Posts Tagged ‘books’

There are moments in our lives that change everything. One of mine occurred in 1997 as I was taking a coffee break and flipping through a newsletter from the UK’s Guild of Health Writers.

One of the articles mentioned that a boutique publisher was looking for professional writers to author some forthcoming books. One was on a topic I knew nothing about, wasn’t sure I believed in, and sounded like a job for a New Age nut rather than a serious journalist.

But I was unable to shake off the strong sense that this was a book I was destined to write. So I picked up the phone and persuaded the acquisitions editor that, with one book already under my belt and a reputation as a talented and reliable alternative health writer, I was the author they were looking for.

The result? The Book of Crystal Healing was published in 1998, went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide and was quickly followed up with a commission to write The Book of Chakra Healing. Some 13 years later, that book is about to be republished as a Gaia Classic. Because of that one moment, I went on to fulfill a number of childhood dreams, not least becoming a full-time writer and consulting co-author whose 14 books continue to generate royalties.

Frans Johansson would call that early experience a “click moment,” which just happens to be the title of his latest book, subtitled Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World. In it, Johansson clarifies something you may have wondered about (because I have): why is it that some activities require long hours of hard, focused effort in order to achieve success, while in some spheres a total novice can come in and enjoy instant fame and fortune?

According to Johansson, the “10,000 hours rule” that Gladwell cites in Outliers is necessary to succeed in rule-bound domains like chess or tennis, but isn’t required for more fluid arenas. Which is why folks can open a business like The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, New York, having never “had any deep experience making chocolate.” Or first-time novelist Stephenie Meyer can score best-selling status with her Twilight trilogy.

Likewise, business success today is largely serendipitous, the result of greater complexity and chance encounters. But don’t shrug your shoulders and attribute it all to dumb luck. As Johansson discovered and reveals in The Click Moment, there are many ways to increase the odds of coming face to face with unexpected opportunities. Indeed, publishing a commercially and critically successful book seems like it has a lot to do with what Johansson calls “the purposeful bet.”

For example, scientists who publish many high-quality papers and low-quality papers (and aren’t necessarily smarter or more experienced than their peers) are the ones found most likely to write a groundbreaking paper. In Bird by Bird, nonfiction author and novelist Anne Lamott writes about the benefits of crafting “shitty first drafts.” She’s prolific – and her books sell. So do Stephen King’s, with each early success increasing the odds that readers will like the next book, and the next.

According to Johansson, Stephenie Meyer “broke all the rules…because she didn’t consider them.” But here is where I think many aspiring authors of nonfiction, as well as fledgling novelists, are misled. There are some generally accepted rules of storytelling that you must either learn or intuitively understand in order to write a compelling book. They are absorbed best, I believe, by doing a lot of reading — not least in the genre you wish to inhabit.

Johansson’s The Click Moment is a masterful example of great storytelling in action. In the tradition of Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink and others, he has the ability to grab the reader’s attention right from page one and never let it wander until the end of the final chapter. I don’t believe you can do that without considerable understanding and effort, not least writing plenty of “shitty first drafts” that never see the light of day (or maybe your blog)!

If one of the opportunities you’re looking to court involves writing a commercially and critically successful book, I strongly suggest you read The Click Moment. Not just for guidelines on how to create more defining moments, to place purposeful bets and harness complex forces, but to see how superior nonfiction is crafted.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Thought Readership #14: Toughening Up On Tighter Writing

by Liz Alexander on October 1, 2012

Call me weird, but I often turn to the last few pages of non-fiction books (although never novels!) before making a decision whether or not to read them; what I find is rarely creative.

Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is one exception. He signs off with a handy chapter-by-chapter summary, and even a discussion guide as they do in the Young Adult novels I’ve begun to devour.

Another is Dr. Jason Selks’s Executive Toughness: The Mental Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance. His conclusion is smartly crafted and, for any aspiring nonfiction author struggling with how best to scope and structure their book, could provide some much-needed inspiration.

There are several parts to Dr. Selk’s concluding chapter. The first poses two questions that help illustrate the characteristics of great people:

  1. What is one thing you have done well in the last 24 hours? (Because the greats “give themselves credit where credit is due.”)
  2. What is one thing you want to improve tomorrow? (They also “relentlessly pursue improvement.”)

