Those books did have a huge impact on me, and I meant everything I said about them, but I also couldn’t help but feel it was a bit one-sided. As much as I love to read, I’ve also noticed that reading isn’t universally helpful or productive for everyone in every situation. (I hear the collective gasp from my fellow book lovers, but just hear me out!)
Nonfiction books can absolutely provide amazing insights, breakthroughs and even lasting transformation. However, when information from books is applied out of context, or when reading becomes a source of stress and something we feel we should be doing but don’t have time for, it can actually do more harm than good.
If you are in a season where reading is lighting you up and having an amazing positive impact on you, yay! Keep going!
If you are not in a time where excessive information gathering is helpful, or not in a place to effectively implement new learnings, maybe it’s time to give yourself a break.
I hesitated to tell anyone, “How Not To Read,” because at the end of the day, you know what is best for you. The best things for you to do at any given time are what feel right to you, and no one else’s opinion matters.
That being said, in a sea of advice insisting you should be waking up at 5am and reading at least a book a week if you want to be successful, I want to offer an alternative perspective and shine a light on some ways that books can actually do more harm than good.
Implementing Information Out of Context Can Sabotage Your Company
There is a plethora of valuable information out there in book form, especially if you own a business. This is mostly a good thing, but it can also lead to overwhelm and a race to implement as many things as you can as quickly as possible. I frequently see entrepreneurs grabbing pieces of advice without understanding the larger context in which the advice is meant. This leads to chaotic results and sometimes even disaster.
The great thing about a book is that if it is written well, it should lay out in detail the full context around the advice being given; this is why it’s a book and not just a blog post. Resist the urge to grab a piece of something and run with it before making sure you fully understand the larger context.
For example, No Rules Rules is an excellent book about the culture and leadership at Netflix. In it, the CEO of Netflix advises that businesses remove all rules and policies and create a culture of total freedom, trust and autonomy. In their context of first creating a highly talented and trustworthy team, this is good advice that clearly works well for them. Implemented out of context by a business owner who has not done the work to increase the talent density and candor of their team, this would be an absolute disaster. The advice is the same, but the context is what matters.
2. Advice From Books is Not One Size Fits All
Business books are a general overview, and do not offer solutions that are customized to the complex nuances of your unique business; how could they?
It is extremely important to keep in mind when implementing advice from business books that you will not always be able to lay the advice neatly over your company and have it fit perfectly. Masterful implementation of new information requires understanding the context and then figuring out how ideas need to be adjusted to fit your needs. This is where coaches and mentors can be extremely helpful.
When I read Scrum (one of my top books of 2021), I immediately knew it was exactly what I’d been looking for. I also knew that I couldn’t just take that book and implement it directly in our company. Most of the examples in the book were for software companies, and we are an agency. We’re also a fully remote company with a super unique and somewhat complex offering.
I saw the possibility, but also recognized there was a big gap between the information in the book and the successful implementation of its principles at Interview Connections. I felt that gap could be filled by a consultant who had experience implementing agile principles in non software businesses, so as soon as I finished the book, I got to work finding that person. Now that we have found her, we are successfully implementing a combination of scrum and some other agile practices to find what custom combination works best for our unique needs.
Sometimes you and your team may know how to adapt information to fit your own company, and sometimes you will need to call in a professional. Your challenge as the leader is to see where the gap is and take action to fill it.
3. Not Every New Thing You Learn Needs an Action Step
Many entrepreneurs are doers who love the novelty of a shiny new strategy. It’s fun and exciting to switch things up, and this appreciation for change and trying new things can lead to a lot of innovation.
But well meaning doers can get off track fast when they shoot before they aim. Over implementation of lots of new ideas with no consistency or follow up can quickly give your team whiplash and cause burnout and frustration. It also doesn’t allow you to get traction with any one idea.
You don’t have to implement everything you learn, nor should you. Keep your ultimate company vision and goals top of mind, and make sure anything you implement is in alignment with them. Don’t take action (or tell your team to take action) on something you aren’t prepared to follow through on consistently and commit to long term. This is especially important when you have other people in the mix. Wasting your team’s time on constant shiny objects with no real follow up isn’t fair to them or to you.
When considering implementing a new idea from a book, ask yourself:
Do I fully understand the context of this idea/advice?
Is it in alignment with our company and where we want to go?
Am I prepared to follow up consistently on the implementation of this?
Will I still be excited about this in a month?
4. If You Don’t Feel Like Reading, Don’t Force Yourself
If you aren’t excited about reading in this season of life, let yourself off the hook. There may be some books you have to read (especially if you have a crazy person in your life like me who keeps assigning them to you), but if you don’t feel like reading a book a week or even a book a month right now, don’t.
I would bet that the self imposed stress of all the things you think you should be doing has a bigger negative impact on your business (and your life) than not reading does.
Do you need to be a voracious reader to be successful? No! There is no one way to be successful. There are successful people who meditate at 5am and read a book a week, and there are successful people who binge Netflix and spend the morning scrolling through Instagram while sitting on the toilet. Some weeks, you might be both people, or you might be neither! And that’s ok