Episode: 4 Ways to Make Reading Fun Again
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to be talking about a problem that afflicts a lot of leaders, at least a lot of leaders I know. They feel like they should read more, but they just don’t want to.
Megan: We’re going to take a little trip to the honest planet. As you know, I have a new baby, my youngest of five kids. I’m fully back at work after my parental leave last summer, all that. I am struggling with reading right now, and here’s the thing: I kind of feel like my out of work time happens in 15-minute increments. The longest increment is my morning walk, which is 30 minutes, but other than that, it’s these little 15-minute bursts.
I actually really enjoy reading. I have a whole stack of books that is my 2020 reading list, but when I get down to it, I feel like I don’t have time and I’m not sure I want to read, because it’s this huge thing in my mind that I have to sit down in my reading chair with my coffee and I have to have my various colors for writing or maybe my favorite pencil to take notes. Let me be honest with you: that is not happening. I’m just happy if I can take a shower and brush my teeth, again, in a 15-minute increment, without being interrupted.
Michael: Well, here’s the good news: you’re not alone.
Megan: I had a feeling that was true.
Michael: I know so many leaders just like that. They feel like reading is this big chore. It feels like they’re back in school again. They have to take copious notes. They have to retain everything they read.
Megan: Like study. “I’ve got to study.”
Michael: Because there’s going to be a pop test. If somebody asks them if they read the book, the next question they’re going to ask is, “Well, what did you learn?” and they want to be able to regurgitate it.
Megan: So then it’s kind of like this “all or nothing” thing, where if I can’t do academic-level study then I’m just not even going to try.
Michael: Well, today I have good news. We’re going to solve that problem by showing you four ways to read that’ll make reading fun again.
Megan: I’m so excited.
Michael: We really mean that. But we have to bring on Larry, because Larry is “the man” who leads us through this discussion every week, and thank God he does, because we would just meander, tiptoe through the tulips, and never get anywhere. So, Larry, guide us.
Larry Wilson: As Megan said, that is the honest planet, friends. Well, Michael, I’m going to ask you a question. I’m not going to ask you, Megan, because you’ve already said this is a time when you’re really struggling with reading. Michael, I know you read a lot of books. I think people would like to know about how many books you read in a given year, and then I have a follow-up question.
Michael: Well, not as many as you’d think and not as many as I have in years past, but I would probably read 35. I think I read 35 books this last year, but there have been times when I’ve read 50 or more. Not as many as my friend Skip Prichard who reads 365 books a year.
Larry: Oh my word!
Michael: Actually, he reads more than that.
Megan: Skip, that’s crazy town.
Michael: Two years ago I asked him, and he read over 500 books. At first, I didn’t believe it when he told me that until I started to quiz him on some books I’d read, and it was clear that he had read it and had a lot of comprehension around it.
Larry: Well, I think 35 is a great number. That’s a lot of reading. I know that’s not the only reading you must do.
Michael: How many do you read?
Larry: Well, the last couple of years I’ve just made it a goal to read a book a week or 52 books in a year, and I’ve done that for two years, but prior to that, it was probably in the low 30s.
Megan: My goal for this year is to read 20 books, so if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “These guys are crazy; there’s no way I’m going to do that,” just come to my side. It’s okay. There are different seasons of life.
Michael: I have to be a little bit honest about this, too, because I don’t actually read hardly anything. I’m listening.
Larry: I use a lot of audiobooks as well. Well, my next question for you was… That’s a lot of reading. Clearly, you spend a lot of time reading or listening to books. Do you enjoy it or is it something you do because you think it’s just part of being a leader?
Michael: I would say a little bit of both. Like a lot of things, reading is an acquired taste. The more you do it, the better you get at it, the more you start enjoying it. There are some foods I enjoy now that when I first tasted them as a kid I was like, “Yuck! I don’t enjoy that.” For example, sardines. The first time I ever ate sardines, I thought, “Those are horrible.” Now I love them, especially Joel’s sardines that he cooks on the grill.
Megan: Yeah. I’m still not there with you.
Michael: Joel is Megan’s husband.