Devising questions to ask your readers is one way to narrow down the scope of your book. In Selk’s case, his theme is mental toughness and how those of us who desire to be remarkable need to embrace accountability (doing what needs to be done), focus (prioritizing what’s important), and optimism (overcoming all obstacles). The two questions mentioned above speak directly to those key points, and presumably helped Selk keep his book tight and well organized.

The second part of Selk’s conclusion really drew me in. He offers a chart listing each of his ten “mental toughness fundamentals,” along with a brief explanation. It is here that the author intrigued me sufficiently to want to sit down and read his book cover to cover. He poses questions in those charts that are obviously answered and expanded upon throughout the book, as well as mentioning stories previously referred to that I wanted to know more about. Selk’s reference to acronyms and other terms piqued my curiosity sufficiently to want to check out the relevant, earlier sections: IAS (Ideal Arousal State); RSF (Relentless Solution Focus); and Gable discipline.

The third part of Selk’s concluding chapter summarizes three issues that neatly cover all obstacles to success: Apathy (lack of passion); Laziness (lack of motivation); and Fear (lack of confidence). This is a handy mental checklist to go through whenever you find yourself procrastinating.

Finally, Selk does what any good presenter would do: he encourages his audience to engage personally with the material. He gives the link to a free download work sheet – a clever way to include his web address and drive traffic to his site – and further intrigued me by pointing out that readers would have an opportunity to compare their takeaways with his.

How might such an approach help you write a better book? If you are a speaker, trainer or presenter you’ve learned the importance of summarizing your material in order to highlight for your audience the most important material to remember. Why not use that technique to formulate the scope and structure of your book? In that way you can avoid the mistake many new authors make, in publishing poorly organized material that frequently wanders off into the weeds.

Take a leaf out of Jason Selk’s book and know what you want to leave your readers with – the core takeaways – before you start to write or speak.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Thought Readership #9: Title Fights

by Liz Alexander on July 2, 2012

It begs the question. If human beings are so smart, how come it took us so long to combine the wheel (invented circa 3500BC) with the suitcase (first believed to have been used by Roman legionnaires traveling the then-known world)? Yet once Bernard Sadow arrived at his “aha” moment in 1970 and began manufacturing luggage that could be pulled along with castors, incremental innovations followed suit. Only to be expected, right?

For example, by 1989 Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath had come up with something better than pulling along luggage horizontally on four castors with a strap, as Sadow had proposed. Plath’s Rollaboard® creation was a vertical bag with two wheels and a “telescopic” handle. Compare that today with the even more advanced 360 degree swivel wheeled versions…or the further evolution known as the Climbing UP suitcase, that can be pulled up stairs and inclined surfaces because it exchanges fixed wheels for all-round rubber tracks.

The modern, wheeled suitcase is just one example of how iterative innovation works. Why don’t we see much of that with books that directly contradict an earlier concept?

A rare example is Harvard Business Professor Deepak Malhotra’s book I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). Now, you’ve probably just done a double take on the title because, yes, it’s almost identical to Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard’s 1998 classic bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? Which was precisely the point.  (Did you know, by the way, that you cannot copyright a book title – which is why you often see so many same or similar ones appearing – such as this example of my own 1999 book?).

The point Malhotra is making is that the way we need to deal with change has, well – changed in the ensuing 13 years since Johnson and Blanchard’s classic was first published. He addressed that head-on by challenging the premise of WMMC and offering up a fresh way to look at how to handle situations where the goalposts (“the cheese”) keep shifting.

How many other classic business titles can you think of that could benefit from a 21st century overhaul? So why don’t more authors do what Malhotra has done? We certainly expect, with respect to everyday products, that original innovations (like Sadow’s roll-along luggage) would soon be superseded by better iterations. So why do we leave it only to the original authors to update their books? Most of the time that rarely happens and is unlikely to lead to any radically different thinking in any event (largely because experts don’t like to be seen to change their minds, at least not in public).

