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Success strategy that works everywhere

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

When Microsoft executive John Wood went hiking in Nepal in 1998, he didn’t figure on stumbling across a school that owned only four books locked away in a cabinet like icons.

The headmaster gave him something to think about, saying: “Perhaps, sir, you will someday come back with books.”

It got Wood to pondering on the world’s 850 million people who lack basic literacy. He did go back to that school with books. What’s more, he quit his job and dedicated himself to distributing books in the developing world, including Vietnam, Laos and Sri Lanka. Today, his foundation — Room to Read — has stuffed 3,000 libraries with more than 1 million books.

Wood’s strategy:
  • Thinking big is the only way to produce big results. Wood points to’s founder, Jeff Bezos, as his inspiration, for proclaiming his company “Earth’s biggest bookstore” before it had sold a single volume. Now, it is.

  • When it comes to overhead, think small. Keep your staff tiny and close-knit, well compensated and listened-to. Room to Read maintains an overhead of only 8 percent. The group can build a whole school, with a library, for about $12,000.

  • Demand sweat equity. Wood uses a variation of the challenge grant model, requiring recipient communities to pitch in whatever they can: land, materials, labor.

  • Bring your “commando lifestyle” to the task. Whatever you do, fight for it heart and soul.
—Adapted from “How John Wood left Microsoft to change the world through books (including his own),” Knowledge@Wharton,

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