I saw this infographic last week talking about the habits of the worlds wealthiest people. It talked about them getting up early, about maintaining a to-do list, staying healthy and setting goals. But what really caught my attention was that many of their habits involved reading. These extremely successful and busy people are making reading a priority. Whether they were listening to books during their daily commute, making sure they read for at least 30 minutes a day or were encouraging their children to read, reading was just something they did on a daily basis.
Most successful people believe in life-long learning, and the easiest way to learn something new is to read about it. But it’s more than just learning about new facts or figures. Reading changes the way you think. Reading helps you to open your mind to new ideas and new ways of thinking. It allows you to see from other people’s perspectives and helps to stimulate your imagination. These abilities help to make you a better leader, a better decision-maker and a better problem solver.
Reading for Vocabulary
People who don’t read often, write awkwardly, and tend to use vocabulary (and their thesaurus) as a crutch. I once had a business colleague tell me that we had “some synergies we could leverage”, and I did my best to respond with a straight face. Having a large vocabulary is something that will develop naturally if you read often enough. But having a large vocabulary and using it in the right way are different things. (Having a large vocabulary isn’t just something academics use to show off). Sometimes using the simplest word is best, even when you know ten synonyms that would work just as well. It all depends on your audience.
Not to say that vocabulary isn’t important. Being able to express yourself in complex and nuanced ways can be incredibly useful. And not being able to express yourself can be downright scary. For example, how would you describe something, and all its subtleties if there was no word for it?
A great (and extreme) example of this is George Orwell’s 1984. In the book, the totalitarian state had systematically cut down and limited the vocabulary of its people and had created a new off-english language of Newspeak. The purpose of Newspeak was to limit the number of words and the number of meanings associated with those words. For example “bad” had become “ungood” and “better” had become “plusgood”. All of the books, newspapers and reading materials available to the people were written (or re-written) in order to conform to this Newspeak. Words that had been deleted (like Freedom) had been removed so well and so completely that the very concept and understanding of these words no longer existed. Without the proper vocabulary to express their feelings, people were unable to vocalize their thoughts and eventually became unable to think those thoughts at all.
Reading for Business
Reading introduces us to concepts that we wouldn’t otherwise know about, shows us how to form coherent sentences and expose us to new words with new connotations that alter the way we speak, write and think. As business people it is not only important, but imperative that we make those mental jumps that change the way we do business, because by changing the way we do business, we change the world around us.
You don’t even have to just read non-fiction books on business, economics or math to alter the way you look at the world. Fiction can be an incredible tool for understanding new concepts, gaining empathy for others and seeing the world from a new perspective. “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth” Neil Gaiman writes in his defense of libraries and reading. “Truth is not in what happens but what it tell us about who we are.” Reading — even fiction reading — helps us to understand who we are and how we relate to other people. Knowing who you are leads into everything else you do, from how you run your company and how you conduct business with your stakeholders to how you separate yourself from your competition.
We are always hearing about the next best thing, the newest winning strategy and the shiniest new gadget. All of these things exist because someone, somewhere was able to describe something that didn’t exist yet; something they imagined. The wealthy people in that infographic are often described as visionaries, as people with a plan, who see the world differently than you and I do. They work hard and have advantages that the average person does not, but what they have that you could have is a desire to expand what they know and to change how they think through reading.
How often do you read? Do you make time for reading every day? What’s on your nightstand right now? (Persuasion by Arlene Dickinson is just one of many on mine). Does anyone listen to audiobooks during their commute? Let me know in the comments below.
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