I raise this point because you might be a business expert who wants to write a book, and need an attention-grabbing idea. My challenge to you is this: what “classic” bestseller is there in your space that you could contradict, overhaul, and bring up-to-date? What was written years ago that everyone in your industry continues to reference, when you know there’s a much better way to do things? And do you have the chutzpah, as Malhotra obviously has, to use the (slightly tweaked) original title?

If everyone in your world is still metaphorically lugging along honking big leather suitcases with makeshift castors fixed to the bottom and your business offers clients the equivalent of ones that glide on jet packs – why aren’t you writing a book like that?

As I pointed out earlier, we humans like to think we’re smart, but how many companies do you know where processes remain in place only because “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Similarly, how many business book concepts are still being embraced today, despite there being a better approach that you could share?

Next time you read an industry “standard” and think to yourself: I know a better way than this, why not bring attention to your book by directly challenging the old one? Let’s see more iterative innovation with respect to book ideas! After all, moving “cheese” around was just ripe (if you’ll forgive the pun) for an overhaul. So whose business classic would you like to give 2013/14 “makeover” to, and what would you title it? Email me with your suggestions and I’ll compile them into a future article. Best one will receive an (as yet undetermined) small but highly covetable prize!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years

except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

~Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

The philosopher’s choice

In the late 1970s I took a graduate school course in the Philosophy of Education which changed the way I thought not just about Education, but about the very way we assemble and articulate the ideas by which we live. The course was taught by a professor who had been first trained as a lawyer, and he had an uncanny ability to persuade you to his way of thinking. Although any good teacher can be persuasive, this man could make you a believer in a particular approach to Education one week, and the next week bring you in total opposition to it.

The course was structured so that in 12 weeks we covered 6 major Philosophies of Education, each of them quite different from one another, and each with both a history and a following. The first week was devoted to the pros of that philosophy, all of the excellent reasons why that approach was not only the best, but perhaps the only way to educate children. The following week took exactly the opposite point of view, destroying each argument he had made one by one, until you become a total believer that this particular philosophy of education was not only fundamentally flawed, but perhaps outright dangerous to the education of children.

He systematically constructed and then deconstructed the pros and cons of the six major philosophies behind Education in the Western world from the time of the ancient Greeks to modern day. His persuasive prowess was impressive enough, but even on the final day of the course, his response to our burning question of which philosophy did he believe in, was simply to smile and laugh under his breath, like Buddha turning a flower in his fingers rather than making any final statement of belief.

It was also remarkable how the same belief systems would rise and fall throughout history, each having its crusaders and opponents, each enjoying a heyday and a May Day. Although the professor was skilled at presenting the various perspectives on the Philosophy of Education, what really stimulated our thinking at the deepest level was reading the various arguments pro and con. It was an exhilarating and exhausting mental exercise, touching deepest at the roots of how we think about teaching and learning, and it would have been nothing by mere opinions were it not for the reading we did.

Which way reading today?

The mental shock came with real world aftershocks, on realizing that in schools not only were students reading less and less, but teachers and educational administrators were also reading less and responding to believe systems of which they were barely aware, just for the sake of survival. And this was in the days well before the Internet, which arguably has stricken a massive blow to the world of reading as we knew it.

A generation which grew up reading no longer reads books, at least in the same concentrated reflective way. The newer generations are growing up with too many distractions to take an interest in books. Reading today is more like sampling from a digital smorgasbord, than eating a well prepared meal.

Leaving regrets and longing for older ways to the Luddites, let’s consider what can actually be done today to make reading an even richer experience than was ever possible in the past.

Quotes. “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” ~Emile Buchwald. These ten words speak volume on what is required to raise a generation of readers. It is not the love of knowledge that drives the process at first, but rather the love of parents, and the way in which adult society views and enjoys reading that guides the future of the next generation.

Benefits. Though there are many benefits of reading, there is an excellent summary of the definitive benefits in an article called “10 Benefits of Reading” on the www.inewsindia.com website. They can be summarized as ➀ Active mental process, ➁ Increased vocabulary, ➂ Other cultures and places, ➃ Concentration and focus, ➄ Builds Self-esteem, ➅ Improves Memory, ➆ Improves Discipline, ➇ Improves Creativity, ➈ Material for Conversation, ➉ Reduces Boredom.

