Many people like the idea of keeping sharp and continually growing. To frame this in the negative, we don’t like the idea that there is some ‘big trick’ out there that we are not aware of or that others are ‘stealing a march’ on us. While there are a myriad of ways to keep up, arguably the most cost effective form of executive development is reading. The best business minds condense their thinking into books and, for <€20, you take a guided tour inside their head. It’s cheap and it’s flexible. Even if your ‘hit rate’ is 1-good-idea-per-book, you’re still ahead of the game. Dr David Keane, the Irish (New Zealand based) management consultant rates ‘a habit of reading’ as the most important point on his list of what you can do to live a ‘deliberately more successful life’ (itself, an interesting idea). So, how come this great development ‘secret’ is not more widely used? There are a couple of reasons:
Time Poor: We live in a fast food, quick paced world and want to learn in Tweet Sized Chunks (140 characters, not 240 pages!). With so many things competing for their time, executives find it difficult to dedicate time to reading. Here’s the scenario. Every time you pass through the airport or St. Stephens Green Shopping Centre you grab a copy of the latest tome on Leadership or some other ‘how to…’ bible. Then you park the book on the desk or at the side of the bed, ignore it and feel guilty. Eventually, you recognize this as a form of self-flagellation and stop buying books or cancel your subscription to ‘hard-to-read’ magazines. Hello, here I come!
Mixed Bag: There are a lot of business books written each year and you have to ‘mine a lot of coal’ to find the diamond ideas. Sometimes good ideas get trapped under a ton of turgid prose. Purchasing a couple of bad books in a row would put you off reading for life! Paddy Feeney, former MD of Orion Recruitment (a very funny guy) used to boast: “I read a book, once!”
Bridging Across: It can be difficult to make the connection between a concept and an implementable idea. Sometimes it’s hard to introduce an idea – unless you hold a very senior role; Managers can be a lone voice in their organization. Ideas generated are not always germinated. And, in some organizations, Red Adair types who play the hero role tend to get better press than more thoughtful staff who avoid the fires in the first place.
Emerging Ideas: Despite the above, all is not lost. Two recent developments may give the ‘Business Book’ idea a new lease of life.
Book Club: Most people are familiar with book clubs. A group of people meet on a regular basis to discuss a particular book. It’s a good social outlet and ‘forces’ you to read to avoid looking stupid at the next session (assuming that you actually want to contribute and not just drink white wine). The Dublin Chamber of Commerce have set up a specialized book club with the same rules as every other book club except that the participants only read business books. An hour a week. Wide range of stuff. Neat idea.
Change Group: I recently came across what is, arguably, an even more innovative idea. There is a company called Bookbuzz based in Dublin. Their ‘core competence’ is twofold. Firstly, they have a very thorough knowledge of all the ‘management books’ on the market (they systematically read everything that’s published). Essentially Bookbuzz mediate the crap. They know that books with great stories grab peoples’ attention and alert clients to the good stuff – the Champagne of business books. When a client organization comes to them with a ‘problem’ they select a particular book which dovetails with the presenting issue e.g. on leadership or managing change. An internal group within the client company read and discuss how the ideas can be applied to their organisation. Bookbuzz then facilitate that conversation. Very clever.They are potential competitors for some of what we do in Tandem Consulting – but you just have to recognize a good idea when you see it.
So, there you go. In a world that is increasingly high tech, as humans we drift back towards high-touch. What’s not to love about the tactile feel of books (or Kindle Readers for the Inspector Gadgets among you). Reading is a solid way to develop managers. OK, it’s a bit ‘passive’ for some and needs to be combined with more action learning. And, it’s hardly a new idea. But the central question is not whether an idea is new or old, it’s whether it’s right or wrong. Get your people back into reading! Because for organizations, luck happens when preparation and opportunity collide.
PS Reading assumes comprehension. This is a compilation of actual UK student (GCSE) answers to exam questions. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up!
1. Ancient Egypt was inhabited by mummies and they all wrote in
hydraulics. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and travelled by Camelot. The
climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere.
2. The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book
of the Bible, Guinness, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One
of their children, Cain, asked, “Am I my brother’s son?”
3. Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made
unleavened bread which is bread made without any ingredients. Moses went up on
Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.
4. Solomon had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines.
5. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of
6. Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people
advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.
After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline.
7. In the Olympic games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the
biscuits, and threw the java.
8. Eventually, the Romans conquered the Greeks. History calls people
Romans because they never stayed in one place for very long.
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