The Return on Investment of Reading

My summer reading pile. From top to bottom: "Rhode Island Notebook" - Gabe Gudding "Freakonomics" - Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner "How to be Alone" - Jonathan Frazen "A Handbook of ...

Why Should I Read Books?

In the age of Twitter (and I love Twitter), the time and energy for reading books is shrinking. Especially the kind of books that help us grow our businesses. Isn’t it easier to read ‘articles’, blog posts (yeah, like this one!) or your favorite business news source?

Here’s what goes on in my head…. Reading a book… ugh. It’ll take a long time. Not only do I not have a couple of hours to read a book, I don’t have the mental energy it takes to concentrate on a business book. My days are just too busy.

But often, the smartest person in the room, the one with a good perspective and ideas,  is the one who reads books. If you ask them what is the most recent business book they read, they’ll have a ready answer. We read books in school, but once we get out, we think it’s either not necessary or a luxury we can’t afford.

Skill Building

“In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You’re never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it’s required to keep a license valid.” He continues, “knowledge workers, though, the people who” manage, market, and do accounting— “often act as if they’re fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction. The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.”  Seth Godin

When I read a book, one that requires me to actually think, as opposed to my favorite mysteries, I have to focus 100% on the page. It’s one of the few times during the day (or evening) that I do only one thing at a time. I get to concentrate on just one thing and I build skills, knowledge, and perspective.

Finding The “Right” Investment

One of the hardest things for me is to figure out is ‘what’ to read. There are so many books! A quick search indicates there are some 11,000 business books published every year. How in the world can I sift through all that noise to find something that will actually give me some return for my precious time?

Here’s how I try to figure out what to read. I think about:

  1. An author, is this someone who has written something that I learned from before?
  2. A general business book that brings a big picture into focus (as opposed to ‘marketing’ or ‘finance’ or some other sub topic.)
  3. Bigger ideas or technology trends… not just specific companies or individual technologies.
  4. Books where the author has done research. The research means that the author had a hypothesis and then tested it.

Some of My  Favorites

  1. Anything by Chris Anderson, Amy Cuddy, Brene Brown, Daniel Gilbert, Josh Bernoff, Charlene Li, Seth Godin.
  2. Traditional favorites like: Warren Bennis on Leadership, Michael Gerber on Entrepreneurship and my all time favorite – Peter Drucker on anything he ever wrote about.

I’d love to hear how you select what books you will read and who your favorite authors are. Thanks!

Photo Credit: Summer reading list


Body McBody Face

Image result for love the body you have

The Body We’re Born With

I am very fortunate to have been born with a smaller frame with a higher metabolism. These two gifts allowed me to go through most of my life being relatively ‘thin’, which in American culture is considered ‘good.’ We can blame ‘the media’ for all the emphasis on beauty and bodies or we can accept responsibility that we, each of us, have a choice about how we think and feel about body shapes, ours and other peoples.

“Beauty” Around the World

When I thought magazines were going away, I was pretty happy.  No more news stands with 100’s of pretty faces and bodies (all minor variations on a theme) staring back at me. But they haven’t gone away.  Unfortunately.

But even if they had, we’d still have ads, commercials, movie stars, beauty pageants, etc. We’d still have ‘social norms’ around what is beautiful and what isn’t. This is tremendously unfortunate. If you have the good fortune to travel around the world, you see an astounding beauty in people everywhere. The attractiveness of people in one culture, is totally different than in another. This is good. It’s up to us to broaden our definition. I admire Alicia Keys… read what she has to say about the tyranny of makeup.

I’m not against makeup or fashion. They are both fun and interesting. It’s when we feel that our self worth is tied up in “looking good” or looking a certain way, that we wade into problems. Taking care in our appearance can be appropriate. Feeling less than because we are not thin or blond or cool or rich or whatever… is a waste. of. energy.

The Myth (Damage) is Reinforced

We give our little girls dresses and bows and we give our boys trucks and blocks. We tell little girls that they look pretty and that by looking pretty, they are giving something great to the world… themselves. Boys are strong, girls look good. We give boys tools, sporting goods and expect them to run around and be wild. We give girls books, tea sets, costumes (especially princess costumes right?) and then expect them to sit inside and play quietly.

Understanding The Burden of Expectations

I recently heard an interview with Glennon Doyle Melton whose book, Carry On Warrior, describes her journey as a pretty woman. While you might think, hey, I don’t want to read about the troubles of a pretty woman, I have real problems! It turns out that reading about the world from her point of view is actually very informative as to how we might change our language, patterns and thoughts regarding physical attractiveness.

Be the Change

I have been blessed, all my life, with a total disregard for my personal appearance. Some of this is because I was born with that ‘thin’ body and fall within many acceptable concepts of attractive. I could afford to be cavalier about my looks. I was also came of age in the 1960’s and 70’s, when Hippies roamed the earth. Hippies don’t care about their looks. They care about peace, love and rock n’ roll.

I’m not suggesting that everyone stop caring about their appearance. I’m simply asking that each of us think about “bodies”. Do we think fat is ugly? Do we think people need to be thin in order to be ‘acceptable?’ Let’s all stop for a minute and ponder the beauty of a human. In all our shapes, sizes, colors, ages and genders. Being human is the most wonderful gift… Let’s appreciate the ability to walk, smell, taste, sing… It’s all good.

Strength is Elastic (Not Steel)

Do you equate strength with the following?

  • Loud
  • Brusque
  • Aggressive
  • Reluctance to “give in”
  • Authoritative
  • Fast talking/Quick witted
  • Unemotional

If you do, I ask you to think carefully about your definition of strength.

Real strength has flexibility and resilience. Think of the power of water… it is powerful in it’s own way. Think of people who have changed the world for the better. Seldom are they the loudest people in the room. They may have an unrelenting drive… like water… but they don’t have to bully and belittle. They know that building up others, leading with self awareness and grace, are a more powerful force than any muscle flex or shouted order.

“Strength begins with unwavering resilience, not brittle aggression.” Seth Godin

Image credit: Bands 3

Skeptic or Cynic?

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We are “in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope, bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed.” Maria Popova

With our presidential election weeks away, I hear people talk about how they hate the two party candidates… that they are not going to vote, that the country is a mess, that they don’t see how this election could possibly turn out okay.

I understand. This will be my 12th national election. Most years, I didn’t like my choices either.

It’s much easier to be cynical than to commit to a personal effort to change things. Does the cynic serve a purpose? I don’t believe that the cynic does much to improve things. He or she may feel righteous, but nothing really gets better. Skepticism, on the other hand, can help us be discerning. So skepticism is useful, cynicism isn’t.

But what I see going on these days is beyond skeptical… it is surrender, a complete abdication of responsibility to think through what is good for our nation and neighbors. And this, I do not understand. If you are young and cynical to the point of inaction, then I feel sorry for you. If you are old, then I am ashamed of you. It is our responsibility to help the young understand that life is full of ups and downs. The downs don’t push us to whine and moan. They push us to look at ourselves and to figure out how to contribute to the common good.

“In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, hope is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.”

If you haven’t read  Maria Popova‘s 2016 commencement address, I hope you’ll take a minute. Her message is inspiring.