Engaging in speed reading is like that hotdog eating contest every summer at Coney Island.
Do you really want to train yourself to eat 50 hot dogs?
It’s quantity versus quality– the goal being completion instead of enjoyment.
You know those people that boast of being able to read a 400 page book in 27 minutes, claiming they still understood it?
Maybe. But I’d wager they didn’t build in any time to digest it along the way.
They were in such a rush to cross the “finish line” that they had no thinking time, only reading time.
Reminds me of folks who are in a hurry to get that piece of paper called a diploma versus the value you’d get along the way.
You should be wary of the current speed reading rage.
Go for speed comprehension.
While there are great techniques to absorb information faster, there is very little attention given to chewing on what you’ve read.
More important than skimming words as fast as possible is to stop at key points to digest.
Consider how that point fits into your world view– do you reject it, assimilate it, or need to further research?
I like to envision reading as one not way consumption of food at the buffet of words, but a two-way conversation.
If it’s an autobiography (my favorites are from business leaders like Sam Walton and Ray Kroc), I ask questions and consider how they might respond.
Digestion is more important than raw consumption.
That said, here’s how I acquire and consume information:
- Nearly all my book purchases come from friend recommendations– personal interactions. If I’m going to meet someone, I’ll set the date in advance so that I can buy their book on Amazon Prime and read most of it before we meet. This ensures that our time is productive, as opposed to being just a photo op with someone important. So few people do this. It shows respect to your contacts.
- When a friend is interesting in a particular topic, I’ll send them a recommendation immediately. Often, you get a response like this:
- Reading alone is like exercising alone– never as good as when you have a team. So when you know others are reading along with you, you’re holding each other accountable. Ben and I have a weekly study on leadership
- I use a pen to underline key phrases and circling words that anchor the concepts. Unlike speed readers, I stop every 5-10 minutes to reflect when I hit something intriguing. I dog-ear some of these pages, which I know causes book-lovers to shudder.
- If I am really moved, I’ll put down the book at write for 10 minutes, which results in a blog post. So my reading activity directly correlates with my writing activity. If you are struggling with writing or content marketing, odds are that you’re not reading enough. It’s like trying to work out without having had regular meals. You want to be interesting and communicate at depth. So if you don’t read, you’re at risk of spewing drivel– stuff that is wrong or has already been said.
- Sharing is how you lock your learning into long-term memory, since it forces repetition of the concept, requires you to know it well enough to teach it to others, and makes you take action.
I’ve read about 4,000 books so far.
I average just over a minute a page, which means an average book of 200 pages takes me 4 hours.
Science fiction is faster, since the paperback books have fewer words per page and I stop less frequently.
Dense non-fiction, like textbooks or scientific pieces, might take me 4-5 minutes per page because of stopping.
I am not worried about slowing down my pace to look things up– I don’t even measure my speed.
I usually have 2-3 books I’m reading at any one time.
If I’m busy, such as when traveling, I’ll have just one book and read it sequentially through.
If I have downtime and can read a few hours a day, I’ll manage 7-8 books at once.
Regardless, my average elapsed time to finish any particular book is about 10 days.
The reason I don’t usually read books sequentially (one at a time) is because I buy books in clusters.
I’ll pick a topic (Christian apologetics, higher education reform, nanotechnology, whatever).
Then I’ll find the “pillars”, as books reference one another, whether in Amazon reviews or among friends.
I want a balanced view.
So if I’m studying creationism, I’ll pick authors from opposing sides and varying backgrounds.
It could be physicists on the “Genesis question”, hard-core creationists like Ken Hamm, evolutionists like Richard Dawkins, or the various hybrid “gap theorists”.
Combine them together and it’s like having a live debate in your living room.
You are the moderator.
How to read what’s NOT being said and putting it into action
What’s more interesting than what’s being said in a book is what’s NOT being said.
For example, Malcolm Gladwell is a business/marketing guru who preaches popular, liberal views.
The 10,000 hour rule creates false hope for people who are struggling for success.
It’s not that someone put in 10,000 hours that caused them to be at the top of the game.
Rather, early talent and success caused some people to continue to progress in their field.
If you’re failing badly and repeatedly, continuing to spend another 9,000 hours might not be the answer.
Correlation is not causation.
Many authors (including myself) are good at getting attention while being ignorant of science and a larger body of facts.
My point is not to be pessimistic or argue about any point in any particular book.
It’s to say that you must inherently recognize bias and know that all books are subjective.
If you’re speed reading– a proverbial bullet train jamming through words as fast as you can, you’ll miss it.
It’s stopping to think that’s where the power is, though it lowers your words per minute to zero.
You must also stop to tie in other bodies of knowledge, via your colleagues and other books.
And then you must apply what you learned by teaching others and putting it into practice.
This fits into the triangle of Learn, Do, Teach.
Rapid consumption of words, even with comprehension is merely learning.
It’s enough to pass a multiple choice quiz on the topic or not be embarrassed in conversation.
You better not be reading out of fear of ignorance– then you’re not doing it for you.
Doing is initially digesting the topic from multiple angles (multiple books and people) and writing about it.
Then you’re changing your behavior based on new realizations.
Teaching is when you have real experience in that field, having gone through the learn and do phases.
For example, there are a lot of business coaches out there that have never run a business before, but advise on the topic.
And when you’ve got the base knowledge and tied it to your base network, you’ve got first-hand access to knowledge beyond books.
In fact, you might be helping to write the books on the topic, aggregating the knowledge from other practitioners.
The chicken-and-egg of business success is that you need to have knowledge, the network, and the experience.
But spending all your time learning leaves precious time for doing and for networking.
And spending a lot of time doing risks you flying off in some ignorant direction.
Yet, nurturing up a network of clients, advisors, and experts relationships, leaving little time to act or learn.
The solution to this I talk about here.
And you’ll see that once you have the basics of your knowledge, network, and own activity, you must then do it all simultaneously.
It’s why entrepreneurship is fire, ready, aim.
About the Author
You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.
You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.