If you haven’t heard of the following author or book or managed to catch one or both, you need to clear your schedule this week: John Wood, the author and entrepreneur whose name perhaps doesn’t inspire intrigue but whose work does, is in town.
The Cliff Notes version of his story is that he was working in marketing for computing giant Microsoft when he went on a trekking holiday to Nepal. Getting off the beaten track on a whim and checking out a tiny Nepalese school, he found that not only did they only have a few books (and by ‘few’ I really do mean, like, three), they were keeping them under lock and key.
The idea was that the books were precious and needed to be preserved. The reality was that the books weren’t overly special (I think one was a Jackie Collins or equivalent) and preserving them meant starving children of learning opportunities. But the reality behind the reality was that this was a school in a village in a country that’s so dirt poor no one could really afford books.
Determined to change this, Wood sent out an email to his array of contacts (which was vast—he was in marketing for Microsoft, remember), asking them to send books to his parents’ place and he’d organise for the books to be shipped to Nepal to furnish this school. He then promptly forgot about it, being swept back up by work commitments.
That is, until his father called to say that they were running out of space and what on earth did he plan to do with all the books. Turns out lots of people heeded his call and Wood hasn’t stopped receiving and shipping books out since. He left Microsoft to pursue this full time (hence the book’s title) and has expanded the operation (now called Room to Read) into such other countries as Cambodia and Vietnam. He also found the time to write about the heady experience, the success of which even he can’t quite believe.
Claiming that you left Microsoft to change the world is a book title that includes an, er, element of confidence. I’ll admit that I was initially wary that the book was going to be, well, too American and too ‘I’m awesome’. But Wood has traveled widely and lived around the world (including here in our very own Syd-oh-nee) and doesn’t come across as either too marketing-slick or too American.
The book is a brilliant, easy, inspiring read and Wood is a guy-next-door motivating character with a strong sense of humility humour. In fact, I heard second-hand that he quipped he got in first to use ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World’ as a title before Bill Gates had a chance to.
I’m not going to issue a double thumbs up or star rating to Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, but I will say that it’s a book that I return to annually as a kind of touchstone and refresher. I recommend you read it at least once, and if there are tickets left and you’re able to get down to hear him speak, I recommend you do that too.