Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How Do the Books on Your Bookshelf Stack Up Against the Books on CEOS’ Bookshelves?

“Serious leaders who are serious readers build personal libraries dedicated to how to think, not how to compete… If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,” suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Mr. Leach has stocked his cabin in the woods of North Carolina with the collected works of Aristotle,” reports the New York Times article “C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success.”

In How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, there are three reasons to read a book: For information, entertainment and to further knowledge, and the reason for reading a book will inform which of the read four levels of reading you engage in:

Elementary: Level of reading that is learned in elementary school
Inspectional: Emphasis is on time – getting the most out of a book within a short time frame. There are two types of inspectional reading, systematic skimming or pre-reading and superficial reading
Analytical: Deals with classifying the book, coming to terms with it, determining the book’s message, and criticizing both the book and the author. Analytical reading is a very active type of reading
Syntopical: Also known as comparative reading, is the most complex form of reading. It is reading multiple books on the same subject and placing them in relation to each other

It’s not surprising that most CEOs and other successful people do not read business books, since most do not make you think. Instead they read poetry, books on philosophy, religion and fiction. They likely read to mostly further their knowledge, and if they are trying to understand something new, they would read syntopically.

Some of the books mentioned in the New York Times article include:

  •     Swimming Across, Andy Grove
  •     Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Thomas Edward Lawrence
  •     Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  •     Stranger, Albert Camus
  •     The City of God, E. L. Doctorow
  •     How Doctors Think, Jerome Groopman
  •     Seminary Boy, John Cornwell
  •     The Wife, a novel by Meg Wolitzer
  •     Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin
  •     Rubáiyát, Omar Khayyam
  •     Books of William Blake
  •     Works by Aristotle
  •     Books by Galileo

How many of these books have you read?

Reading fiction can also help in your daily lives. For instance, reading a well-written murder mystery such as Agatha Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd can hone your problem solving skills. The Collectibles by James L. Kaufman demonstrates the ethical and moral dilemmas that arise when people do not operate with integrity. And Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train shows what can happen when you do not have a mentor, coach or advisor – someone you can talk to when you are in a very tight spot and need guidance to help you make the right choice.

Reading thoughtful books add rigor to your thinking, and improves your problem solving and decision making skills.

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