What are you reading?

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This is a question I often ask people I meet in my professional life.

The reason for this is both curiosity but also to gauge how serious they are about what they do.

Studies on human cognition and the impact on media multitasking show that we just aren’t very good at processing information simultaneously (or near simultaneously) from multiple sources. Social media, it turns out, is not the best way to learn and if you want to take your professional development seriously you need to be reading.

It’s ok to be unplugged

Anyone who has spent much time with me or caught a glimpse of my desk will know I am perhaps one of the biggest culprits of this. Plugged in from the moment I wake up to when I power down at night, I am fed a constant stream of information from Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, RSS feeds and email to name but a few sources. Worse still, most of this content – like  this blog and Twitter’s 140 character nuggets – is created for snacking: bite-sized chunks of information to be grabbed at short intervals throughout the day.

While I must admit to a perverse sense of satisfaction in feeling up-to-date with everything that’s going on in my industry, the trouble is that it’s often misplaced. Studies show that this behaviour generally leads to an endless cycle of seeking out new stuff rather than taking the time to think about old stuff.

The very nature of snackable content means that these thoughts often end up living in isolation with little hope of being integrated into our overall understanding of a topic let alone something we could hope to effectively execute. If all you are doing is reading blogs and listening to podcasts, you probably will know a lot, but whether you can put it all together is another issue entirely.

Get back to basics

This is where reading comes into it.

Blogs and podcasts are a great way to stay abreast of new trends, but when I truly want to strengthen the foundations and integrate my thinking, I’ll pick up (or download) a book and read.

In my case, there is no better way for me to synthesise all the information I collect throughout the day then by undertaking further, in-depth study. Not only is it an opportunity to dig a bit deeper then a typical blog (Brian Solis, excepting), but it helps clarify my thoughts and allows me to better see how seemingly abstract concepts all relate to each other; a kind of spatial awareness, if you will. To use a basketball reference, it’s like watching Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, where their superior basketball IQ and vision meant they instinctively knew where everyone was on the court and could make the most ridiculous plays.

So next time you’re sitting on the couch or on the bus about to check your Google Reader or Twitter stream, why not try reading a book instead and seeing if this gives you a better perspective?

P.S. If you’re looking for a book, why not check out my Amazon recommended list in the sidebar [Disclosure: I’m an affiliate], otherwise here are two that I’m currently reading: The Dragonfly Effect and Content Rules.



Comments are open

Rubina Carlson

If you asked me what I was reading, I’d answer “The Fry Chronicles” aka Stephen Fry’s autobiography.

Thanks Mal for the reassurance that it is OK to be unplugged for a day or so, sometimes I feel compelled to remain “plugged in” at the expense of missing the exciting things happening around me.

I also recommend that you have a look at this cute cartoon clip, “It’s A Book”… http://youtu.be/x4BK_2VULCU

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I’m as plugged in as most, but I couldn’t imagine NOT having a pile of books (of the dead-tree variety, even!) ready to read. I don’t read as much as I used to, but it would still be dozens of books a year.
And thanks for the reminder, Rub – “The Fry Chronicles” still awaits … 🙂

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Ben Osborne

I have to say: Instapaper (and equivalents) – aka the TiVos of of the written word on the interweb – are awesome in their usefulness. I read longform stuff via that more than books these days: I count it as ‘downtime’!

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Adrian Brien Automotive

Good one, I’m currently working my way through a whole bunch of stuff. Love reading and I especially love applying what I’ve read about in real life.

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