Do you read too much? That might sound like a strange question on the surface so let me expound upon it a bit. Do you read too much and put into practice too little?
I’ve recently had a few experiences with people who have espoused their expertise on a particular subject based upon the books they’ve read. Their office walls are lined with bookshelves filled with material on the particular topic in which they claim expertise. They can quote various authors who are noted experts on the subject. They, themselves can deliver a speech and sound like an expert. But I came to learn they couldn’t actually do any of it. Their “knowledge” was simply academic and had not been tested in the real word.
In most subjects, one cannot become an expert simply by reading. One becomes an expert based upon both academic learning but more importantly (at least in my opinion) practical experience. The question to me isn’t how many books one has read; it is whether or not they have successfully demonstrated their expertise in the real world across a wide variety of situations over an extended period of time.
For example, I used to train in karate but am far from an expert (life got in the way long before I got to black belt and I’m not sure I would have made it anyway). During that time I read some books on form and technique. But there is a huge difference between reading it in a book, going to the dojo and actually practicing the technique, advancing those skills by refining various kata (a simulated fight against an imaginary opponent) and then stepping onto the deck and trying to put all that into practice and testing what you have learned (or thought you learned) against a real opponent (especially of higher rank). One learns pretty quickly that it is relatively easy to break a defenseless board but substantially harder to render a blow with similar force against a moving opponent who is both ready to block your strike and counter attack.
Whether in sports or in business or practically anything else for that matter, it’s the on-field experience that’s important. It’s one thing to talk about the theory of strategy, for example, but an entirely different matter to implement a strategy with colleagues who might not agree with your thinking or have different agendas, capital constraints, limitations on current organizational capabilities and competitors who just don’t stand idly by while you attempt to take their market share.
For those of you who are trying to improve your business, it’s great to read a few books on a particular topic. But after you’ve read a couple of good ones, there’s probably not much to be gained by reading the next ten or twenty. There are diminishing returns on that investment of time.
Rather than continued reading, it is time to put what you have learned into practice. There will be trial and error but if you stick to it and have a good feedback loop which measures your results against expectations, over time, you should see improved results.
Become a real expert. Put what you’ve learned into practice. Good luck.
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