Olivier Roland’s “Crazy" Side Project

Olivier Roland has an ambitious side project: reading 52 books from the Personal MBA Recommended Reading List in 52 weeks, then posting a summary on his website.

Reading 52 books and writing 52 summaries is challenging enough, but what’s particularly impressive about Olivier’s project is that English is not his first language - Olivier is from France, and he’s publishing his summaries in both English and French to help himself improve his skills in both languages, in addition to learning how to improve the technology company he started.

I had a few questions for Olivier about his “crazy" side project - here are his answers. Enjoy!


How did you discover the Personal MBA?

I discovered the Personal MBA in early 2008 by reading a French blog about being rich, Plus Riche , and I was absolutely blown away by the concept. I’m a self-made man - I created my company when I was 19 (I’m 27 now), one year after I quit school. I never completed my French equivalent of the bachelor’s degree - I strongly believe in the process of self learning.

Discovering the Personal MBA came at a moment where I found myself a little stuck with my company - after nearly 7 years of continual growth, the financials results were declining a little, and I was a little bored by what I did. I was thinking hard about how to escape boredom, routine and to find myself new challenges and achieves my new dreams. Now, I live the life I dreamed of when I created my company, but I’m looking for new things, new challenges, and new opportunities, so I began to look for some books and materials to figure how to do that.

I’m a voracious reader - I’m even an amateur science-fiction writer - and I read a lot of books, but I never really read businesses books, perhaps because I was a little (too) proud of my accomplishments so far, without a diploma. But I began to change my mind when I began to hit some walls.

My journey began when I discovered Steve Pavlina’s blog in late 2007, which really blew me away with his wonderful ideas and tools on how to build the life of your dreams. Another turning point was reading the Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris. I really loved this book, which gave me a lot of ideas and a solid foundation to redesign my life, and I began to see business quite differently.

After I read the Four Hour Workweek , I started to read the books Timothy recommended, and was astonished by The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It - the author Michael E. Gerber exactly described my situation as an entrepreneur being stick in my company, living for my job instead of working for my life. I created a job instead of a business - this book described my problem so well! (I think that this book should be included on your list, it is awesome for small companies.)

When I discovered the Personal MBA, I was already convinced of the value of great businesses books for my education as an entrepreneur.

What do you do professionally, and how do you spend your time outside of work?

I’m managing the information service company I created more than 8 years ago. The company was primary focused on computer repair when I started it as the sole employee. It has slowly evolved to network engineering and servers selling, and has grown to 4 employees. Now, I’m actively managing its transition to producing and selling web-based software: a much more profitable segment and full of opportunities. This transition is much more likely to help achieve my dream of owning an automated business which can almost run without me.

Outside of work, I love to do a lot of different things, but now I’m doing improvisation theatre and managing a local personal development club I created two years ago. I also love to participate in two entrepreneur clubs which permit the meeting of people who are in general isolated in their own company. In addition, I translate some of the best articles of author Leo Babauta of Zen Habits on my French blog Habitudes Zen , and of course I’m reading a lot of Personal MBA books and writing summaries and articles on my blog Des Livres Pour Changer de Vie and its English counterpart, Books That Can Change Your Life.

You’ve undertaken, in your words, a “crazy project" – what are you working on?

When I discovered the Personal MBA, I began to read the first three books of the 2007 list: 10 Days to Faster Reading , StrengthsFinder 2.0 , and The Personality Code. StrengthsFinder 2.0 was a really great assessment and I found it very relevant. Basically, the results said that I am someone with an important ability for learning and memorization. What’s more, I am then able to link this knowledge together to better understand it and to pull out concepts from it that help me in my ambitions. Further, the act of learning is in itself very important to me, not only what I learn.

This book made me aware that what I was taking for ordinary characteristics of my personality are in fact the strengths that I should work on. I realized with unprecedented clarity that these aspects are strengths that only need to be worked and reworked. I also realized (and this is part of my Learner and Input strengths) that I read really fast compared with most readers and I retain and understand what I read very well.

I have read an average of 50 books a year for years on a variety of subjects. This has allowed me to cultivate a solid knowledge base. When I considered all my strengths, however, the act of reading about various subject areas seemed like poor training for a group of muscles: what would happen if I combined all my strengths and used them to focus on a single goal, to read only books grouped under a general subject, in order to multiply the effects of my Ideation and Intellection strengths, rather than spread them out?

I began to think and imagine how I could try to use my strengths and out of my research came, in part, the idea for the crazy challenge: choose 52 books in the Personal MBA reading list, then read these 52 books in 52 weeks and publish a weekly summary on my blog Des Livres Pour Changer de Vie and it’s English counterpart Books That Can Change Your Life.

The goal of this crazy project is, aside to try to use my strengths at their maximum, is to:

  • Learn a lot, because I love to learn and I feel the need to get more knowledge to better run my business and my life.

  • Do a real life experiment to see if it’s possible to change your life by reading the right books.

  • Handle the challenge of reading 52 books in 52 weeks in itself, which will call into action all my abilities for organization and self motivation. I will learn as much from the project itself as I will learn from the books.

