31 January 2019

My Learning - Part 9 - Books


Books for me are good at building one solid, coherent understanding of something.

They're often more well written, complete and well researched than e.g. a blog post.
Finally books are both easy to skim (big plus), easy to obtain (the city library is situated next to my workplace) and have very low requirements (non-threatening, easy to opt-out, doesn't depend on anyone else, socially acceptable etc.).

There are some notable drawbacks though:
  1. Since the author have both time, space and an expectation to explain things thoroughly there's (almost) always a lot of "fat" in books; stuff I'm just not interested in.
  2. Books very rarely make me act. Compared to a conversation or reflection session the odds of me acting based on a book is much slimmer and I haven't so far found a reliable way to change this.
  3. When reading I feel like my internal questioning turns off. The result is I read and nod, thinking that I understand what has been claimed but when I later process it or talk about it with someone, there are notable gaps in my understanding. This is something that's much more rare when I for instance leave a course or conversation.
I have a lot of friends who read copious amounts of books and I've noticed one of the things I can bring to a conversation with them is asking questions that force them to find and explore those gaps I mentioned. Another observation is most of them seem to experience these gaps too.

Reading is a quite passive activity making it very easy but also very not challenging. So I need to be careful because when I read a lot it can be an indication that I've become lazy or even lost my motivation.

Find them

The books I read either come from recommendations (friends, experts in the field or referenced in other books I like) or from browsing the library computer.

Recommendations in this case is tricky. I hang out with a lot of people who read a lot of books and I try to limit myself because books, once again, tend to be a lazy fallback for me. For this reason I basically only value recommendations from people who I trust have great taste in that particular domain and who knows what kind of books I like... or recommendations I've heard soooo many times I can no longer ignore them.

When browsing books at the library, without looking for a specific book, I almost exclusively look for specific authors. Alternatively I search for a particular topic (e.g. "business economy") but this is only in a situations where I don't know any good authors and have no trusted recommendations which is extremely rare.

Reading books

First of all: Check out this Udemy course by Brandon Hakim; it has literally changed the way I read and perceive books! The biggest "Wow!" for me was when Brandon spoke about the perception of a book. Instead of me explaining this, check out the free preview video called: "The Single Mindset Shift That Permanently Transforms Your Reading". Highly recommended!

Now, how do I read books? Well, first of all, and related to that course, I don't have the goal of "completing" a book; I read books to extract the big lessons relevant to me.

How I read a book is also greatly affected by which mode I'm in (see Modes):
  1. Distracted: Skim really fast to evaluate if the book is worth a second look
  2. Focused: Read parts of or even the full book, carefully, while having my notebook ready
In my distracted mode I ignore anything in the book that doesn't strike me as super-interesting and I can stop long before I'm "done" if I see no sign of value (to me); this includes books I've bought.

In my focused mode I typically start by looking at the table of contents, then the first page and at some point I land on the last page but on my way there I skip sections, skim parts, read others several times etc. The goal here is once again to find the nuggets. Parts I typically give an extra look are titles, summaries, bullet lists, quotes, visualizations and "colored boxes" (typically stuff the author thought was extra important). Whenever I find something interesting, I take a note.

When I'm done with the book I typically walk through the notes just to help reinforce them. If anything is of extra interest to me I mark it with an orange exclamation mark. Notice that I add the exclamation marks after I'm done since I find it hard to take this decision while reading; in the moment, everything seems to be worth an exclamation mark.

Something I've realized while writing this blog series is I probably should use this walk through to also form experiments or plan activities based on the book. This could help me tackle the problem with books not leading to action. But this is not something I do today.

I try to always have at least one book ready that I've skimmed and want to dig deeper into so when I'm done with my current book I can immediately jump to the next.


A few books I love:
  • Thinking fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman
    Understand your thinking
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
    Take control over yourself, focus on mindset
  • Illusions and solutions, Kjell Enhager
    Take control over yourself, focus on exercises
  • Perfect Software, Gerald M. Weinberg
    Why stuff breaks
  • Are your light on?, Gerald M. Weinberg
    Problem solving
  • Fish!, Stephen C Lundin et al.
    Creating a better workplace
Perfect Software is mostly for people working in the tech industry (role doesn't matter) but the rest are excellent reads for anyone in my opinion.


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