Tag Archives: Seth Godin

Why I’m Reading the Classics and You Should, Too

A few days ago, I saw a tweet from Arianna Huffington from one of the sites that I often frequent: Barking Up The Wrong Tree. The tweet was a quote that came from one of the posts that Eric Barker (the author of the site) wrote:

Those who can sit in a chair, undistracted for hours, mastering subjects and creating things will rule the world — while the rest of us frantically and futilely try to keep up with texts, tweets and other incessant interruptions.

I don’t know about you, but that was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I do my best to stay current with a number of twitter lists (not so much with the texts because I don’t currently use a cell phone). I didn’t realize how exhausting it can be trying to keep up with everything. I don’t know if you noticed, but two days ago ended a streak of 111 straight days of me writing a post for this site. That’s nothing compared to the 5000 that Seth Godin has written (though I don’t know if his were consecutive). In fact, yesterday was the first day in quite a long time that I didn’t tweet anything or post anything to Facebook. Even when I’ve got nothing to share to Facebook, I usually have posted a quote of the day and a picture of some sort. And Twitter, I’ve almost always got a tweet scheduled for a time when I know I won’t be near the computer. Not yesterday. Nothing. No posts. Nada. As I mentioned in one of my last few tweets, I was trying to take my own advice and rest.

In this restful time, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the same kind of relationship I have had with the online world. Yes, I’ve learned a great deal about a number of different topics from the way I’ve interacted with the internet, but I think it’s time to transition. Seeing Eric Barker’s quote also reminded me of someone else who shares a similar ideal: Shane Parrish.

Parrish is the author of Farnam Street and as you’ll see from glancing at his reading list, he reads — a lot. According to Parrish, the question he gets asked the most often is where he finds the time to read. Here’s part of his answer:

Where do I find the time?

Let’s look at this another way. Rather than say what I do, I’ll tell you what I don’t do.

What gets in the way of reading?

I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season where I watch one game a week.)

I watch very few movies.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting.

I don’t spend a lot of time shopping.

These choices are deliberate. I don’t even have cable TV. I watch NFL through gamepass, which also saves time (if you don’t watch games live you can watch the full game in under 30 minutes).

I live downtown; I can walk to the grocery store, purchase a bagful of groceries, and return home all within 15 minutes.

If you presume that the average person spends 3-4 hours a day watching TV, an hour or more commuting, and another 2-3 hours a week shopping, that’s 25 hours a week on the low end.

25 hours. That’s 1,500 minutes. That’s huge. If you read a page a minute, that’s 1,500 pages a week.

Eye-opening, eh?

With this newfound energy for introducing a healthy diet of reading books, what are the best books to read? Should I read the recent best-sellers, the classics, or some combination of both? It turns out, Parrish also answered this question in a post in August:

If something is still ‘in print’ today and it’s been around for a long time, we can assume there is a reason. The most likely reason is that there is something useful to the book. We can further assume that whatever is useful in the book will continue to be useful in the future.

If it’s useful in the past, useful now, and likely useful in the future, there is an argument to be made that we’re probably dealing with something simple – the basics. Anything fragile gets weeded out by time. … so you’re at least dealing with robust ideas … This is something we should be reading to maximize ROI for reading.

This isn’t perfect, of course. But it seems like a decent heuristic.

Most of what’s new and best-selling today will expire rapidly. If you’re reading things that ‘expire’, you get trapped into a Red Queen situation; you’re running faster and faster but staying in the same place. Or in this case you’re reading more and more but not getting much smarter.

You read more and more of the new stuff (e.g., best-sellers) but your knowledge doesn’t improve because you’re learning things with expiry dates … (narratives, studies based on small samples, or something that’s niche and specialized). When reading anything recent, it’s hard to distinguish if what you’re reading is fragile or not. And the base rate for fragility would be huge – almost everything printed today will prove to be fragile.

(The niche and specialized will improve your knowledge, for sure, but only within one particular domain, it won’t increase your broad based worldly wisdom. So these are useful but possibly not in the sense of maximizing knowledge accumulation. And you’d want to think about half-life of knowledge here too.)

Basic knowledge and ideas, however, don’t expire, which is why reading something like Seneca gets you out of the red queen. You learn more, you learn simple ideas, and those ideas don’t change over time so your knowledge actually increases.

So there you have it. A compelling case for reading the classics. I’m still planning on writing posts here on a variety of topics, but they may not be as frequent as they were before. Some will be of a more academic flavour, as I was just accepted by Research Blogging, some will continue in the same fashion as providing a new perspective, some will be observations, and some will be new ideas.