Larry: You mentioned earlier that people feel like they’re going to have to be grilled for a test or something. I’ve often felt that way. That’s one of the reasons I take notes when I’m reading a book. It’s like, “Wow! I’m going to have to cough up an answer at the end of this.” I think reading for retention is pretty well ingrained in most of us, certainly anybody who had the privilege of going to college, because you know you’re going to be tested.
Michael: It’s all about comprehension and retention. That’s what you get tested on. Those are two reasons I totally do not read for, and that’s what we’re going to talk about in this episode and why I feel like I’m so liberated when it comes to reading and why I enjoy reading so much. I’m not reading for retention. I’m not even reading for comprehension so much, but I’m reading for four other reasons, which is what we’re going to dive into.
Larry: So, let’s get to the first purpose: stimulation.
Megan: This is my favorite reason for reading and probably the thing I most get out of reading, which is that it’s the raw material for your thinking. There are new frameworks you get in books that challenge your thinking or your understanding or your opinions, which is great. You just have that outside input, which is so helpful. So often, we get stuck in our opinions and don’t really reevaluate them, but when we take in outside information, outside stimulus, then we’re able to think about that in a different way, and I think that’s so helpful.
Michael: I do too. A lot of people aspire to be a thought leader, and I’m just going to say, you can’t be a thought leader unless you’re reading other books, because that is the raw material for thinking, and you have to acquaint yourself with, expose yourself to other people’s thoughts, other people’s frameworks, other people’s perspectives, other people’s stories. This is one of the reasons I love to read history. I love to read biography.
Those are two of my favorite genres because they provide so much raw material for observing life and for distilling from life the kinds of frameworks, the kinds of principles… I mean, much of what I share here is because I’ve been reading and exposing myself to stuff. Larry and I were talking about the fact that we love audiobooks. I’m always listening to audiobooks, particularly at the gym. I may get a thought that’s completely out of left field that’s completely unrelated to what I was listening to.
Megan: Has this ever happened to you? I know it has, because we’ve talked about it. You’re exercising, and there’s something about consuming stimulating new ideas while your body is moving and blood is flowing and your brain is being enriched by all that blood flow that, all of a sudden, you realize you’re not even listening to the book anymore. You can’t remember where you stopped listening, but you’re in this other train of thought and you’re having some kind of explosion in your brain about all of these new ideas.
Michael: That’s right. That makes the book valuable whether you finish it or not.
Megan: Right. In fact, I’ve had it happen… You and I often are exercising at the same time of the day. Like, I’ll be on a walk, you’ll be at the gym, and I’ll be five minutes into some book I’m listening to or maybe 10 minutes, and I’ll have that little brainstorm thing happen, and I’ll call you. You’re on your AMT machine, or whatever it’s called, and I’m out walking in my neighborhood, and I’m like, “Oh, we’ve got to talk about this thing. What if we…?” It’s just a super fun, spontaneous sharing of ideas, all because one of us was stimulated by something we read.
Larry: Do you know how I can tell when that’s happening to me?
Michael: How’s that?
Larry: I start walking faster when I’m listening to an audiobook on my walk, and I start getting a little out of breath, because it gets your blood flowing and you want to begin to act on those ideas.
Michael: Does it ever happen to you when you’re stimulated like that and you get another idea…? Sometimes, for me, a spontaneous framework will appear, an acronym or something that’ll kind of distill the whole thing, and I’ll have to open a note in Evernote on my phone and dictate it because I don’t want to lose it. All that was because I was stimulated by what I was reading, which may or may not have been related to the idea I came up with.
This is a sidebar, but you need a workflow for capturing ideas, especially if you consider yourself a thought leader, you aspire to be a thought leader, or you’re a content provider. You’re going to have a lot of thoughts, particularly as you read, and you want to be able to capture those and not lose them. Otherwise, the whole effort is worthless.
If you’re using an iPad (this won’t work for you if you’re out exercising, generally, unless you’re on a treadmill, or something, and you use an iPad), if you touch it when it has the screensaver on with the Apple pencil, it will open to a blank page in Apple Notes. That’s really cool.
Megan: That is cool.
Michael: That won’t work on your iPhone, so you need another workflow for it. For me, what I do is I just do Evernote. That’s the easiest thing for me. I just open a new note and dictate into it. I don’t try to write it or type it, but I just dictate into it, capture it, and then when I get back to the house I transcribe it, or hopefully I’ve transcribed it with Siri, but I captured it so I can use it later.
