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June 19, 2006


Life on the road  Harga on How to Read a Business Book

[...] Andrew has a good write up on how to read a business book. Its good stuff that generally applies to other genres as well. Books also tend to fit one of four flavors: prescriptive, descriptive, narrative, and fables. Prescriptives promise to particular solution: managing teams, motivating poor performers, making strategic decisions, finding a job, reaching your full potential, leading organizations, etc and usually have some number of answers (5 secrets, 7 habits, 22 laws, etc). Descriptives offer interesting explanations of whats going on but no real actionable advice (e.g., The Tipping Point and The World is Flat). Narratives are the great man and great woman stories, usually auto-biographical, that explain how that one person was responsible for a companys great performance (Who Says Elephants Cant Dance). Finally, there are the fables, short books that offer a simple creamy insight inside a fluffy, allegorical, outside. Usually (and not surprisingly) food-related: like cheese, fish, chicken-soup. High-calorie and low-nutrition books, read them at your own peril. Know which kind of books you enjoy reading, when, and why. [...]

George Ambler

Great post! To complment this topic feel free to view my thoughts on the same topic:

How to Select What to Read for Personal Development

You can also checkout my book reviews here:

Book Reviews


I like point #4 - many business books are based on rather shaky premises (no coherent theory or data), and thus reading skeptically is critical (for some books saying 1/3 reflects original thought is very generous!). Not only is the advice perhaps a waste of time, but even detrimental to business performance. The journal Academy of Management Review has a recent piece on business fads and fashions (though I think mgt scholars also have their own fads), which points out the potential cyclicality of some ideas.

Dr. Rod King

In the post, "How to read a business book," Andrew Hargadon gives some solid advice on how to tactically read. However, the post did not cover what I consider to be a crucial strategic question: "Why do we read (business) books?" For me - and I guess for some other people - my motivation for reading a book strongly influences my mix of reading tactics as well as the time that I spend with the book. Before reading a book, I decide on one of four reading styles.

Style 1: Reading for enjoyment
(Examples: Popular business magazines; blogs)

Style 2: Reading for knowing the source of concepts and information to facilitate access at a latter date
(Example: All magazines, journals, and books)

Style 3: Reading for understanding, insight, and deep learning
(Example: Cutting-edge publications)

Style 4: Reading for greater retention and more detailed recall
(Examples: Domain-specific books or magazines for writing research papers)

My experience is that once I decide on my strategy or style of reading, the relevant tactics are intuitively summoned up. Style 2 is my favorite at the moment. With the mountain of books that are flooding my office, I find it easier to mentally index key concepts that I find in books. What is currently most important to me is to know where to get information when I need it. As people increasingly encounter the pressure of information overload from books, 'indexing' may become a critical skill for survival and greater peace of mind. Visual techniques such as Mind Mapping and Galaxy Writing facilitate indexing. Ah, if only business books had populated mind maps or Galaxies of their contents!

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