Sharing Knowledge. It is not just the process of reading that changes you, and certainly not the tests that you take on what you read and soon forget, but rather the way in which you share the knowledge you have gained through reading. Talk about what you have read, write about it both formally and informally. Encourage others to talk about what what they are reading. This is what makes ideas come alive and have a practical bearing on how we live our lives.

Digital vs Analog. Although e-books and tablet reading is rapidly overtaking paperbacks, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We are blessed with a choice that previous generations never had. Each has advantages that they other cannot provide, so why not engage in both/and thinking, rather than making an either/or choice?

Notetaking. This is where the mind gains traction and actually begins to travel. If you read without taking notes, you will merely skim the surface or spin your wheels. People who read books without taking notes often feel they are trying to scratch an itchy foot with their shoes still on. They never reach the deeper part of the mind that is calling for attention. Your notes reflect the quantity and quality of your thinking. Therefore, why not emulate the great geniuses of history and keep a notebook as a matter of course? Fill your notebook with sketches and illustrations, no matter how rough. Your thoughts will come alive and reward you with greater insights than you can get from reading without notetaking.

Commonplace Book. Read my article “Making Your Mark” to learn about the lost tradition of the commonplace book, the handmade personal book, which was not only taught at Oxford and Harvard until the early 20th Century, but was practiced by people in all walks of life. Active journaling make for active reading.

Foreign Language. An even greater way to stretch your mind than reading is to learn to speak and read in a foreign language. You quickly learn that all a foreign language dictionary can do is roughly point you in the right direction. Words are not mathematical equivalents, but rather living nuances, like the spread of a fan. This is why a literal translation is actually a mistranslation. The proverb “Out of site, out of mind” was translated into Chinese by a computer, and then back into English. The words came back, “Invisible Idiot.” Clearly there is more to translation than plugging words into a formula. A new language means a new world, new opportunities, and greater flexibility in your thinking.

Flexible Focus. Reading itself stretches your mental legs and gives you new perspectives on people and places. But you can also enrich your reading experience by introducing more variety into what you read, where and how you read. Try changing your reading environment, read aloud, read together, read alone.

Lastly, for reading follow the wise advice of Peter Drucker.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection.

From quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

Download a READING MANDALA for a summary of the ideas in this article, and as a guide to how to enhance your approach to reading

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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Think back to your days in college or high school. You’re sitting in a lecture hall or classroom. The speaker is droning on and on using confusing vocabulary. Your mind drifts. You know you should be paying attention but you can’t.

Remember what that was like?

Then hold that experience in mind next time you write. Especially when you sit down to write a book. Because you can’t mandate that your readers will, like dutiful students, force their way through to the end like they had to in those interminably dull college lectures. They’ll shut your book and be done with it.

How do you avoid what I call “textbook creep” – the tendency of new authors, especially, to write incredibly worthy but dull prose?

For a start, you could study a book like Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Pearson Education Inc., 2011).

A quick bit of “back story,” first. This was not a book I had intended to review. I bought it only because I was developing a program that covered the metrics of strategic communications and thought it would be especially interesting to my participants to learn about how to measure social media effectiveness.

Thinking that this was going to be a painful but necessary exercise on my part, I dove in to the book – and was pleasantly surprised.

What does author Olivier Blanchard do that so many folks, writing these kinds of instructive books, don’t? Three things.

Before I tell you what they are, however, look at these examples from Chapter One:

“Building a social media program for an organization is hard. I won’t try to convince you otherwise.”

“What do people do on social media all day?… At its core, what people do on the social web is communicate and interact.”

“Now that we have touched upon what a social media program is, let’s discuss what a social media program does.

In the first example, I feel like Blanchard is talking to me — human being to human being. Not expert to novice or lecturer to student. That endeared me to him straight away (remember Know, Like, and Trust from Thought Readership #2?).

A line like “I won’t try to convince you otherwise,” is very conversational. When you read that you already get a sense of Blanchard as a down-to-earth guy who isn’t going to try and pull the wool over your eyes.

