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How Reading More Can Make You a Better Entrepreneur

If you think the saying ‘leaders are readers’ is just a cliché designed to dupe children into studying their school textbooks, you certainly have no idea what the world’s greatest leaders have thanked the most for their successes. This isn’t an attempt by another condescending bibliophile to cast aspersions on the ‘weak reading habits of the masses’. It’s just me trying to bring a fact to the fore, as countless others have done through the ages: great readers have a more clear-cut path to success in life than those who aren’t.

Take Warren Buffet for example. He’s one of the world’s richest men and a long time CEO of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway. Mr. Buffet spends five to six hours a day reading five newspapers; this is besides his sweeping through an average of five hundred pages of financial documents before a typical day passes. Commenting on the relationship between his voracious appetite for written material and his success in business, he says it’s about heaping up knowledge, page by page. “That’s how knowledge works,” he explained. “It builds up, like compound interest.”

If you’re still not convinced of this, a little bit of reading up on the bookish tendencies of Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg (all consistently on or near the top of the world’s rich list) will probably nudge you towards accepting the point I’m making here. Mr. Gates, who cofounded the tech giant Microsoft, burns through 50 books a year; Elon Musk, pioneer of the futuristic technology business and co-founder of Paypal, is reported to have spent ten hours a day devouring science fiction books in his early years (see where that landed him?); and Mark Zuckerberg, famed for hitting it big after dropping out of Harvard, is a self-confessed avid reader. There are plenty others to add to this short list.

In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that people who develop a healthy relationship with books tend to wind up more accomplished in business (actually, there are studies that appear to confirm this). But, with all the positive choruses about the potentially unlimited benefits of reading, you may be wondering what it is that makes running your eyes through printed lines such a rewarding investment. Here are five ways that reading good quality material can make you a better businessperson.

  1. Get inspired and challenged to aim higher

Biographies of successful people have a way of motivating us to be better. They’re especially inspiring if they’re about people who achieve significant things in spite of being bedeviled by great obstacles. You might be bogged down in the ordinariness of your small business until you read about a pioneering entrepreneur who braved poverty and serial failure to create a legacy company of global renown. It could change the trajectory of your own life, as it has numerous others.

And it’s not just biographies that set hearts on fire. Self-improvement and educational books- also favored by the business elite -can also provide enough fuel to get you moving towards being better skilled and more competent.

  1. Find invaluable ideas

Who knows what idea is hidden in the lines of the next book you’ll read?

Again, biographies (or autobiographies) may hold information you could make use of. Or it might be a newspaper story of something going on in some far-flung corner of the planet that gives you the clue to solving a problem closer to home. There’s no shortage of accounts that refer to businesses being built on systems adapted from ideas in print. You may discover the idea that changes your enterprise for good in the pages of a journal. Just try perusing them more often.

Sometimes, you won’t run into a brilliant idea laid out in black and white. It could be that the cumulative knowledge you build up through reading sessions becomes a pool from which a valuable business solution evolves. Whatever the process of discovery is, you can be sure of one thing: you’re more likely to come up with a creative idea or system if you read widely and deeply than if you don’t.

  1. Develop your sense of empathy

While empathy is something that most humans possess, it might take some training to be able to use it effectively in a leadership capacity (in business or government). Books are a great way to sharpen your empathetic side.

This is how it works. In order to successfully comprehend a novel you’re reading, you’ll have to imagine the lives of the people it describes. The book’s narrative may let you into their minds to reveal their motivations, their likes, dislikes, hopes, and fears. What this actually does for you is introduce you to the experiences of people other than yourself. It makes you more able to feel their feelings and understand their biases. Think what this could do for your salesmanship: you could do better at putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and empathizing with them. There’s also the improved chance of having more rhythmic relationships with your business partners, employees, and others.

  1. Be more disciplined

The moving images of television screens and smartphones are the ultimate symbols and driving force of ever shortening attention spans in today’s world. The widespread preference for instant gratification is oiling the engines of entertainment industries the world over, but it’s not good for the entrepreneurial grind. If you’re going to build a business that’ll last, you’ll need to have great discipline.

Books can help you cultivate your ability to stay on one course for longer periods. Reading can’t be enjoyed without undivided attention being paid to the single material being read. If you can stick to a book for several hours, you could as well keep at a business-related task for a good while. This works better if you’re able to train yourself to read a non-fiction informative book for long periods.

  1. Sharpen your communication skills

This is certainly the easiest connection to make; the more you read, the more words you pick up (even unconsciously), and the better your writing and speaking will be.

This isn’t about hunting for grandiloquent words with which you can impress or intimidate your acquaintances. It’s just the plain old rule of learning. Your mind is as good as the sum of the people, ideas, and experiences you’ve been exposed to throughout your lifetime. The quality of material you read rubs off on you. It simply happens this way. You’ll find that you’re better able to express yourself to others, and less likely to misunderstand what people say to you. Reading could even help you grasp what someone means to say when they’re unable to use the right words!

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Ikenna Nwachukwu

Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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