’re living in right now a tiny bit more bearable.
- Inclusion at Work – this weekly advice column from Jennifer Kim, inclusion advocate and former Head of People at Lever, provides practical, specific advice to tackle real diversity and inclusion challenges in organizations.
Who did I miss? (Seriously, I feel sure I missed people. If so, please share additions in the comments!)
Hi Jane. Picked up on your blog via Stowe Boyd. We’re at www,workplaceinsight.net with a weekly newsletter and journal.
Tim O’Reilly’s Next: Economy Newsletter is a must read at the intersection of technology, geopolitical/societal trends and the economy. Tim shares his reading and view of the future in this deeply caring and insightful series of posts.
Jane, thank you so much for your kind words, and for graciously sharing my newsletter. (And in such good company!)
. The fun, librarian-powered weekly culture pack (it’s hard to describe) from Two Bossy Dames, twobossydames.substack.com
. Next Draft, Dave Pell’s daily roundup of newslinks and commentary: nextdraft.com
Many, many thanks!
You had me at ‘librarian-powered’…
This sounds fascinating. Thanks for the tip.
Thank you, will check it out.