Want to get more from books? Stop reading them cover to cover.
Shane Parrish is a former Canadian intelligence officer and the founder of Farnam Street, a go-to resource that CEOs, athletes, professional coaches and entrepreneurs rely on to find signal in a world of noise.
Shane's work has been featured in nearly every major publication, including Forbes, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and most recently, the New York Times.
SHANE PARRISH: Sure. I have so many friends who want to buy books and want to learn. But the problem is, they buy a book. They start it. They get two or three chapters in, and then they stop reading. And then they feel bad that they've stopped reading. They don't pick up another book because they know they want to finish this book. We've been taught that once we start something we have to finish it. And I think that so often we view books as this linear thing. Whereas I think a different view of books is, what information do I need out of this book right now? Is that an entertainment read? Do I need to read from start to finish? Is it a read where I'm comparing different views on a similar problem? Especially across non-fiction, right? Am I comparing and contrasting two or three different authors' argumentation or authors' views on a particular angle to a subject? In which case, I might not need to read the whole book. I just need to read a chapter. But then I've gotten everything out of that book. The books are there to serve you, right? You own the book. The book is your property. It's your mental property. It's your physical property. And you can do with it what you want. You don't have to feel bad about putting down a book. It's the author's job to pull you into the book. It's your job to extract what you need out of the book. And I think that extracting what you need, you can just read the table of contents, read the introduction, maybe read the conclusion, and skim a little bit. And is this a book that I want to read in its entirety? And most of the time, the answer is going to be no. A lot of the books that are published today could easily be 20 to 40 pages. You would get everything that you need out of that book. So it's a big waste of time to read it cover to cover.
But if you want to extract the general principles from the book, or the sort of like argumentation that the author's making, you don't need to read every little anecdote that's put in there, or every story about Billy and Bob. You just need to know what is the framework for this argumentation? Do I agree with it? Don't I agree with it? Do I have to make a decision on whether I agree with it or not? Does a different author have a contrasting view that I want to learn about? Or is this something that I'm just reading for general knowledge? I might not put into practice. Or if you think about skill development, right? Which is a common reason that most of us read. We'll think of, I want to learn about leadership. And we'll think of this very big, broad category whereas it's usually much more beneficial from a learning perspective to narrow down the aspect of leadership. I want to talk about leading a small team for the first time. I want to talk about team meetings. I want to talk about what are the-- like, break down what it means to be a leader, and then hone in on those particular categories. Pick up a whole bunch of leadership books. But then read just for those specific categories across the books.
If you're reading for knowledge, that's going to give you a much better outcome than sort of picking up one of these books and reading it cover to cover. Because it's going to be hard to put into practice. It's going to be hard to compare different contrasting views on the subject. It's going to be hard to determine what works for you. And, ultimately, that's why you're reading. You want to figure out what works for you. And that's not always what somebody else says. A lot of what books cover is, here's what worked for me. And what worked for me in this particular ecosystem, at this particular point in time, with this particular team. That may or may not work for you. Your job is to sort of understand to what extent does that carry over to what I'm doing? And to what extent do I have to change that? And does it work for me? And if it doesn't, how am I going to get the feedback that I need so that I can learn from that and then adapt my process so that it does work?
- We've been taught to treat books like a linear experiece: start, then continue reading until the end.
- But problematic because it doesnt correspond to how we actually extract knowledge from books.
- Here are a few ways you can get more from reading books while investing less of your precious time.
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