Selective Reading

by Krishna on April 7, 2006

I have always felt that the greatest disappointment in life is “so much to do and so little time”. This is particularly true about reading books. There are literally millions of novels, books, magazines, cartoons, blogs, articles and papers out there. Even if you discount 99% of them as bad quality, that still leaves an enormous amount of material. And when you start thinking of content in other languages, there is a lot one will never get to in a lifetime.

The father of a friend of mine used to collect books like crazy and jam-packed his guesthouse with books. All the cupboards were full. There were books stacked and spread out on the floor. He told me that he was nearing retirement and this was what he intended to do with the free time that he was hoping to have. I hope he was able to achieve that.

Perhaps that is a good way to spend time reading classics that one missed out. But when it comes to business literature, this is not very practical, nor does it make any sense. After all, very few people have the influence or ability to implement good business concepts after retirement, unless they become a business consultant. Probably it may even be terribly disappointing to know the best ways of leadership and management one missed out during one’s working years.

Since one must read now and there seems to be an overwhelming amount of literature out there, how does one get selective about reading? The good news is that there are many tools out there that can help one in this situation. Let us start with the Bestseller Lists published by newspapers and magazines like the New York Times and Business Week.

The basic idea behind using the bestseller lists is to be familiar with the latest contemporary literature out there. For example, “The World is Flat” is one of the most visible books out there and discusses the revolutionary nature of today’s technologies in leveling the business field. There are the best-selling hard cover, paperback and long-running best seller lists. If you are just starting to read, try to cover these as quickly as possible. As I have mentioned in a previous post, a good way to get through some of these books is to get the audio versions of these books.

Try to then start reading some of the textbooks covering some of the areas of your management responsibility. Textbooks cover a lot of theoretical ground and explain concepts, including the ones that are rare, in detail unlike mass-market books. If you are already taking a business management course, definitely try to read the books from front to back.

There is a lot of management theory behind various concepts. A good place to start would be Wikipedia to get a general idea of the concept and then identify the definitive text to read on the topic. This will provide the reader clear understanding of the perspectives and criticisms of the topic. Please also note that many management philosophies have become obsolete over time as globalization, technology and working cultures have evolved. So read everything with a grain of salt.

When it comes to blogs, newspapers and magazines, an initial tendency would be subscribe to more so that you can get “more” information. But remember what we started with — Time is limited. Get your information related to a particular topic from no more than 2 or 3 sources. Periodically examine the horizon to evaluate your sources and check if there are newer ones out there.

Once you start reading regularly, you gain a lot of momentum and can easily understand and appreciate different concepts better. Reading will be much faster and also you will know which writing you should explore further and those which you should ignore or emphasize less.

At this point, a different problem arises — you are collecting enormous amount of information and different concepts. What is the next step in using that knowledge? In a later writing, I will talk about implementation based on distilling the collected information to core concepts.

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