There are lots of business books and lots of book clubs, but how many business book clubs are there?
That’s not a riddle, it’s just a question Mark Simchock, computer code writer and business consultant, asked himself when he realized he has read a bunch of business books but never spoke to another human being about them. He had just bought into the same dynamic as everyone else who reads business books — read them, squirrel away the knowledge, and use it to give yourself an advantage.
But Simchock, who operates an enterprise known as Alchemy United in Monmouth Junction, wondered where the value was in just reading something and then … that’s it. He figured the best way to get the most out of business books was to do something radical, and discuss them with other functioning people. Books are about sharing information after all, right?
The trouble was, Simchock had never found, or for that matter heard, about a book club that concentrates only on business books. So he started one: ReadLearnAdapt, a club focusing on “what’s happening (or about to happen), how might it affect us, and what can we do about it (to not be left behind),” according to the club’s Meetup site.
ReadLearnAdapt, or RLA, will host its third meet-up on Wednesday, July 20, at 7:30 p.m. The Princeton area location is to be determined. The book to be discussed is “Will It Fly? — How to test your next business idea so you don’t waste your time and money,” by Pat Flynn.
On Monday, August 1, at 7:30 p.m. Simchock will host a social at Salt Creek Grill in Princeton Forrestal Village. This meet-up will have no book attached to it, just so everyone can hang out and get to know each other. Because even a book club shouldn’t be all about the books.
The club is online at www.readlearnadapt.com. It is free to join through Meetup.com and meetings are free to attend.
The idea stemmed from a wish to change that old dynamic of reading business books just to find an edge and hope nobody else reads it. In the age of the Internet, Simchock says, information gets passed around too easily, and the way we connect with information is different that it was in, say, 1995. Today, he says, smart businesspeople want to know the information they read in books, but they also want to know how other people see it. People, he says, are using the Internet to find things out and to find people, but they are increasingly looking for offline interactions to discuss what it is they are finding out.
“Offline is not dead,” Simchock says. “Print is not dead. The challenge is finding people who would be interested in something like this.”
According to RLA’s Meetup page, Simchock has found 83, though he says fewer than a dozen have shown up for each of the meetings so far. He hosts them about every six weeks, but is considering once a month. Once a month seems a little too pushy for him, though — perhaps not enough time for everyone to read a book and formulate an opinion worthy of a group.
He also doesn’t want to overtax anyone’s commitments. People who feel like they’re being compelled to read a new book every month might just stay away.
Still, after only two meetings. RLA has found some followers and is going well, Simchock says. Discussions are lively and minds are open to not just what’s in the books, but in how the information is received and used by different people. An unofficial mantra for Simchock is: “Maybe they know something I don’t.” And it’s important to listen while the discussion occurs.
So what kinds of things do club members discuss? Generally speaking, conversations can go anywhere. Simchock himself is a broad thinker who tries to stimulate broad conversations whenever he can.
“I’m just generally curious,” he says. “What are the things I don’t know that maybe I should know?”
That, of course, can lead anywhere, and any conversation with Simchock, within or disconnected from his book club, has a lot of philosophy and observation involved. Boiled down, the closest thing to an absolute that Simchock espouses in business is that there is nothing absolute. You need to see business as a living entity, in need of sustenance and allowed to breathe and flex as it needs to. You need to know the value of compromise and when to go to the mat, and when to not.
Here’s a free tip — don’t go to the mat for everything. It’s not worth fighting every single battle that comes along, if fighting is just going to gum things up.
Perhaps the better way to put things is that Simchock just wants RLA to be fun and interesting; full of good conversations, personality, and insight, the likes of which stimulate business ideas and get people to try new things — which is, he says, one of the great joys in life.
Is RLA a networking event? Yes, of course. But it is exactly not the usual, old-school networking event at which awkward people awkwardly mingle with other awkward people and some business cards get handed out, he says. RLA is not going to have a salesy, elevator-pitchin’, TEDx-talkin’ kind of vibe. Just a stroll through what everyone learned from a read, what they took away, and how they can apply it.
It’s important to hear from all types, and Simchock wants to open the doors to various ways of thinking and various types of entrepreneurial spirits. He wants deep thinkers, curious readers, and open-minded doers to sit in with RLA, so that everyone involved can do what the name of the club states: read, learn, and adapt.
“I’m trying to do something stimulating offline because I think that’s where we’re headed again,” he says. Strong words from a guy who has made a career being as online as possible.
Born in Ewing, Simchock, got involved with computers in the 1970s and earned his bachelor’s in computer science from Rutgers in 1985. His father was a developer for Western Electric and Bell Labs, who “took lab stuff and made it commercial,” he says.
From his earliest memories, his parents were both avid readers and always interested in learning. “They were always willing to challenge ideas and try new things,” he says.
After college, Simchock “did a short stint in the corporate world,” as a systems analyst for AT&T, until 1990. That year he started Planet X, a music retail business in North Brunswick that morphed into an online store. In 2000 he closed the store and ran Planet X only online. The operation “crashed and burned” under the weight of digital music, and in 2007 Simchock stopped selling CDs and hardcopy forms of music altogether, he says.
At that point he started Alchemy Unlimited, an amalgam of his business experience and computer knowledge. He now does web development and business consulting for companies. His position: chief alchemist.
As an ever-curious lifelong learner himself, Simchock is most interested in meeting like-minded individuals, and is trying to sound less like a “you need to read this or you can’t play” tyrant and more like a welcoming host.
“The book is just a means to an end,” Simchock says. “A 200-page entrance ticket. I want your participation more than I want a particular book read.”