The home of Uncommon Sense: Providing Clarity, Promoting Intelligence

Want to be Brilliant? Read Effectively.

When Elon Musk, the wealthiest man on planet earth, was once asked how it was possible that a businessman such as himself knew how to fire rockets into space, he replied, succinctly, “I read books.”

Most forward-thinking people read books. But few do so effectively. What do I mean?

They are somewhat passive. They are playing a spectator sport – watching the words race by on the page. They are mere observers of someone else’s brilliance. They aren’t out on the court playing ball themselves. Big mistake.

Let me give you 6 deceptively simple practices to embrace so that your reading becomes less passive and actually enables you to interact with the books that you are reading.

First, select your books carefully. Think of it as a dating relationship. If you were not married and were dating people, would you go out with just anyone? I don’t. I am very selective in that regard because I don’t want to waste my time. I want to date women that are uplifting, edifying, smart, and capable, who have engaging personalities. Likewise, I don’t just read any book that comes along. I read books that are smart, muscular, and that bequeath real value. Books like The Holy Grail of Investing by Tony Robbins, The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron, American Playbook by Clay Travis, 7 V.I.R.T.U.E.S. of Exceptional Leaders by Amy Chambers, The Conservative Sensibility by George Will, Leadership by Henry Kissinger, America’s Cultural Revolution by Christopher F. Rufo, among others.

Second, commit to reading a certain amount regularly – every day if possible. Reading, like exercise for the body, should be exercise for the intellect and should be frequent.

Third, when reading, you need to find a quiet place, free from distractions, and in conditions that are comfortable for you. Choose the chair or couch or sofa or bench you will sit on and make sure you are reasonably comfortable. It’s hard to read effectively when you are uncomfortable.

Fourth, have a yellow highlighter with you when you read. Highlight sparingly but highlight words, phrases, sentences, or even whole paragraphs of content that you wish to remember and come back to for later review.

Fifth, have a pen with you. There will be times when you will want to write very short notes in the margins. Perhaps you will detect a false statement in the book, in which you might write the word “False!” in the margin. Or perhaps you are skeptical about a statement, in which you might write the word “Oh?” in the margin. Maybe you will see read something worth quoting, so you write “Great Quote!” in the margin. Or your notes might be longer, such as “The perfect definition of toxic leadership.” Or, perhaps you wish to contrast a viewpoint with that of another luminary, so you might write “Compare that with Churchill” in the margin.

Sixth, take most or all of those highlights and margin notations you made and use them in your own work. Make reference to them. Write about them. Talk about them with individuals in everyday conversations. Debate them with other people. Explore them with thought leaders and mentors you admire and trust. Write about them in your blogs, your white papers, your essays, and your eZines (as I am doing here).

When you do all of this, you are not merely reading a book, you are interacting with a book – and there is a big difference. Interact with your books, don’t just read them, and you will no longer be passively watching as a spectator; you will be in the heat of the battle, making sense of your world in robust ways. And you will end up smarter than you would have been.

Interact with the books you read, and become a respected thought-leader in your own right.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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