Learn to earn, read to lead

Learn to earn, read to lead
It’s inescapable: “back to school” ads alert you of retail deals on the annual theme of hitting the books. If you have kids, they’re back at school. As a practising lawyer, with law school (far) behind you, the idea of classroom schooling may be off-putting. I’d like you to consider taking the return to school mindset and develop an active reading habit. It’s easy to neglect reading habitually.

After all, there is so much information overload — from our mobile phones, e-mail and news (to name just a few distractors). Yet by reading books on an array of topics, you can develop yourself personally and professionally.

Why read? Reading is to the mind like exercise is to the body. Even a little bit, consistently, can do wonders for you. Authors put their wisdom to paper, all readily available for you.    

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of the 10,000-hour rule, which  posits that it generally takes around 10 years (or 10,000 hours) of continuous practice in a specific field to become an expert in the subject matter. I believe you can become professionally competent in subject areas you choose in far less time. The key is reading. For example, reading the life lessons of a former chief executive officer can help you learn from his or her successes and failures.   

I have heard many reasons why it is hard to kick-start the reading habit. Below I list a few common ones and my own approach to overcome them:
• I don’t have time (because of kids, job demands, commute, etc). Quick question: Do you know who is on your fantasy sports team? Do you know who Kimye is? If you know these answers, then you do have time. Follow my reading hacks below to maximize the time you can make available.

• I can’t afford it. With Amazon’s Kindle format and an overflow of online used booksellers, the cost has come down. If a book can help you become better at some skillset, can you afford not to read?  

• I already read boring work material. Reading subject matters outside of your industry can give the escapism you need to balance your day-to-day. In fact, reading on an area outside of your sphere can give you unorthodox ideas for your industry and help you think differently about it.

Hack the reading process  
I’ve developed a few reading hacks to help my reading-based self-education. My goal is always to find the golden nuggets of a book — the author’s lessons and how to apply those for myself. (Note: these reading hacks are geared to business books.)

• Bird’s eye view. Take a look at the book’s table of contents to give you a sense of the sub-topics. Next, read the introduction as this usually sets out what the book is about, what specifically the author will teach (or argue) and what action steps you would take. Doing these two steps will help you focus your reading. If you feel from these two steps that you will not agree with or enjoy the book, then stop and find another book. Repeat these two steps until you find a book you feel you will learn from. From there, you have a few options: skim some more by reading the concluding chapter, as the author typically summarizes the entire book; and then skim each chapter by checking for chapter summary bullets and for sub-headed sections within the chapter that interest you.

• TED Talks (www.ted.com). Authors usually give lectures and invariably, their lectures are based on their books. So you can use the author’s TED talks as a way to obtain a verbal summary of their book. Similarly, you can also seek out any interviews they have done (either podcasts or in print).

• Summary sites. There are subscription-based services that provide summaries of the books (such as readitfor.me, getabstract.com). For free summaries, check out Actionable Books (http://www.actionablebooks.com). Entrepreneur Derek Sivers frequently posts useful, detailed book summaries on his blog (http://sivers.org/book).

• Amazon.com reviews. Use the U.S. version since there are more users than the Canadian version. Users provide detailed reviews and summaries of books. Amazon can also be a resource to give you book referrals. (Caution: beware of relying on the star-rating system as some authors pay people to write one-liner, five-star reviews.)

We all lead busy lives as in-house counsel. My goal in writing this piece is to encourage you to discover the joys and practical benefits reading can have for you. Oliver Wendell Holmes put it best when he said, “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”        

Jonathan Lau practices regulatory and corporate/commercial law in the public sector. Have questions or comments? Send them to jonathan.lau@alumni.utoronto.ca

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