The book publishing industry in America cranks out about 4,000 new titles each year, a fair number of which are business titles. And while some are a waste of time, a good number of these books are worth reading. But even if you're reading the best business books, so what?
After reading a good book on business or self-improvement, if you simply put it down and say "that was a good read," you may as well have read a novel. Reading a book is one thing. But to incorporate what you've read into your life, you'll need to take it a step further and actually study the material.
One college medical student I know puts it like this: If I simply read my books I'll probably get a "D" on the exams. But if I study the books I'm much more likely to get an "A."
Most folks can probably relate to that student's experience. His observation also explains why business managers continue to flounder, in spite of reading all the "recommended" books on management.
Perhaps you've even experienced it yourself: Senior managers attend a workshop on how to be great managers and they read all the accompanying workbooks, yet the work environment remains "business as usual."
Such endeavors can wreak havoc within organizations. One organization I'm aware of recently sent their 50 senior managers through a one-week class on leadership and management, and followed it up by sending all 400 employees through a four-day training session on the same material.
The 400 rank-and-file employees were excited that senior managers had gone through the material. Their hope for positive change and better teamwork was almost tangible. They knew the organization spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the training, so they assumed top brass was serious about implementing it.
Unfortunately, the managers simply read through the material and did not study it. And rather than seeing an improvement, morale sank like a rock when people realized the managers hadn't changed a bit.
We can read all we want, but no study results in no change.
One of the best-selling business books of all time is Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A colleague of mine recently told me about attending a workshop at which the presenter asked, "How many people here have read 7 Habits? Stand up if you've read the book."
More than half of the 100 people in attendance stood.
Then the presenter said, "If you can remember three of the seven habits, stay standing. If you can't name at least three habits, sit down."
More than half of those standing sat down.
Then he said "If you can recite all seven habits, stay standing."
Only three people remained standing.
Finally, he said, "If you are living all seven habits in your life, remain standing."
The remaining three people sat down.
That event further illustrates the sad truth that we can read good books, but reading is not enough. If we want to incorporate what we read we need to seriously study the content.
Look up the word "study" in a dictionary and you're likely to find it means: give careful attention to; critically examine; investigate; and apply to the mind.
Interestingly, the root of the word study means "to aim toward" and "to strike at." This implies that study must have both a mental focus and a physical action.
So, what to do?
Obviously, re-reading a book does not constitute study. If you want to apply more of what you read, you must first make it a priority in your life. Many good study techniques are out there (and you should use whatever ones work best for you), but here are just a few to consider:
- Using a legal pad, summarize in your own words the key points that stick out to you from each chapter. Then identify a few situations in which you can act on what you want to do.
- Talk with a trusted friend about what you're reading, and what you would like to do. As you start trying new things, engage that person in dialog about what you find is working and what's not working.
- It seems simple, but good old-fashioned flash cards drive learning deep into our memory. Creating flash cards and going through them several times a day can build a new way of looking at things.
Whatever study method works best for you, do it. Reading is good, but you can read a thousand books and not gain much. It's studying what you read that will make the difference.