How to Read a Business Book (or – How to Listen to a Book Synopsis)

I had breakfast with Robert Morris this week. Robert is the business book reviewer extraordinaire for Amazon and Border’s, along with a few other venues that use his expertise. We pondered this question: with so many business books out there, why are there not more excellent companies that remain excellent over the long haul? It is a good question. He calls this the knowing-doing gap. And it is a mystery.

First, an obvious problem. I present synopses for 24 books a year – minimum. At least half of these are business books. I don’t remember what I read from month to month – at least, not with great precision and detail. If I can’t remember, chances are that I am not fully implementing all the new wisdom I gain each month. I suspect this is a problem for many. We are inundated with information, and this means that we can’t stop, and then ponder, and then implement the best ideas that we read (or hear). But – we still have this concern: what do we do with all of this new, fabulous, useful information?

Let’s start with this question: how do you read a business book? This is not as simple a question as it sounds. Because there seems to be plenty of evidence that a lot of business people read a lot of business books and seldom implement the kinds of changes to their organizations, or their own lives, that would indicate that they had learned and implemented the lessons found in such books. In fact, implementation/execution – actually making changes — is the only evidence that such lessons have been learned.

In other words, the purpose of reading business books is not to say, “Yes, I’ve read that book.” It is to find something new, better, useful — that you can then put into practice. In other words, you have not learned until you know what to do, and then you actually do, what you learn to do.

So – how do you read a business book? Let’s try this list of questions as a place to start when reading any business book:

1) First, what is the key transferable content? What does this book say to me that would lead me to make changes in the way that I work, and the way my organization functions – for the better?

2) Ask, “What am I already doing well, that this book reinforces as valuable? KEEP DOING IT!

and then, ask

3) What am I not doing that if I did do, it would move me, and my organization, in the direction of greater effectiveness and success?

and then ask,

4) What am I doing badly that I need to stop, or change, immediately?

And then, just to remind you that you are not as dumb or as ineffective as you think, ask this:

5) How am I already ahead in areas covered in this book? In other words, what could the author have learned from me, to include in this book?

For a shorthand version of these questions, try these:

• What did I not know that I now know?
• What have I not done that I could/should do – now?
• What have I never even considered that I need to give major consideration to — now?

My baseball-coaching son would add this to this discussion. He coaches teenagers, and he says that you never tell a player to correct more than two things at a time. Anything more, and the player feels overwhelmed, and corrects nothing. So – maybe the First Friday Book Synopsis is just right. Two books a month are presented. Aim for one “incremental” step toward greater effectiveness and success from each book. Spend the month working on these two matters. And then, the next month’s synopses can provide a couple of new steps to tackle.

Yes, I know that every book has more than one good change to recommend and implement. But, improvement overload can stop us all in our tracks. So – pick a couple a month. Go to work, and then watch and evaluate what happens.

I think this is how to read a business book. What do you think?

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