Saturday, March 17, 2007

Success Master Skills - Reading

Someone (Jim Rohn?) once said that the only real changes you can make in your life come from the books you have read and the money you have saved. I certainly believe this: reading is unquestionably a Success Master Skill – a skill that opens the door to many other skills and achievements. Like my previous Success Master Skill article on Saving Money, these are skills the lack of which will weaken all of your other skills.

Charlie Munger, billionaire and vice Chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is a voracious reader, as is hedge-fund manager/investment strategist Barton Biggs, author of Hedgehogging. Biggs mentions Munger in his book, and also mentions that many investment managers in his field read through huge stacks, even car-trunks full of material, on a regular basis.

And you? You’re going to outsmart these guys with a tip from your firned at the health club? Not likely.

Reading provides such an unfair advantage, that most totalitarian governments drastically block access to books of all kinds, and often burn them.

To expand this concept, let’s assume you get a lot of your knowledge from a few of your closest friends, or from items on TV and in the paper. Unless your circle of friends includes the very best in every field of modern life, from health, to investing, real estate, consumer goods, science, religion, politics, economics, etc, you will be out-gunned by those who do have access to these sources of knowledge. And, for most of us, that source is generally going to be books or focused articles. TV? Fuggedaboudit!! Most items and ideas featured on TV are based on PR sources either biased by the source, or based on a “common denominator” level of dumbdness that is far below what you need to really benefit from important new material.

Some more points:

Reading will help you avoid “reinventing the wheel”. By reading, you take advantage of the billons of hours of trial-and-error by those who have gone before you in every field from gambling to gardening. You are falling hopelessly behind every time you do not consult an expert source on any topic.

A consider the development of stealth technology. It was a Russian scientific paper, read by an American engineer, that inspired stealth technology. Obviously, someone in Russia was not reading enough !!

One book by Jack Nicklaus changed Greg Norman’s life and jumpstarted his golf career. I am sure he never regrets sitting down for that read!

Reading can alert you to trends, which come from multiple data points, as opposed to the isolated packets of information you can get from pickling up a newspaper or listening to your car radio. What is going on in the house next door? The company next door? The country next door? If you just know your immediate landscape you are hopelessly behind those who know more.

Reading can teach skills that can leverage your one hour of reading into thousands of saved hours. Skills such as thjose found in David Allen's Getting Things Done(GTD) have , for many people, saved astronomical amounts of time for the people who have taken a few hours to read Allen's book.

Reading can save you mistakes costing huge amounts of money. Let’s say it’s 1999 and you hear that the Nasdaq is making historic highs. If you had read about diversification, you would not be dangerously concentrated in tech stocks. If you had read about dollar-cost averaging, you would have been in the market for many years, and thus not “getting in at the top”. If you had read about valuation, you definitely would not have put your life savings into All in all, only a broader, longer-time perspective, attainable through reading, would have saved you from the devastating financial and psychological trauma of the bursting stock market bubble of 2000-2002 .

Reading can align your expectations more closely to reality. There are a lot of dreamers in the USA, and perhaps we could use a few more realists. Ben Stein’s brilliant book “How Successful People Win” explodes the myth of instant, lasting success, Success, he tells us (and he should know), takes years, and is never secure: it must be won again and again, day by day. Reading a book such as this can disabuse us of the notion that we can “make it big” either quickly, or permanently. This knowledge can help us re-frame our efforts into a marathon rather than a sprint, while keeping us from being too discouraged in the immediate term. If we read the book.

Presidents read. Great generals read. All good writers read. Innovators, warriors, artists, leaders all read constantly. And yet I rarely meat asingle person who is in the course of reading a single nonfiction book! While sad, this finding allows all of us a significant and easily attainable advantage over the non-readers. It may be the most basic, proven, reliable Success Master Skill of them all.

Read. As if your success depends on it.

It does.



Guillaume R. said...

I'm an avid reader (almost 1000/1200 pages per week).
All the reasons you mentionned above are right. One is missing however: reading for pleasure...
Reading cost me nearly nothing (thanks to the well fund library ;) )
but it worths the little cost of time by the pleasure it gives :)

Steve said...

Fantastic post! I absolutely agree. I only have a few friends who I know to read for improvement.

We are few and far. Keep up the great work!

S. Burnett