Friday, April 2, 2010

You Are What You Read

I received some very good news recently. News I had been looking forward to for a year. I was informed that my free subscription to Business Week had run out. That’s a huge monkey off my back.

When I first started my job, a job I’ve grown to hate very much, a big wig with the company said the best source for information on our business is Business Week and said he reads it religiously. Right then, Farrah secured us a free one-year subscription and I committed to reading every issue, cover to cover.

Well, the year is over (and so is my job) and while there has been some growth (like Billy Madison, “I can understand nine words in that [magazine] now”), more accurate is the fact that every issue has been a slog to get through with most of the info flying over my head. After a few months, I shelved the “cover-to-cover” goal, but did continue to read any article that interested me, seemed to pertain to my job, or that I thought I could comprehend, which amounted to a good 3/4s of it.

What became clear to me was not only what I was reading, but why. For instance, anything dealing with entertainment or branding of products I know and use was a no-brainer. As most people do, I read and liked the stuff I already had some base knowledge of. I followed articles on tech companies like Google or Apple, but more from an outsider’s perspective which makes sense. Though my job is in software, I’ve never fully grasped it, felt like a part of the culture, or been interested in it, outside of a passing understanding.

Think about that. While my dedication to my job is high, my capacity to really “get it” and grow within it is limited, just like my capacity to retain and understand the articles pertaining to this industry. I also found that I would read the articles that didn’t interest me that much if they were short, but skip them if they were too long, which probably says a lot about my own stamina and energy level.

Just as telling were the articles I would skip. Anything regarding banking was out. I’d need a Biz Week for Dummies if I was going to figure all of that stuff out. Other than the high level understanding that the banking industry is in trouble and the prime reason for the current recession, ask me to explain it to someone and I couldn’t. I could maybe regurgitate something I heard on the news, but would I truly understand it in my bones? Sadly, no. I’m just not built that way, as evidenced by my reading habits.

Funny enough, I would also skip most articles pertaining to business in India. Why? Because I just have a perception, though I’ve never been there, that the place is dirty and unappealing. I tend to avoid movies filmed in those locations for the same reason. So, my perception of a culture that doesn’t interest me influences my capacity to even learn about that country or enjoy it. Ironically, I did eventually perk up to articles pertaining to the bankruptcy of Dubai, but that was AFTER seeing it on the "Amazing Race".

This speaks to not only what we learn and why, but how. Package Dubai in a show I like to watch and I’ll pay attention. Make a movie about it with people in robes and the smell of dirt and sweat steaming off the screen and I just turn away. If something interests you, you’ll get it. If it doesn’t, it won’t unless it comes in the right packaging.

Packaging is a big issue, I’ve learned. I’ve started reading Fast Company, another business related magazine. The difference is that FC is bright and colorful with large fonts and eye-grabbing graphics (I’m a big believer in Color Theory). If BW is the Wall Street Journal, FC is USA Today. FC also skews younger with more articles on technology, entrepreneurs, and celebrities. BW rarely has any of that. BW leans more Wall Street and FC leans more Silicon Valley.

In contemplating the “you are what you read” idea, I’ve realized how true it is and how it extends to anything and everything we ingest. For instance, I believe the last 3 or 4 books I’ve read had something to do with either music or movies. I am often recommended sales-related books and often shrug it off because it feels too much like homework. The same can be said for religious books. I’m not a scriptorian, never have been. It just doesn’t interest me. As a result, I don’t spend a lot of time reading scriptures or church themed books pertaining to religion, again too much like homework. But, how many Christians do we know that could read nothing but the Bible on a daily basis forever and be perfectly happy with it? Based on my argument, that person would have more interest in Christianity than I would and it’s probably true. The proof is in the behavior. I’ll go to church every week (or work every day), but don’t expect me to spend my precious free-time on it. As my reading habits go, so go my behaviors.

So, think about what you read and what that says about you. If you don’t read much, that’s a big message. If you only read gossip magazines, that is too. If you like to read, but are picky about what you read (like me), then there’s another one. My point is, we don’t do much unless we’re urgently motivated by internal or external forces. What and when we choose to read and why is the prime evidence of that. And, our abilities to learn are often tied to more than the subject matter.