My previous post was about organizing and filtering feedback from advice. I have a weakness for giving unsolicited advice, which includes this blog itself. And the recommendation I like to give most often is simply to read books. Recently, because of an encounter with a friend, I questioned myself: Why do I do that? Is it still a valid tip in the age of the Internet with free articles, podcasts and videos? Are books outdated?
Don’t get me wrong: This is not a “books versus Internet” discussion. The Internet is an amazing source of information and to ignore its potential for research and learning is foolish, to say the least. The question: If you have the Internet, do you ALSO need to read books?
My answer is “Yes” and here are three simple reasons why I think so:
- Books can explore a topic unlike any other medium: A book can run into hundreds of pages exploring every aspect of the topic at hand. This is very difficult for audio or video. It is theoretically possible for an Internet article to do it, but few seldom do it. Such analysis is still mostly done in books. The problem with incomplete knowledge of a subject is that one may make hasty decisions without knowing all the ramifications. This is especially true of issues related to business management.
- Books force a navigational structure on the reader: A book forces a strict navigational structure from front to back. This means that the author can take the reader through her arguments to the final conclusions. The Internet is a hypertext medium where you may land on an article, but not understand the context in which the writer has put forth her message.
- Books make the jargon: Most senior managers are extremely well-read in both classics and the latest books. They use terms in those books to establish a lingo that helps them communicate better. For example, using a term like the “Innovator’s Dilemma” can easily convince another executive of the need to establish an autonomous research division. It is similar to a developer talking to another about the need to use the “Decorator Pattern” to achieve something with an existing API, because it helps them understand the exact meaning with minimal words.
Now, there are books available on the Internet too. Some articles are pretty lengthy that, if printed, would turn to be a book. This is fine in my opinion, because as I said, I am not advocating against using the Internet.
However, the problem is that many important books are not available online for various reasons, usually copyright-related. Also, some older books are obtainable at sites like Project Gutenberg in pure ASCII text format, but they are less pleasant on the eyes. On the other hand, many of these books are easily available in print at the local library.
Of course, books have their disadvantages. For one, they are extremely time consuming and you can only read so much. So it is important to prioritize well. Here is an older post I wrote on that issue.