Most of us are taught to read phonetically. In fact, the speed of light is far greater than the speed of sound. (The speed of sound is 767 mph whereas the speed of light is 670,616, 629 mph.) The eye is a muscle that, like all other muscles, requires frequent and disciplined exercise. For the past 15 years, I complete several times each day a series of exercises (each takes about five seconds) that strengthen my eyes. When I read almost anything (except legal documents and poetry), my eyes seem to “fly” through the text, top to bottom. Comprehension and retention seem to be determined by intelligence and prior knowledge. That is, you either “get it” or don’t. Final observation: In high school, college, and then graduate school, I was an impatient reader. I felt slowed down by “something.” I felt that I was reading in slow motion, running in waist-high water or on soft sand, etc. Then I learned about research in the joint fields of optics & neurology at UCLA, obtained some information, and modified some of the “eye strengthening” exercises and devised a few others.
How do I read a business book?
1. First, read the title and subtitle, then
2. Read the table of contents
3. Read the preface and/or introduction
4. Skim-read the first 2-3 chapters to become familiar with the format
On average, this process takes 10-15 minutes. Then I decide whether or not to read the entire book.
If my decision is affirmative, then as I begin to read each chapter, I skim-read in the sense that I proceed from one bold face heading to the next, then go back and read the chapter word-for-word. When I get to the last chapter, I read and then immediately re-read it. If there are appendices, I also read them.
Along the way, I highlight key passages. On average, this process takes 45-60 minutes.
Note: I read fiction, poetry, and legal documents differently. The same is true of autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, and history books. The preceding comments refer entirely to how I read business books.
Here is an exercise that takes about five seconds to complete each time. When I began to use this exercise, I completed it at least 50 times a day. I recommend that it be completed as frequently as possible. Here are some variations:
1. Focus intently on each dot and proceed from left to right, from the top to the bottom column.
You get the idea.
2. Reverse direction (i.e. proceed from right to left, from the top to the bottom column.
3. Begin at the bottom and proceed from left to right up to the top column.
4. Begin at the bottom and proceed from right to left up to the top column.
5. Begin at the top column and proceed right, down the far right column, across the bottom line, and up the far left column to the top.
[Note: I reproduce it on a separate letter size-sheet.]
• • • • •
• • • • •
• • • • •
• • • • •
• • • • •
The Rise of the “Stupider”
The Rise of Substitute Intellectual Activity – a Plague!
Roger Ebert has written a column, The quest for frisson, in which he describes some of the ways we function differently with the arrival of the Web. One way: we read full, actual books less often. We are too easily distracted.
As the Signals guys put it in ReWork:
And the reason is interruptions… you can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.
Instead, you should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.
Ebert printed a response from a student from Harvard named Daniel Goldhaber. The student argues that people are getting, for lack of a better word, “stupider” (his word).
“Every year I’ve seen go by has become – for lack of a better word – stupider,” he writes.
Here are a few more thoughts from the student
I go to Harvard University and chose to go instead of accepting a scholarship at USC Film School. My thought process was that even though I want to be a filmmaker, I thought it would make more sense to try to surround myself with people who – like me – enjoy thinking, talking, and reading about the world at large, not just film.
However, what I found stood in such stark contrast to the Harvard of the 70s and the 80s that I had read about in my youth. I found a place where superficiality was prized not just socially, but INTELLECTUALLY. It’s not about the number of books you’ve read, but the number of wikipedia articles on books that you’ve skimmed so that it appears as if you’ve read a lot of books (I’ve succumbed to this as much as anybody else – it’s a plague.)
I don’t know what to do with all this. These thoughts remind me of Scott Peck’s charge that the basic human flaw is laziness – not lazy, as in doing nothing, but lazy as in not doing the things you should be doing, not working on your life in the specific areas that need such work.
Maybe we are lazy. And maybe we want Wikipedia to do all of our thinking and reading for us.
Back in my preaching days, there were two kinds of preachers. Those who got their illustrations and quotes from books of famous illustrations and quotes. And those who read history, biography, philosophy, and built their own inventory of stories and quotes breathed in from wide, varied reading. Such preachers always had more depth.
You might say – “so, Randy, how do you justify your book synopses? You announce that you read the books so that we don’t have to.” I don’t know if I can justify what I do. But I have always held to the fantasy that my presentations will whet your appetite enough that you want to simply read and learn more. I see myself as a “keep learning” ambassador.
I think I know this. The rise of the “stupider” is a threat to our depth, our ethics, our very way of live. We really do need to fortify our defenses, to help us all keep learning.
“If you want your ideas to spread, you need to become expert in these areas: leading conversations that engage, generating cascadesof activity, and conducting strategic engagement.” He explains how to do all three in Chapter 2 of Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out . He also identifies five consequences of successful engagement:
1. Your message goes fast and far, creating traction, involvement, and buy-in.
2. You generate good will. People spend less time in a reactive mode, judging your efforts, and more time pitching in, telling you what they think and helping to create solutions.
3. People perceive that you understand their needs, perspectives, and potential. They see genuine evidence of their success in yours, and you do the same. It is a reciprocal arrangement.