Larry: This point stimulation is a little bit like sometimes when you go to a conference people will ask, “Was the conference good? What did you get from it?” and you start talking about something not exactly the content of the conference, but it gave me an idea I want to apply when I get home. It just opens up a new world to you. So, stimulation, the first purpose in reading. Let’s get to the second purpose for reading, which is assimilation. What’s the difference between these two?
Michael: Assimilation is when you get the opportunity or take the opportunity to wed somebody’s ideas to your own. In a sense, there’s no such thing as original thinking. All of our thinking is derivative. We’re taking somebody’s ideas, we’re improving upon them, we’re modifying them in some way.
This is why I don’t care about retention. I’m not interested in just parroting somebody else’s ideas. I want their ideas, their thinking to impact my own, and I want to discover nuances and distinctions I haven’t seen. Oftentimes, that comes through the stimulation, but it leads to assimilating that into my own thinking, and I come up with a different take, a different configuration, a different perspective than I had before. Reading should change us.
Megan: There are a lot of times when you have maybe a partial thought about something, maybe in your business, but you’re just missing a couple of pieces, and when you read the right thing it kind of fills in the gaps. Then, all of a sudden, you have a complete thought that becomes actionable that then changes your behavior or your attitude or your strategy in some way that’s meaningful, and you couldn’t have gotten there on your own. You just had this missing link you needed to fill in.
Michael: That’s kind of the beauty of lateral thinking. You might be reading a book, like I was reading recently, on the history of psychotherapy. Just that model gave me an insight in a completely unrelated field. Just the way it was structured and the flow of it helped me to see something in a completely unrelated field. I don’t even remember what it was right now. That’s assimilation, when we’re doing that kind of thing.
Part of it may be that the reading impacts our attitudes. That may be what needs to change. Our behavior may need to change. We discover new ways of accomplishing tasks. We may want to start doing something, stop doing something, but that’s taking it in, and that’s really assimilation. We’re taking it in, combining it with the raw material of our own thinking, and coming up with something that’s different.
Larry: Well, interestingly, the National Institutes of Health agrees with you, Michael.
Michael: Oh, good.
Megan: Wow! Congratulations.
Larry: They have published a study that demonstrated that reading a book-length argument combined with discussion on the subject of the book can produce durable changes in attitude.
Megan: That’s really why we’ve created LeaderBooks. It’s one thing to read alone. It’s another thing to have the benefit of a community to read books among. When you do that, it’s kind of like you multiply the power of reading. If you’re not a member of LeaderBooks already, that is our online community. We provide a curated reading list along with a community and discussion opportunities for you to go deeper in the material and with your peers. As you said, you really get even more benefit that way.
Larry: So, a question for both of you. What book recently has changed an attitude or behavior of yours?
Megan: I am in the middle of reading Nancy Duarte’s DataStory right now. I actually started it before the end of last year, and I’m picking it back up again. She just talks about how to prepare data (this sounds so boring, but it’s really not) internally, for internal presentations, in a way that tells a story that’s ultimately persuasive and compelling.
The thing we normally think is, “Data is boring. Data is hard. Data is not interesting to most people or relevant to most people,” but the truth is you can illustrate so many things if you just know how to present it, and that’s a powerful skill and a powerful tool to have. I’m loving that book, and it’s really changing how I’m thinking about how I want to present things, particularly to our executive and leadership teams, and how I want them to present things back to us.
Michael: For me, I’ve been doing a lot of reading around coaching, because it’s my favorite thing to do, and the most important thing I do, I think, in our company is coaching our clients. So I’m reading a book called Becoming a Professional Life Coach. This is by Patrick Williams and Diane Menendez. I know Megan is reading it too. In fact, I sent copies to all of our senior leadership. It’s really helping me in learning how to listen and to be much more effective as a coach, not by telling people what to do but by helping them discover the insights they already have and maybe didn’t know.
Larry: Okay. We’ve mentioned listening to audiobooks. Michael, what equipment do you use, what apps do you use to listen to audiobooks?
