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Armina Sîrbu, Serial Entrepreneur, on How Reading Is a ''Virus'' that Gives Courage & Solves Problems

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LATER UPDATE: listen to the podcast episode we did with Armina Sîrbu!

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that writing about Armina’s business history is no walk in the park. We’re talking about a woman who started her first business when she was 18. So, there’s a lot to be said about Armina Sîrbu.

Former AIESEC volunteer, Armina has no less that 15 years of experience as a trainer (rough translation: more than 10k hours of training design, over 15k participants allover).

In 2007, together with her husband, she co-founded Rent eBrains, a company that outsources “the dirty work” that no business wants to deal with. She is also the founder of Ice Breaker (an NGO that offers game-based learning opportunities for youngsters), co-founder of Reb Translations (a company that provides translation services in more than 10 domains of expertise and in more than 120 languages) and founder at (a community meant to support women in achieving their dreams, by delivering personal development instruments).

To these four businesses, we can also add her experience as Head of Learning of Școala de Valori (in English: School of Values). Basically, Armina is a trainer, business consultant, project manager, team-leader, volunteer, mentor and more. Long story short: she’s an inspiring leader.

The interview you are about to read is very insightful, especially if you want to follow Armina’s passion for training and mentoring. To Armina, every book is a story and we’re pretty sure you’re going to like all of them.

Estimated reading time for this interview is 11 minutes. If you'd rather listen to it, you can do it on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

My favorite book is Linchpin by Seth Godin. I think it’s business, but it can very well be non-business as well because it’s so much about life. I re-read fragments from time to time to get a jump-start when I need it.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

Austin Kleon’s “Steal like an Artist“. I read it when I was going through an “impostor syndrome” timeframe and it helped me get out of that mood. It “told” me that is ok, I don’t have to be a genius, I just have to be myself and it will be enough.

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Are women more likely to be affected by impostor syndrome?

I think the impostor syndrome is something anyone can end up with because it’s a sort of anxiety. I experienced it until I stopped caring if I please my boss or the people around me, even the people I care for. Because it all backfired: lots of work -> well-deserved rewards -> pleased people -> some negative feedback -> do I deserve the rewards? So I stopped doubting myself and my work when I removed the “pleased people” element from the equation…and I also filter the feedback very carefully. I guess men might be less sensitive about feedback and might not care that much what others say, so perhaps they are not affected so much by the impostor syndrome. But generally speaking, anyone that gets to the level of “I know what I don’t know” will feel like an impostor.

What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

I read very many books, but indeed there is one that distinguishes itself from the other when it comes to my career choices. “What Color is Your Parachute” by R. Bolles is iconic for a student or fresh graduate who has no clue what’s next. It helped me realized that even though I was graduating from computer science, my heart was in training and HR so that’s how I chose my masters and then built a career path that mixed both IT and HR. Basically it gave me the courage to “go for it”, showed me that it’s ok to mix the two fields. This proved to be a very smart decision later on, because this mix is a rare one thus well paid, too.

Other books that impacted me are:

  • The Gift by Lewis Hyde – it’s amazing to realize how gifts have impacted and influenced the human race.
  • Blink and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – through them I learned what systemic thinking is and started to realize that every little thing will have an impact somewhere.
  • Thinking fast and Slow by – D. Kahnneman – it explains how our brains works without claiming this. So much better than other books that claim to do this.
  • The Coaching Habit by M. Stanier – for people who need to coach their teams.
  • Reinventing Organizations by F. Laloux – the best book there is about the organizations of the future.
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – helped me understand how I could (for real) create a new habit or get rid of an unwanted one.
  • Streetlights and Shadows by Gary Klein – it explains how intuition can be trained and how it works, from a scientific perspective.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

I have invested the last 10 years in training, people development and learning design. I suggest that anyone who wants to try this path should first read “The Art and Science of Training” by Elaine Biech. It will give them a very clear idea if this is for them or not. Then they can participate in a public speaking course to see if they like being in front, or a design thinking workshop to see if they like prototyping. Other than that, it’s a lot of learning by doing. There are many books out there on instructional design, gamification etc., but whatever is out there, needs testing and piloting first.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I read daily in 3 forms:

  • articles I am subscribed to like HBR, The Muse, various blogs, I read them on my mobile – though these are not books, they give me ideas. From these articles I bump into book recommendations and then…
  • I try out books on Blinkist and if the summary is appealing then I buy them on Kindle and then…
  • I love good-looking books, they inspire me and get me thinking in new ways, so I prefer to buy these in printed format, full-color and glossy if available.

I don’t have a favorite out of these 3 ways of reading, because each of them has its own charm and is suitable for different purposes or in different places.

How do you make time for reading?

I learned to read when I was 3 years old. I loved it and it’s like a virus. So, now it comes natural to me. I don’t need to make time for it, it’s enough to find a captivating book.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I use Google Keep to write down any “aha moments” I might have when reading a book. On Kindle and Blinkist I underline things. I take pictures from books. In 90% of the time I will DO something with the noted info so it is both a way of organizing information and an incubator for future ideas.

I also got over the shame of not finishing a book. It’s perfectly fine to leave a book unfinished if it doesn’t serve you and it’s just another torrent of common-knowledge. It’s a selection and censoring method.

How do you choose what books to read next?

I always read something because I need something:

  • If I need to relax, I would go for literature – check on Amazon for the YA books that have the most reviews, read a summary on goodreads, some more reviews and decide if I buy it. A couple times a year I check all New York Times Best Selling Lists and buy in bulk what interests me.
  • If I need some information I look for it, check the books that are referenced in expert matter articles and then go to Blinkist of any other summary / review websites. Then I buy it, read what I need (might not even read the whole book) and move on. Other times if I find a TED talk delivered by the writer about the book, I will choose that and probably won’t get as far as to read the book.

This need is mostly triggered by a learning goal. So how it works for me is like this: on my birthday I decide what I want to learn next year, take a few days to research what’s out there on the topic, which books are the best, choose one and start a journey of learning. I ended up reading a lot of YA dystopian literature because at first I wanted to see what teens (the audience of my trainings) are reading and it captivated me, so I read many of them. After my grand-father got Alzheimer, I wanted to know more about how the brain works. So I started reading and watching videos about the topic. I wanted to feel more confident about my writing skills, so I searched what’s supposed to be the best book on creative writing and read it. I also read a couple others after that, but they said the same thing. This is why, every time I make a selection and choose wisely in which book I invest my time.

Do you prioritize the books recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

My interests are very diverse and I have some friends and colleagues with whom I discuss about books and we share recommendations. Then I research the recommended book and decide myself if it’s what I need.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I have the habit of reading 2-3 books in the same time. Currently I am reading 4 and this is what I hope to get from them:

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