Francis Bacon said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” You may approach some leadership books with the intention of a quick browse, a read where you are merely keeping up to date with current thinking in your field or looking for some pithy statements for a talk. But when you want to chew and digest a book, here are three ways to get the most from it.
1. Research the author
Every author comes to a book with a viewpoint on life, on the world, on people, and on leadership. When you know the background of the author, you get a better sense of the author’s perspective. Watching a video on YouTube of the author speaking can give you a sense of his/her passion and approach. Reading some of the author’s history and experience can help you better appreciate the author’s work. For example, reading a Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker or a Jim Collins article online alongside reading the author’s book can give one a better sense of each author’s vantage point.
2. Mark the book up
If you are going to buy a book, make it yours. If you don’t mark up a book, you might as well go to a library. When you underline, write notes, and interact with the content, your retention of the content increases. Actually, research indicates you will remember more if you take handwritten notes. If taking notes is a lost art for you, then you are the one losing. In my reading, I write down page numbers and key points in the front and back of books so I can go back and grab sections when I need them.
3. Discuss with a friend
With a great leadership book, you don’t only want the content, you also want to integrate the learning into your current base of knowledge. Discussion helps facilitate integration of thinking. When you articulate what you are reading to someone else, you are much more likely to apply the learning. As you discuss with a friend, you are able to process what you are reading in light of your current context and explore implications.