Michael: I mostly use cassette tapes. Just kidding. That’s actually how I started, believe it or not. Back in the 90s, books were read on cassette tapes and you could get them from a lending library. I had a really long commute. This was back when we lived in Giles County, and I would have a 45-minute commute into work, so I would listen to these cassette tapes all the time.
Megan: That’s hilarious.
Michael: But I use an app called Audible. Audible is phenomenal. I’ve been a member for years and years and years. Here’s what I love about it: it allows you to listen at faster-than-normal speed. I remember Jeff Goins talking about one time he listens at 3x speed.
Megan: Oh my gosh.
Michael: I can’t do that. That makes my head explode, but I listen typically at about 1.5x. Do you guys use that app?
Megan: I do use it, and I really enjoy it. One of the things I’ve found, though, is it depends on what kind of book I’m reading. A couple of books I read last year were Michelle Obama’s book that was so great, Becoming, and then Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift, both of which I listened to on Audible. That was a great way to listen to them.
Right now, I’m reading a book called Stubborn Attachments by Tyler Cowen who’s an economist. That is a kind of tedious, dense book with a pretty complex argument, and because I’m listening to this, like I said earlier, in 15-minute increments or 30-minute increments, it’s difficult for me to keep up with the argument.
So I think it depends on the type of book it is, how dense it is, what the subject matter is, because sometimes audiobooks are not a great way to listen. Another example would be a book like DataStory that I mentioned a minute ago that has a lot of diagrams and visuals in it. If you’re listening to a book, of course, you can’t see the visuals, so you at least need the companion hard copy so you can see those visuals.
Larry: I do use the Audible app as well, and I like it for the same reason. I haven’t gotten to 3x, but I have had it over 2x the normal speed, depending on the book. Some of the narrators read really slowly, so you can go 1.5x or 1.75x and it almost sounds normal compared to, say, a radio voice or something. I like to listen to them faster, and unlike you, Megan, I tend to listen to audiobooks when I have an extended time, usually an hour or so, sometimes more. When I’m in the car, sometimes it’s for five hours at a time, so I look for a book that is a 10-hour audiobook, and I can finish it on one drive.
Michael: I kind of wish, in a way, that I had that kind of commute. You’re commuting here to Nashville because you don’t live here. You live in Indiana. I kind of wish I had that sometimes, because I can just think of all of the books I could consume doing that.
Megan: Me too. I miss that. I mean, I love not commuting, but you and I both live just blocks away from our office.
Michael: Yeah, so I miss that opportunity. The other thing, too… Do you ever do this? Do you ever use the Whispersync thing, where you buy the Kindle edition plus the Audible edition? Essentially, it will highlight the words in the Kindle edition as the Audible narrator is reading it.
Megan: Oh! I didn’t even know about that.
Michael: Oh yeah. It’s very cool.
Larry: I have used that, and it’ll save your place in either one. So, I’m in the car, I put it on the Audible app, and I’m listening, and then I get home and pick up the e-book, and I can go right to the same place and continue reading.
Megan: That’s pretty cool.
Larry: Now I don’t do that much because I don’t use e-books very much at all.
Michael: Okay. I want to talk about this for just a second, because this is kind of related to this, and that’s whether we should do e-books or physical books. A few years ago, I wrote a big thing about how I was giving up e-books and going to physical books. I just have to confess before God and these assembled witnesses that I have gone back to e-books, and I have to say, I love e-books.
Larry: Now, do you read e-books in all genres or just certain types of books?
Michael: I would say all genres. I’ll tell you why: because I am completely out of space in my house for physical books, and when I bring physical books into the house, my wife gives me a lecture. She makes me take them back to my office, and there’s no place in my office to put them. The thing about Kindle that I love…
I sound like I’m an evangelist for Amazon. I’m not. But the thing about Kindle I love is that I can have thousands of books on one device. They’re always with me…when I travel, whatever. I mean, we go on a trip… Megan, you know this about your mother. She loves her physical books. She has an entire dedicated suitcase when we go on a trip that’s nothing but her books.
Megan: My husband Joel is the same way. Here’s what’s funny: he’s like a super minimalist packer. He always wants to get a week’s worth of clothes in a tiny duffle bag. We have luggage, but it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t want to use the luggage.
Michael: That’s for books.
