Change Your Future (and Fortune) by Reading a Business Book

Get Better by Reading

How do you get to be better? You can try to work harder and longer. While you may accomplish more tasks, more work won’t make you better. Instead of more hard work, try reading.

“You will be the same in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
Charlie Jones –
Life is Tremendous

What is startling is that many people shun reading, especially books. As many as one in four adults did not read a single book last year. They average adult reads four books a year, most of them religious and fiction. Overall, book sales fell only 0.2% last year, thanks mostly to the success of the Twilight series. But sales of adult nonfiction were down nearly 4%. And that’s a shame.

Photo Credit: heyjohngreen

What You Get From Business Books

Reading books is like getting your master’s degree without the tests and the student loans. Formal education is great, but four years after graduation, only half of college graduates are in jobs related to their major. The real education and career development comes after school.

Academic text books are, well, academic. They are written to deliver basic, fundamental knowledge of how things work. Your college text books were written by academicians, not practitioners. The authors do a good job of studying the subject, but they often have little to no real life hands-on experience. Business books, on the other hand, are written by the soldiers of business. The authors are specialists in the trenches learning, and then writing, from actual experience.

How to Read a Business Book

Consume business books, don’t read them. Think of each book as a college course. The table of contents is like a syllabus. I rarely read more than one chapter a day, because each chapter of a business book usually has one central idea. Consume that idea and let it roll around in your head for a full day. How does it apply to what you do? How can you practically use the concept of that chapter?

Never read a business book without a pen or highlighter in hand. Make notes, underline key passages, put stars in the margin next to important points. Use the chapter divider pages to summarize the chapter in your own words. When you get an important idea while reading, write it on those blank pages in the back of the book. Not only will you get more out of your book, you will also index your book for future use. Later, when you want to review an important idea in the book, you won’t have to search through all the text.

Whenever you read a business book, use a 3×5 index card as your bookmark. Seth Godin suggests that before you start reading, decide that you’re going to change three things about how you work. Then, as you read, find the three things you’re going to change. Write those three things on the index card.

Here’s what you’ll take away if you use the above process:

  1. Notes about important concepts and key ideas, easily accessible in the future.
  2. Notable quotes from the book that you can use in your own writings, or just to impress your friends.
  3. Three things to change how you work.

Types of Business Books

Game Changers – These books shift your paradigm. You become aware that you’re doing something wrong or outdated. Presentation Zen was a game changer for me. It totally changed the way I present ideas in speeches. As a young radio sales rep, I was fortunate enough to read Positioning. It changed the course of my career.

Foundation Builders – Books that are platforms for your existing ideas. Foundation builders take your ideas and shape them into a concrete form. Groundswell helped me build a blueprint of social media options for small business. Content Rich defined how I plan and develop websites.

Gold Mines – There’s valuable information in these books, you just have to do a little work to extract the nuggets. Not every book you read has to be an important book. Almost every book has something to offer. The Back of the Napkin is about visual thinking. It’s lessons refined how I story-board my speeches. Brain Rules altered my thinking about advertising and now I place more emphasis on visuals and frequency.

I can’t imagine myself not having that knowledge. Without those books, my business would be mostly the same as it was this time last year. But there’s one more type of book.

Empty Wells – A deep hole of nothingness with little insight to offer. I’ve only read four such books, which I will not name here. If you get three chapters into a book and you’ve done very little notation, put it down and walk away. If it doesn’t happen in the first three chapters, it’s not going to happen in the final nine.

Business Book Survey

Here are the results of my recently completed business book survey:

Why do you read a business book? – 85% of respondents said they read to improve performance.

What do you look for in a business book? – It was a tie, 66% said they look to gain a psychological edge and to stay current on events and trends.

What business book are you currently reading or have most recently read? – Of 39 responses, there were 35 different titles. The only three books mentioned more than once were What Would Google Do?, Groundswell, and World Wide Rave.

What is the most important business book you have ever read? – 30 different titles were given. The only two books receiving multiple mentions were Purple Cow and The E-Myth Revisited.

So how often do you read a business book? Do you have a story to share about how a book changed the way you do things?

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