4. You weave the results of your change effort into a social fabric, connecting it to the events and unpredictable circumstances of everyday life. In this way, it becomes practical and integrated, gaining traction and growth as events unfold.
5. You achieve sustainability. The myriad brains, hearts, and hands that support your program operationalize new ways of working and create a web of support that is difficult to undo.
Seth Kahan works with visionary leaders, helping them achieve to success. He has worked with the president of the World Bank, the director of the Peace Corps, senior managers at Shell Exploration and Production Company, Prudential Retirement Savings, and dozens of associations. He is the author of Building Beehives: A Handbook for Creating Communities that Generate Returns and, more recently, the aforementioned Getting Change Right, published by Jossey-Bass (2010). He is also the author of Fast Company‘s blog, Leading Change.
You are urged to check out the wealth of free resources at numerous publications available for free on his website, http://www.visionaryleadership.com/.
Johnson poses an especially important question: What underlying forces prevent great companies from embracing transformational opportunities? Marshall Goldsmith wrote a book whose title reveals what he thinks: “What got you here won’t get you there.” The “white space” referred to in the title of Johnson’s book “is the range of potential activities not defined or addressed by the company’s current business model, that is, the opportunities outside its core and beyond its adjacencies that require a different business model to exploit.” Paraphrasing Goldsmith, the business model that got you to your core won’t achieve success for you in your “white space,” whatever and wherever it may be. Throughout military history, there are countless examples of leaders who fought the last war. Perhaps the most famous (infamous?) is the Maginot Line in France over which German planes and gliders flew (many filled with paratroopers) and around which German tanks sped. The French forces surrendered within a few days, without a fight.
As Johnson explains in Chapter 2, the business model he proposes has four key elements:
“First, every thriving enterprise is propelled by a strong customer value proposition (CVP) – a product, service, or combination thereof that helps customers do more effectively, conveniently, or affordably a job they have been trying to do.
“Second, a product formula defines the way a company will capture value for itself and its shareholders in the form of profit.
“The third and fourth elements of the model, key resources and key processes are the means by which the company delivers the value to the customer and itself. They are the critical asse4ts, skills, activities, routines, and ways of working that enable the enterprise to fulfill the CVP and profit formula in a repeatable, scalable fashion.”
Near the end of this book, Johnson focuses on Jeff Bezos and notes (as does Bezos) several major as well as minor modifications that Amazon made while seizing its own “white space,” before finally selecting the single-detail-page model for its third-party business. The lesson to be learned is this: “As assumptions are tested, success or failure increases the knowledge in the system [as it did at Amazon]. As the enterprise gains traction and turns the corner toward viability, demonstrably knowledge takes over. At that point, clearly defining the metrics of success gives you a clear path toward achieving it, better enabling the nascent initiative to absorb the inevitable early failures along the way.”
“Thursday or Friday. We’re most open to negotiation and compromise then because most of us want to finish our workweek with the least amount of conflict. This feeling at the end of the workweek may be preparation for the weekend, when we spend more time with family and friends, getting along with whom is a high priority. Others point out that Fridays also are the best day to give favorable performance reviews, so it you receive one then, ask for a big raise. The worst day? Wednesday. Unpleasantness and surliness tend to peak then, so try to avoid any situation that can lead to conflict. Tips: 1) Don’t ask for a raise during year-end budget planning, when your company is getting audited or when your boss is distracted by pressing matters. Wait for some good news. 2) Keep a file folder that documents your accomplishments [including dates], which you’ll need to rattle off to your boss when you make your case for a heft raise.”
* * *
Mark Di Vincenzo was a journalist for 24 years before launching Business Writers Group, a company that completes writing assignments for its corporate clients.
My blogging colleague, Bob Morris, has written about the difference between creativity and innovation. And there are many books, some quite wonderful, about creativity and innovation. But here is what hit me directly between the eyes about it this weekend.
It is a quote in Drive by Daniel Pink. Pink argues that extrinsic motivation (Pink: Motivation 2.0) – you know, rewards and punishments, the kind of motivation that was made famous and served workers well in the early part of the 20th century, does not help in jobs that require creativity and innovation. In fact, they can be counterproductive, practically de-motivating.
And in the midst of his discussion of the new approach to motivation needed in the workplace of today, is this quote:
“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive – and autonomy can be the antidote.” (Tom Kelley, General Manager IDEO).
Kelley is an innovation guru, and his firm, IDEO, is an innovation factory. They are hired to come up with designs for products. So, everything has to be new.
But think about what he wrote. Innovation is cheap, because breakthrough innovations provide the next product/system/approach that leads to market share and maybe market dominance. In other words, if you want to discover what is really expensive, then fail to innovate. If you don’t innovate; if you don’t stay ahead of the next iteration and/or breakthrough, then your success of today will disappear in a heartbeat.
It is mediocrity – the failure to innovate when you could have, and you should have – that is so very expensive.
So, whatever else leaders need to provide, this is one thing they’d best not fail it – providing an environment that truly nurtures innovation.
That’s really what Pink’s book, Drive, is all about.