Megan: That’s for books. Really, the clothes take up at least half the space or not even half the space that the books do. There are probably 10 books every vacation.
Michael: Here’s the thing I love about Kindle: I love the highlighting feature, I love the searchability of it, and again, I like that I can always have my entire library with me wherever I’m at. Larry, are you a physical books person?
Larry: I am a physical and audiobooks person. My e-book reading has dropped off over the last five years, just as e-book sales have plateaued and declined over the last few years. I do like reading on the e-format for fiction sometimes. I don’t like it for nonfiction books because I like to skim and flip pages to see where I am in the book, and the e-platforms haven’t quite caught up to that.
So, the first purpose for reading is stimulation. The second purpose is assimilation. Let’s talk about the third purpose: innovation.
Megan: This is a big one. The truth is that creativity does not just happen. Most of us are not spontaneously having this flash of inspiration without something that creates an innovative moment. It usually starts with an outside influence. It could be a thought or an idea or even a part of a larger concept, but reading lets us get out of the constraints of our own mind and our own thinking and have access to something much bigger.
Innovation right now is critically important. The world is moving at lightning speed, and as leaders in our businesses, we have to be constantly innovating. In fact, that may be one of the most compelling reasons to read. The pressure of innovation is like never before. We just don’t have enough of our own thoughts to get us there. We need that outside input.
Michael: Well, if you think of the people who you would regard as real innovators, those people, by and large, are readers. The most innovative people I know are people who are readers. Just to name one name: Bill Gates. He’s renowned for his reading habits, and he’s very innovative. I mean, you look at the things he’s doing now post-Microsoft in terms of the impact he’s having on the world through his foundation, it’s phenomenal. That innovation doesn’t just happen because he’s a genius (and he is), but it’s because he’s exposing himself to a lot of books.
Larry: What types of genres do you read? Obviously, you read your fair share of business books. What else?
Megan: I stay really between business books and psychology, and then probably kind of a distant third would be something related to aesthetics, something around design or art or something like that. I struggle with fiction. True story. Honest planet moment number two. I really struggle with that. If I’m on vacation I like to read fiction, but I don’t know. I just have a hard time with it.
Michael: I do too, but every time I read a novel, I think, “I need more of this in my life.”
Megan: Do you know what I think it is?
Michael: I know what it is for me.
Megan: I feel like it’s hard to know what to read. I feel like with business books or nonfiction books it’s very clear what the proposition is. “Do I need that? Does that sound helpful or not?” You know what you’re going to get out of it. Fiction is like, “I don’t know yet.”
Michael: There’s one little hack to that. To the extent that I read fiction, I tend to go with what’s on the best seller list, because I feel like it has been kind of crowdsourced. The cream has risen to the top, and I’m going to go with that.
Megan: I’ll sometimes ask on Facebook or Instagram for recommendations.
Michael: And there are some fiction writers I really love, like Stephen King would be one of my favorites. But I tend to read business books, of course. I love history. I like current events. I like biography, especially biography. I think there’s so much to learn out of those, but I don’t read as much fiction as I would like.
Megan: It could be a goal for next year.
Larry: Let’s move to the fourth purpose in reading, which is dissemination.
Michael: I feel like, in some ways, I’m a forager for my tribe. In other words, part of my job is to go out there as a thought leader, if I can use that term, and as somebody who’s an influencer, another term I don’t really like, but I am, and you are too, Megan and Larry. All of us have influence whether we realize it or not. I feel the need to go out there and kind of be a hunter-gatherer, to gather up stuff I can share with other people.
I like to be able to walk into a meeting and have something to contribute or into a cocktail party and be able to talk about something besides gossip or office politics. I mean, we don’t believe in that anyway. I want to talk about the world of ideas. I think we got this distinction from Dan Sullivan originally. He said some people talk about just the events that are happening, and some people talk about the world of ideas, and some people are aware of their own thinking or talk about their own thinking. I think it’s important to be able to have something to disseminate, something to share with other people.
Larry: That’s one of the reasons I like to read history and biography, as you mentioned: because you learn so much about the world and about today by seeing where we’ve come from and things that have happened before. Often, you’ll find a writer who puts a perspective on history that is totally new to you.
