DSC_0047 copySeth Godin has an interesting post about the process of reading. He points out that there are important differences in the way that we read different types of books. Think about it yourself. When I read fiction I go along for the story. I want an experience that I cannot find anywhere else. But a business book is different. Seth’s guide to reading a business book is as follows:

1. Decide, before you start, that you’re going to change three things about what you do all day at work. Then, as you’re reading, find the three things and do it. The goal of the reading, then, isn’t to persuade you to change, it’s to help you choose what to change.

2. If you’re going to invest a valuable asset (like time), go ahead and make it productive. Use a post-it or two, or some index cards or a highlighter. Not to write down stuff so you can forget it later, but to create marching orders. It’s simple: if three weeks go by and you haven’t taken action on what you’ve written down, you wasted your time.

3. It’s not about you, it’s about the next person. The single best use of a business book is to help someone else. Sharing what you read, handing the book to a person who needs it… pushing those around you to get in sync and to take action–that’s the main reason it’s a book, not a video or a seminar. A book is a souvenir and a container and a motivator and an easily leveraged tool. Hoarding books makes them worth less, not more.

Dave Rendall follows this up by reinforcing point 3 — reminding leaders that we must read widely but also spread the new knowledge that we have acquired. In Guy Kawasaki’s words, leaders must “eat like a bird and poop like an elephant.”

But what happens if we flip this around? When your boss gives you a business book, what is the agenda — and importantly, what should you do with it? Here are my three suggestions:

  1. Frame your thinking around your current business challenges. Inside the front cover, write 3-5 bullet points on different colored post-it notes to remind yourself and refer back to it often. When you find something relevant, flag it with a new post-it.
  2. When you have finished the book (or run out of time), revisit your bullet points in the front of the book. Determine which of the business challenges have the best chance of transformation and then quickly read back through the color-coded items.
  3. Prioritize the immediate next steps that can be taken. Assign them to your team. Plan out these steps and communicate them to your boss. Let her know what you learned from the book and why you have chosen a particular path. Let her know what you are going to do and who is responsible for it.
  4. Finally, pass on your book to someone else.

(I know there are more than three suggestions. I was following Seth’s lead by challenging expectations.)

Now, I am sure you have been given books in the past. What have you done? Has is changed your job or your outlook?

Nina nets it out: If your boss gives you a business book, she will be expecting some form of response — even if you find there was no applicable insight to your business. However, focus on your business challenges and show how some of your new learnings can be brought to bear on them.