Book Highlights

What Do You Underline?

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

[Updated 2016-02-20] I read incessantly. Usually, I am reading for education and business. Generally the topics are in the realm of Neuroscience, Leadership, Business and Personal Development. Occasionally, I will read science fiction for fun and relaxation. Perhaps only one or two “fun” books per year though, and that’s out of a total of at least 24 books per year.

I’m not alone. Many of the folks with whom I work read almost as much as I do. A few actually read more than I do. But what interests me now is how we underline or highlight when we’re reading. (You do underline when you read, don’t you?) By that I mean, do you highlight something that corroborates what you already “know,” or do you underline something you didn’t know, that surprised you? With electronic books, my highlights are aggregated and easily referred to when I’m done reading. That’s a big help for learning and sharing.

Depending on why I’m reading an article or book, I might take either approach — often I do both, highlighting new ideas as well as confirming statements. But here is what I’ve observed. Learning only takes place when I underline something that is new to me or surprises me. When  I wind up looking back through the book and realizing that I’ve underlined a whole bunch of stuff I already “knew,” then I am quite satisfied at being vindicated in my view but also a bit disappointed in that I didn’t learn anything new.

Not infrequently I will try to find an author who I suspect disagrees with my view. I generally learn something; the underlines are things that surprise me. Admittedly, when reading these contrarian articles, I rarely change my view. But I will say I almost always modify my ideas in some way.

I think the same concept is at play in our workplace. It’s called “NIH” or Not Invented Here. Sometimes it’s called “We’ve always done it that way.” I think our job as leaders is to get people to start underlining the things that surprise them; to go out of their way to find opposing views about how things get done. If we only hang around with folks from our industry then we will not be too likely to find anything new to underline and bring back to our own operations. If we get outside of our industry we can minimize group think.

I’m going to make a concerted effort to underline things that surprise me when I’m reading.  I’m going to make sure I read articles and books that afford me a chance to underline surprising things. And I’m going to help those I work with do the same. When it comes to our businesses and business models, we have to stop looking for corroboration and look for new and more effective ways of doing things.