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Put Down the Non-Fiction and Walk Away Slowly

I read a lot of non-fiction. I’ve written about some of the books I’ve read on here (Good to Great, The Art of War, The Art of War (again), etc.), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the articles I share on Facebook (about 5 per day) comes from something I’d read in the past month. I believe it’s important to continually refresh ourselves (through learning). I do that by reading as much as I can — non-fiction.

About 2 years ago, when I decided to go to business school, I read everything about business that I could get my hands on. I read the Heaths, Collins, Christensen, Pink, Godin, and many others. In amongst that reading, I continually came across a piece of wisdom — read fiction. At first, I was a little shocked by it. Read fiction!? And then, I started to understand a little bit more about what the reasons for reading fiction.

Empathy.

Empathy is at the heart of the beginning of the solution to many of the world’s problems. When we empathize, we are able to recognize the emotions that another is feeling. At the root of compassion is empathy. [Note: sympathy is quite different from empathy. Sympathy is simply a concern for another’s well-being, where empathy usually refers to one sharing the same emotional state.] So, now that I’ve explained empathy, I need to tie it back into reading fiction.

Reading fiction ‘improves empathy’, study finds — Sept. 2011 — The Guardian

Reading boosts empathy — May 2012 — The Globe and Mail

Fiction is an exercise in empathy — June 2012 — New York Times

Dots connected?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to continue to read non-fiction — and lots of it. Though, I may start to whittle down the number of non-fiction books I read. I’ve just finished Dan Pink’s most recent To Sell Is Human, and I still want to get through Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats. Once I do that, I plan to make the switch and start reading more fiction. Will you join me?

Be Yourself: Erring on the Side of Authenticity

I’ve had very spotty internet connectivity over the past week or so and that’s why you haven’t seen any new posts from me for a while. I’ll continue to have spotty internet connectivity probably until next week, but there’s something I wanted to say before I got back into writing regularly here.

Just before the new year clicked over, someone passed along the trailer for Seth Godin’s new book. I’ve included it below:

After watching that trailer — it made sense. While I’m not necessarily an artist, I think the message that Godin is promoting is important: there is a bias for the middle road. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but that bias to the middle road does come at a price. I’d say that this is something that I certainly have been mindful of with the things I’ve written about online. Some may point to my series on psi phenomena (telepathy, precognition, etc.) as evidence that I’ve long since blown past the middle road, but when I wrote those posts, I was careful to make sure that I cited a litany of scientific studies supporting the existence of such phenomena. Others may point to posts like the one I’ve written about hugs instead of handshakes, but that doesn’t seem like it’s too far from the middle road.

Regardless of who points to what, I wanted to say — today — I’m declaring that I’m going to err on the side of authenticity. What does that mean? Well, in the past, I may have shied away from sharing his opinion or that opinion — especially because it’s online! — ‘and things online are forever.’ I’ve come to realize that this is silly. Yes, I’ve read all the things out there about how the pictures you post online or the things you write about online could prevent you from getting job-x or job-y. I understand that, but I still think it’s important to strive to learn. How can I expect myself to grow/learn, if I don’t share some of my sensitive ideas and open them up for discussion and debate? How can I expect to have these ideas challenged and improved? I certainly can’t.

When I started writing on the internet, I had this idea in mind. That is, I was mindful that my ideas in this moment, on January 8th, 2013, might not be the ideas that I have on January 8th, 2014. As a result, I wrote a bit about it in my disclaimer:

I am the creator of this blog and my perspective of five years or five minutes ago do not necessarily reflect my views right now. My thoughts, opinions and viewpoints will change as I learn, grow, and develop my understanding of the world. Therefore, I reserve the right to allow my viewpoints to evolve and to change my thoughts, viewpoints and opinions over time without assigning any reason for such changes.

I truly believe this and hope that those who may look to things I’ve written in the past and try to hold it against me will realize that I fully expect that my ideas will grow, shift, and change. This seems important to make note of because who knows, I may yet one day run for public office and I could totally imagine a clever reporter digging up things I’ve written in the past with glee showing that I was, in fact, on the “other” side of an issue that I may be staunchly for (in that present day). Who knows what the future holds.

I know one thing’s for sure, the kind of change that I want to be part of on a global scale certainly won’t be made by me (or others) erring on the side of the middle road. So long as I’m true to myself — authentic — and keep to my ethics/morals, I feel confident in standing up for whatever I’ve said.

So — this is not to say that I’m going to start advocating some extreme positions in tomorrow’s post (or even the next day’s), but I will, as the title suggests, err on the side of authenticity. I hope you’ll join me in this learning experience — maybe we’ll be able to teach each other something.