  • Take action. To think without doing something is just as stupid as to do something without thinking. Thought is based both on our experience – in the field - and our knowledge – acquired from books, school, in conversation with others.

  • Improve my English.

I began on October 1st, 200## 8. Today, I’ve read 12 Personal MBA books - 2446 pages in total - and have spent about 100 hours on my project. Personal MBA readers can learn more about my project here and follow it on my blog.

What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned via your project?

For the moment, I’ve mostly read books from the Quick Start and Productivity & Effectiveness categories with one exception: Hiring Smart , which I read because I won a big contract with a big customer and needed to hire one employee. This book helped me a lot - I think that I made one of my best recruitments so far.

I’ve read 12 Personal MBA books so far and have learned a lot of interesting things. I’ve written a summary of some in my article 10 Pearls of Wisdom Taken from My Reading and My Experience as an Entrepreneur , but it shows only a little of what I’ve learned.

Here is a quick summary of the most interesting things I learned, sorted in three big categories:

Productivity:

  • Do things in batch.
  • Do immediately things that demand less than two minutes to be done.
  • Have a clean desk with a “to-do" folder and some essentials - computer screen, phone, perhaps one pen and a notepad.
  • Often, less is more.
  • Activity is not productivity
  • Always ask yourself: Why I do that? It is necessary?
  • Write most of yours things to do and their immediate next action to free your mind.

Freedom and Creativity:

  • We are powerful, and we have the capacity of building the life of our dreams.
  • Even if we fail, it is better to fail in an attempt to succeed than doing nothing and slowly blinding ourselves of the joy of our lives.
  • The journey is as important - if not more important - than the destination.
  • It is far more useful to change the structure that creates a problem than to try to solve the problems directly, because the problems will always come back.
  • We have been gifted by the amazing blessing of intelligence and self-awareness, and yet we use our intelligence on a minimal level a lot of time.
  • We can use the best of our intelligence by just thinking one hour per day about our objectives and problems and write 20 ideas to solve it or advance ourselves on the way of our success - just 5 days a week, 40 weeks a year, and you will imagine 4,000 ideas to better yourself.

How to Make the Most of Books:

  • Write a chapter by chapter summary with the most interesting ideas.
  • Choose some actions to do.
  • Do them.
  • Try them during one week or one month an keep the ones that worked the best for you.
  • Repeat the sequence.

What has surprised you about this process? Is there anything you didn’t expect?

I didn’t expect that writing worthy summaries would take me so much time!

It’s demanding to write useful summaries that explain the most interesting ideas of a book to myself and my readers. I have to be as concise and relevant as possible so they have access to the less-than-10% of the books that give them 50% of their value - and give them sufficient information to decide if it is a worthwhile reading or not. Some books are surprisingly hard or long to summarize, like The Path of Least Resistance or The Simplicity Survival Handbook , which respectively took 10 hours and 8 hours time to summarize - a good time investment, as I’m taking a lot more from writing summaries than just reading the books.

What parts of the project have challenged you the most?=

What challenges me the most is finding the time to implement all I want to after learning so much. I know that one of the most important pitfalls of my project is that, with the rhythm I’ve imposed on myself, I don’t have a lot of time to fully apply all that I’m learning. Aside from the numerous advantages of setting the challenge of one book per week, it’s a challenge in itself to organize myself so that I can efficiently free some time to implement all of theses cool ideas, tricks and methods I learn, ut it’s really difficult.

I’ve already given myself one week without reading to begin to implement Getting Things Done (see my article GTD, Implementation - 1 ) and perhaps I will do that from time to time.

You publicly committed to this project on the Personal MBA forums and other websites before undertaking this project. Did that help, and if so, what were the primary benefits?

Oh yes, it helps. I translated the wonderful article Get Off Your Butt: 16 Ways to Get Motivated When You’re in a Slump by Leo Babauta, which is a strong inspiration for me in the toughest moments where my motivation falls. I really took his sixth recommendation - commit publicly - to heart. My public commitment is now a large source of motivation for me - it is difficult to give up when hundred or thousands of readers are waiting for your next summary!

All of my friends, family, business partners and colleagues know my challenge, so they know they can just talk to me about problems that are addressed by the books I read or that I can advice them about which books to buy. This allows me to avoid one of the downside of the Personal MBA in comparison of a traditional MBA : the network and exchange of ideas. The same applies for Internet users that discover me through my project and ask for advice.

Do you have any advice for Personal MBA readers?

Yes, I think one book a week is too much for most of us. I would advise most Personal MBA readers to read one book in one week, then apply what they learned the following week, then repeat.

I would also advise batch reading the books in same category, because there will be a lot of “connecting the dots" moments, since the books cover similar topics from different angles. You should also choose which books you think are irrelevant for you and drop them from the list or just put them on the bottom of the list.

Thus, by reading 26 books a year and applying them, you will be able to complete the entire Personal MBA in three years - not a long time for a life-changing self-apprenticeship!


Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Olivier!


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