The Huge Mistake We All Make

(This is a rant. Feel free to come back tomorrow for our regular B2B Public Relations ideas.)

I had a pretty successful third grade. My grades were good, hot chocolate was plentiful and I had lots of opportunities to create time machines with my colored shoelace collection.

But my teacher Mrs. DiSilvestro was concerned. I had a bad habit that she couldn’t seem to curb. I am a reading addict.

Every school day, at almost any hour, I could be found sneaking peeks at my hidden book. I’d prop it on my lap, with the cover tucked under the lip of my desk. Yet despite my best efforts, the math workbook didn’t seem to provide effective camouflage. The result?  An unhappy teacher and a frustrated bookworm.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I found plenty of other chances to read.  Tolkein’s hobbits, Alcott’s Jo, Austen’s Darcy and Rand’s Roark were all my friends. I‘d also curl up with memoirs, histories and even cereal boxes.

Gradually, I came to realize an astonishing truth. Not everyone liked to read. In fact, some folks actively detested it.

It was easy to pick out those kids in my college’s 19th Century English Literature class. If you are simply fulfilling an academic requirement, you don’t share favorite scenes from the story or speculate on the implication of the ending. You just wait to see what text the teacher mentions, so you can highlight it.

I ignored that group. It didn’t matter to me if they didn’t get it.

Here’s the problem: I can’t ignore my profession. Shockingly, many of the communicators I know have stopped being readers. (Or perhaps they didn’t start?) They skim the daily newspaper, they skip reading the relevant client trades and they only bother to subscribe to a few blogs.

In short, if they’re older, they think it’s ok to coast on experiences. If they’re younger, they mistake “skimming” for reading. News flash. There are no shortcuts.

The act of reading opens you to everything that life – and the business world – have to offer.  Do you want to know what the industry leader is going to do next? Read. Are you curious about the emerging thought leader? Read. Aspire to gain market share in a combative sector? Read. Trying to develop new skills? Read, read, read.

We’re all busy, with ever increasing to-do lists. But your counsel – to clients, colleagues and peers — is significantly weakened if you skip consuming ideas.

If you are worried about finding the time, here are a few tips:

  • Read with Intention: Decide why you need to read. I’m serious. Is it to develop better program goals? Stay up on trends? Determine competitive benchmarks? Prioritize your goals, then select resources that match them. You may be surprised at the content that falls by the wayside.
  • Quality, not quantity: Identify 10 great information sources and stick to them. You don’t need a huge amount of content, just the right ones.
  • Find the teachers: Some authors want to deliver data, some want to share news and some want to help you become better. If you are reading to improve your skills, pick the writers who will help you succeed. For example, in social media, Valeria Maltoni is a teacher. Mashable is merely a resource.
  • Organize your reading: Create a system that allows you to prioritize and “bucket” your incoming information. Google Reader is your friend.
  • Prune your Resources: Over time, you may need different kinds of information or teachers. It’s important to recognize that and change your editorial mix.

Reading takes time…more than you want to give. Do it anyway. You…and our profession…will be the better for it.

Do you disagree? Is it possible to be a critical thinker without reading?

To reach Elizabeth:

Phone: 212.840.0017
Twitter: @elizabethsosnow
LinkedIn: Elizabeth Sosnow