Ditch Reading Goals. Produce Instead.
I consume too much content. But I’m not getting any wiser.
If you’re like me, you consume way too much content. How could you not? Writers package information for easy consumption and there’s no shortage. But understand that consuming content doesn’t make you wiser. Producing content is more valuable if wisdom is your goal.
Ditch the Reading Goals
Still read though. Don’t make book count the measure of wisdom.
According to “Goodhart’s Law”, when a measure becomes the goal, it ceases to become a measure (of progress). I have read hundreds of books. My Goodreads goal has been 25 per year. Did I get wiser because of this goal? If you picked a book on my “read” shelf and asked me what I learned from that book, chances are I couldn’t tell you. The count was my goal.
Reading, a passive activity, does not penalize you for a lack of knowledge on a subject. Producing (writing or speaking) does. This forces you to learn the subject. Reading has its place no doubt. But it shouldn’t be the goal.
Here’s how I’ve used books to (hopefully) get wiser:
#1. Skim the Table of Contents.
The author used the TOC as his/her outline. The TOC is a summary. Understand the layout and why the author is presenting information the way he/she does.
#2. Ask questions. Be a Socratic reader. Connect the concepts with your current knowledge.
Socrates, Greek philosopher, was notorious for asking probing questions to anyone who would listen. Chances are, this isn’t the first book on the subject you have read. You have some background information on the subject. How is this new material connected to your current knowledge? Why does the author feel the need to write about this topic? What is the author trying to say here?
#3. No Unpublished Thought.
Work out this newly-gained knowledge in public, via writing and publishing. Publishing forces you to work out the concepts to a sufficient degree that makes it easier for others to consume. Explaining a concept to others is difficult when you, yourself, don’t understand it. It is an effortful goal, but worthwhile if understanding is the end state.
You don’t have to go through years of wasted effort in a “book count” goal like me. Instead, produce in public. Even if no one reads it, it remains valuable. The notion that “someone may read it” is enough to keep you, the writer, honest about your wisdom.
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