Edmund Burke said, “To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” He’s right. I’ve gotten many a stomach ache after reading junk, but the real meaty stuff feeds my soul. First thing to recognize when eating a book is that you have definiteness of purpose in selecting what you read. Is it to become a better salesperson, a better leader, better at customer service? Read with a goal in mind. And remember, the brain can never do too much and the only time it becomes exhausted is when it is not doing anything.
There are three key elements to digesting a book:
First, study it. Develop systematic mental habits and don’t begin to read anything with reluctance. If your brain feels overloaded, quit and rest. If your brain is suffering, tell it to stop and focus. As with any new habit, it will take time to learn these steps. Frederick Harrison said it best when he observed that the “reading of great books is a faculty to be acquired and not a natural gift.” So remember, don’t be discouraged if reading tastes strange at first. It is an acquired taste that you will develop. Finally, chew the words up well. Read and reread them. Making notes will also aid digestion.
Second, believe it or not, books taste best when they are regurgitated or shared. John Wanamaker stated, “It is not good enough to be well read. We must help others by what we read.” There are many ways to do this. One of the greatest business ideas my father taught me was to hand out my business card tucked inside of a book I had picked out for a specific client or employee. That really makes a positive impression. It’s like selecting a vintage label or choice cut of beef. You can also share your fine taste in books by the ones you keep stocked in your office on your desk or on the shelf of your cubicle. Everything is a reflection of the leader and everyone loves to look at what’s in your office. Keep yours stocked and let employees know they are free to take and read and share. I’ve heard it said that “You may judge a man more truly by the books and papers which he reads than by the company which he keeps” (Haines and Yaggy, The Royal Path of Life). The books on your shelf will lend you a sense of humility. They say, “you don’t have all the answers, but it lets you show where you got them.”
Finally, books are best consumed when they are digested in a group setting and the words are read out loud. There is something about the spoken word. Remember how many times growing up you didn’t pay attention unless you yourself had the text in front of you and you were reading aloud? When folks would come to my Dad for answers, he’d just pull out a book and have them read to him. He knew that unless the person found the answer themselves, he could do them more harm than good by trying to advise from his perspective. Let the words speak to each individual’s ears and hearts. They’ll find exactly what they need to hear.