In the second example, the author anticipates the kind of questions that his readers will be asking as they read the book. I mean, what do people do on social media all day, for crying out loud? Again, this is a conversational sentence that also conveys that Blanchard is having a two-way dialog with his readers, not offering a soliloquy.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I chose the word “soliloquy” and not “monologue,” it’s because a monologue is where one person dominates or monopolizes the conversation, and a soliloquy is where they are talking solely to themselves.

Neither are good ways to write a compelling book. Never forget that there is a person reading your words that might not agree with you or have questions of their own. If you can anticipate and address these, as Blanchard does skillfully throughout Social Media ROI, then you’ll score major Brownie points with them.

Thirdly, like all good presenters of information, Blanchard throws in lines that move us deftly from one set of information to the next. Again, that third example above is very conversational and natural – the kind of thing you would say if the person you are writing for were sitting down with you.

So how do you develop a more conversational tone in your writing, if this is something that doesn’t come naturally? One tip that was useful to a client of mine – let’s call her Brenda – was to speak and record.

It was the oddest thing. When I’d ask Brenda a question about her subject matter expertise during our sessions, she was incredibly articulate and natural. But ask her to write something by herself and it was a whole other ball game. Her prose was stiff, full of jargon, and read like it was coming from a textbook.

What we ended up doing most of the time was for me to ask her questions that I believed her readers would want answered and to record her responses. Now that Brenda is working on her second book, she’s doing this for herself.   

Even if you’re not planning to write a book, bear in mind how tortuous it is when “experts” start pontificating about their material, almost forgetting that there is a human being on the other side of the interaction. You don’t want your book (or any business communication) to have the same reputation as the Medicare legislation – over-written gobbledegook – do you?

Make sure your book is as “user-friendly” as Olivier Blanchard’s Social Media ROI. Otherwise, guess what? You’re likely to find you don’t have any users!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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When it comes to the commonly espoused belief that a nonfiction book automatically confers credibility on an author, my feeling has always been maybe, maybe not. After all, surely it depends on whether the book is any good with respect to delivering on its commitment to the reader, and isn’t just a 250-page equivalent of what Steve Jobs called “fart apps.”

When aspiring authors ask for my opinion on what they can do to make their book more credible, my answer is always “research.” Because, as one Harvard Business Review blog post commenter (thanks, Mark Mccarthy, whoever you are!) creatively pointed out in response to an article by a couple of consultants, “…without the research data (this information) could be as useful as a chocolate fireguard.”

Before you go running for the hills at the sound of the “R” word, let me assure you it’s not necessary to go to the lengths of the three co-authors of The Customer Experience Edge: Technology and Techniques for Delivering An Enduring, Profitable, and Positive Experience to Your Customers (McGraw-Hill, 2012).

Having the resources of their employer SAP at their disposal in order to commission an independent study, Reza Soudagar, Vinay Iyer, and Dr. Volker G. Hildebrand might have been expected to come up with a credible book; but not necessarily so. It wasn’t just a question of doing research, but also the kind of deep analysis and organization of material that enables the average reader to immediately “get” the data’s applicability. If that doesn’t happen, all you end up with is another data-heavy, dry textbook yawn-fest.

Let me give you a brief backgrounder to how this book came about, before we look at how to scale-down their approach for the kind of credible book you might write.

The authors had taken notice of IBM’s Global CEO study, which found that getting closer to customers was the number one priority for the executives polled. So they commissioned Bloomberg BusinessWeek to research the topic by surveying their reader base and interviewing companies that had achieved significant transformations through a primary focus on customers. Deciding to weave those findings into a book didn’t strike them until the research was completed, 12 months’ later, co-author Vinay Iyer told me.

What the authors did was to break down that mass of information, extracting four essentials of customer experience: Reliability, Convenience, Responsiveness, and Relevance, which were validated by the real-world responses from 307 director-level and above executives at midsize and large companies. They then mapped these essentials onto three key technology-related areas (they work for SAP, remember) and used specific company examples to show how this framework results in the “customer experience edge.”

What can those of us do, who don’t have the resources to support this kind of large-scale research or want to wait 12 months before getting started on our book?

Why not personally interview a sample of industry or business experts to gather their perspectives about your topic, using that material as a key feature in your book? At the same time you’re gathering advocates to help market the book when it’s published.

