Most of the people who buy business books don’t read them or, if they do read them at all, they only read the first chapter or so. If you read your business books on Kindle, you can check this easily for yourself.
Take out your Kindle, pick any business book you own and check the popular highlights. For almost all the business books I read, those popular highlights stop dead somewhere around the first chapter. That’s sad.
The people that don’t read the books they buy or don’t read much of those books are spending money to invest in an asset that they do not use. It’s like they buy a gold mine but never do the work of extracting the gold. But, there are also readers, like me, at the other end of the spectrum.
I consider myself an intentional reader. I choose the books that I want to read carefully, and I do things to get the most out of the books I read. I’m not unique. There are a lot of readers like me.
Each of us does our intentional reading in our own way. We each have little tricks for choosing the books we read, getting the most out of them, and moving on. Here’s how I do it.
Choosing Which Business Books to Consider
I choose books in one of two ways. Sometimes, I see a review or read an excerpt that just inspires me to go find out more about the book. Other times, I get recommendations to read the book from one of several sources that I trust. Whichever way the quest starts, my next stop is Amazon to do a little research.
Deciding Whether to Buy a Business Book
On Amazon, I look at the customer reviews. I pay the most attention to the top reviews and the bottom ones. I try not to read reviews by the author’s buddies or blurb reviews. The ones that matter most to me are by verified purchasers who tell me something about the book, and perhaps, what they like or don’t like about it.
I look at the table of contents and I use the “Look Inside the Book” feature to explore the book. Sometimes I use a book summary to help me decide what to buy. Many times, the summary is enough. I’ve discovered that a lot of business books are one or two insights or ideas blown up so they fill a couple of hundred pages.
Either a book has piqued my interest and gotten good reviews, or it hasn’t. If it has, I put it in the reading list. When it’s time to start a new book, I pick from the list. I buy both the Kindle version and the audio version.
That’s in quotes because I listen to most of my business books. As I read and have insights or find passages I want to mark, I make a note on the small audio recorder that I carry with me all the time. At the end of the day, I mark up my e-book version with the highlights and any comments.
Sometimes I find that the book I’m reading isn’t what I thought it would be or isn’t delivering value. Then I quit reading. Life is too short for books that don’t work for me.
Wringing Value Out of a Business Book
When I’m done reading, I review the book and my notes. Since I have a Kindle book with highlights marked in it, I star several of the highlights for the keys to what’s important to me.
I used to think that the highlighting and review were enough, but no more. I usually do a mind map of the contents because I find that wrestling with the ideas and the connections between them brings more value. I usually make a few action notes and transfer them to my work plan. And, sometimes, I write a review of the book for this website.
I go back and reread particularly good books. Sometimes that rereading or review is sparked by a comment or review by someone else. Reading Ben Horowitz’ book, The Hard Thing about Hard Things, inspired me to re-read Andy Grove’s High Output Management. Sometimes, my weekend activity is just pulling out the notes on some books I’ve read and that may inspire me to re-read one of them.
If you’re in business, reading books is like mining for gold. You have to pick likely places to explore. You have to do the hard work of mining knowledge and refining it so it is more valuable to you. Then you have to act on it.