Michael: I think it’s powerful when you’re listening to a speaker, especially, and they can cite some historical reference or tell some story from history that’s so compelling and opens up a new world or a new idea to you. I think of people who are popular tellers of history, like Andy Andrews, or even our local person who has written on the Civil War, Robert Hicks. He takes a lot of license with it, and a lot of people who write historical fiction do, but, boy, I’m just totally compelled by that.
Larry: I have one more question for you before we bring this episode to a close. What is the best book you’ve read lately?
Megan: One of the best books I’ve read lately is called Family Wealth. This is a book recommendation that you gave me, Dad, that was actually from our financial adviser. The thing I love about it… It’s kind of all about a multigenerational perspective on wealth, wealth transfer, and all that, which may sound sort of boring.
What I particularly loved about it was the thinking that wealth is a lot more than financial resources; that there are various kinds of wealth, and some of the most important wealth you pass on to your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and so on, are your social abilities, your intellectual abilities, things like that, that are really going to enable success in a way that financial resources on their own can’t.
It gave me a vision, as I think about my kids and into the future, how I want to think about those things, particularly stewardship; how I want to empower them and raise them to be good stewards, and the responsibility of that and the impact that, as a family, multigenerationally, we could have in the world is just way bigger than what I even had a concept to imagine. I think it’s a great illustration of the points we’ve talked about today.
Michael: This is a book I’m currently reading. I’m almost done with it. It’s by Steven Pinker called Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. It’s really challenging because we don’t share the same basic worldview, but it has really stretched my thinking, especially in terms of the idea of progress and whether or not we can be optimistic about the future based on what’s happening now.
Much of that I agree with, but the philosophical roots he has are different than mine. I want to say that that’s huge value too. I do not just read things I agree with. I think that’s one of the worst things you can do. If all you try to do is to support your bias or your prejudice, or whatever it is, I don’t think that’s helpful. I like ideas that really challenge my thinking, and this is one book that has.
Larry: Well, I’ll throw in my own best read lately, which is a book by Atul Gawande, who is a physician and writer best known for The Checklist Manifesto. The book I recently read is called Being Mortal, and it’s about just what the title says. It’s about being mortal human beings and helping people to think about medical care and the end of life, care for the elderly, from a realistic perspective.
Today we’ve learned that every leader can get more from reading by adopting these four purposes for reading: stimulation, assimilation, innovation, and dissemination. What final thoughts do you have today?
Michael: First of all, that’s an acronym: SAID.
Megan: How sneaky of you.
Larry: Yeah, very nice, Michael.
Michael: I threw that in. My final thought on this is that, again, reading is not so much about retention or comprehension. If you can retain, if you can comprehend, great, but I really think you need a bigger purpose for reading, and I think it will free you up in ways you can’t know until you experience it. It’ll allow you to read more books. This has also given me permission not to finish books.
Now, dirty little secret, as someone who spent most of my career in the book publishing world: most books are not worth finishing. Most authors disseminate (to use one of our words) everything they’re going to say in the first couple of chapters, maybe the last chapter. There’s a lot of fluff built into a lot of books. Again, this is just sort of the commercial aspect of book publishing. Sometimes things that should have been an essay get pumped full of air and turned into a book.
So I read as long as I’m stimulated and maybe a little bit longer, because I don’t want to become somebody who’s impulsive; I want to be able to discipline myself, but honestly, it’s the author’s job to keep me interested. If it doesn’t keep me interested, I bail and go to something else, because there are literally a million new books published every year. There’s plenty to read from. So if it’s not creating this stimulation, assimilation, innovation, and dissemination, I’m done.
Megan: Well, if you’re like me and you’re thinking you’re not reading as much as you want to… Maybe you’ve been through an intense season of life or just kind of gotten out of the habit or something. I hope this episode is encouraging to you, because there are ways to read, there are ways of thinking about reading that make it feel more doable and more rewarding. I, for one, am reenergized and excited about digging into my book list for this year.
Larry: I’m reenergized about it too, Megan, and I also would like to start a new podcast called “Read to Win.”
Michael: What? How have we not thought of that?
Megan: I think that might already exist.
Larry: Well, thank you, guys, for your insights today.
Michael: Thank you, Larry. Thank you guys for joining us today. We’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.