Or you could develop a short Wufoo or SurveyMonkey questionnaire, promoting that through your social media channels, to gather relevant data.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with writing a book based only on your opinion—although preferably if it’s been honed and refined over many years and tested against a wide range of situations. But without the added credibility of research, as the man said, your book could end up as useful to the rest of us as a chocolate fireguard.

Coming Next on Thought Readership: A Legend In Its Own Lunchtime: What A Developmental Editor Could Have Done For This Book!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Leader driven Harmony #41: Read a Book, ANY Book!

by Mack McKinney on October 14, 2011

Have you Gen-Yers noticed how seldom any of your friends mention a great book they have read?  Not an online article or a short news article but a real, honest-to-goodness BOOK?  Not very often, huh.

I know.  Why bother?  You can learn everything you need to know about most any subject with just a quick search on Google or Wikipedia, right?

Wrong.  An insidious, sneaky thing is happening to us.  We are losing the ability to read.  Book sales have plummeted in just the past 5 years.  This is more common among young people than middle-aged and older people.  And here is the danger – – – if you don’t read books at all, very soon you’ll notice that you NEVER read books anymore and now here is the contentious question:  WHY is that?  Why do we stop reading books?  Several respected studies and books conclude that the reason is as follows:

  • When we read short articles, and get quick answers, two things happen – – – 1) our brain gets a shot of the feel-good chemical dopamine as a result of our completing the research task we assigned ourselves and 2) our attention span shrinks just a bit.
  • Soon we are more comfortable tackling short-duration tasks and so we do just that – – – every study task becomes a short-duration task as we force the problem-solving job to match our now-shrinking attention span.
  • We are almost never required to consult a book to solve a problem or learn a new skill since someone else usually has developed the Cliff Notes © version which spoon feeds us ONLY what we must know to gain a basic familiarity with any new subject, computer, phone, TV, etc.
  • Eventually, we no longer have the patience to tackle a thick book with its slower progress and less fulfilling (no dopamine) effect on our minds.  The lure of the quick fix has dominated our actions for so long that any process that requires deep, detailed, significant thought will be avoided in favor of a shorter, more intense-feeling approach. And since we lose what we don’t use, before we even know it has happened to us, we no longer CAN read a book on a complex subject that requires deep thinking, introspection and internal debate.

Multiple studies are showing that it is just becoming extremely hard for young professionals to force themselves to read a book, ANY book, even on subjects of great importance to their chosen professions.  Begrudgingly, they will read a book when assigned by their boss or as part of a course of study but not otherwise.

We get best at the things we do most frequently.  If we never read deeply, many of us lose the ability to think deeply especially over a long period of time, which is the very type of thought required to solve tough problems in life, to make decisions about courses of action (one career vs other candidates, where to live, etc.).  If we ONLY make decisions quickly, after little/no deliberation, several things can happen and most of them are bad:

  • We start to view ALL problems as being relatively simple, lending themselves to knee-jerk solutions.
  • We lose the ability to stay engaged in a course of study over a long period of time, without getting bored.  So we begin to avoid making decisions about any problem whose solution is not apparent after a few minutes of deliberation.  And such “vexing” problems fester and often worsen, leading to crises in our lives.
  • We don’t just enjoy the short-cycle of thinking and acting that shallow thinking brings us, we actually begin to need it.  Studies show that the same people who do not read books also text frequently and spend a lot of time online.  We’ll discuss this more in a later post but there is ample scientific evidence that Gen-Ys who seldom read books and who are constantly texting and tweeting and browsing Facebook and other social network sites are rewiring their brains in ways that we don’t yet really understand.  But the need for constant social stimulation appears to be a byproduct of the rewiring process.

So here is some advice for people whose brains are in development, people between the ages of 12 and 24.  Read a book, any book!  Hang out at the library once a week for an hour or two.  Download  a book to your Kindle.  Take your Color Nook to Barnes and Nobles and read eBooks there for free!  No matter how you do it, just find subjects that interest you and read books on those things.  Then branch into related topics.  Go where the ideas take you and read, read, read.  Or before you know it, you won’t have either the patience or the ability to do so. Use it or lose it!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Mack McKinneyMack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government
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