As an entrepreneur, to say my plate is full would be an understatement. Regardless, I try to make sure each day that I set aside time to reach and research, both about things within my industry and whatever else may interest me that day. I’m not the only one as well. Some of the world’s most famous entrepreneurs have said on the record how important reading is to them. When someone once asked Warren Buffett about his key to success, he pointed to a stack of books and said “read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
Bill Gates strives to read one book a week. Mark Zuckerberg has an online book club. Mark Cuban has said the books and magazines he’s read have paid for themselves many times over through providing him with both customers and solutions to problems. Books encourage self-educating, self-improvement, and success, and reading them can provide you sources of inspiration, tips and business strategies, and help you develop new skills. As an entrepreneur it is inevitable that we will make mistakes and the best of us will learn from them, but I also try to read about people I admire so I can learn from the struggles they went through and opportunities that arose from them.
The average American reads one book a year while the average CEO reads around five a month, coming out to at least 60 books a year. If that doesn’t convince you, below are five ways developing the habit of reading will benefit you — both personally and professionally.
Reading improves brain function
Scientifically, reading has been proven to aid in developing necessary cognitive skills such as good memory, strategic decision-making, and verbal intelligence. Like muscles, the brain benefits greatly from a good workout, and reading is more neurobiologically demanding than processing images or speech. A sentence is essentially shorthand for a lot of information that must be inferred by the brain, and as you are reading cognitive elements that have evolved for various other functions such as vision, language, and associative learning all connect in a specific neural circuit for reading. Generally speaking, this means that your intelligence as well as concentration are called to act at a high capacity, as we are forced to construct, to produce narrative, and to imagine. Even when it is superficial such as reading a magazine or funny article, the act of processing words boosts the brain. In addition to this, whereas when you are listening, watching, or even conversing there is rarely an opportunity to stop and process the information you are receiving, reading gives you the unique ability to pause for comprehension and insight.
Reading impacts communication
Obviously, the more you read, the more words you are exposed to and build your own vocabulary around. There is strong research suggesting a correlation between your word-reading skill and your vocabulary, and a large vocabulary has shown to correspond with a higher income for adults. By expanding your vocabulary, you also affect the way you speak as writing styles and fluidity inevitably influences the way you build sentences and words you use during business meetings, conferences, and public speeches. Being articulate and well-spoken is of great help for entrepreneurs, and everybody knows that one of the most important business skills is the ability to communicate effectively. Having the ability to articulate yourself effectively can also aid in creating a confident air.
Communication is a two-way street, so in addition to utilizing a large vocabulary to get across what you are trying to say, your passive vocabulary is also instrumental in understanding what the other person is saying and engaging in a meaningful conversation. Additionally, reading can help you develop empathy and understand the people around you better, as the same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated when you read about something as when you experience it. To use the common idiom, through reading you are effectively able to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” A 2013 study found that reading literary fiction in particular improves theory of mind or a subset of empathy that involves the ability to attribute mental states such as beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, to both yourself and others. This ability to quickly and accurately judge the people around you by taking into account such mental states is a paramount skill for any entrepreneur when it comes to developing business strategies.
Reading reduces stress
With our high workloads, as well as intensity levels, entrepreneurs are no stranger to stress. However, we also know that it is impossible to operate successfully if we do not develop the ability to de-stress. A 2009 study found that reading reduced stress levels by 68% — more than listening to music, having a cup of tea, playing video games, or going for a walk. Tying this back to what we learned about reading’s effect on brain function, the amount of concentration reading requires means that participants who read for just six minutes experienced slowed heart rates as well as reduced muscle tension. If you can find time to read for at least 30 minutes a week, the study found that amount of time was enough for patients to feel 20% more satisfied with their lives. The importance lies not necessarily with what you read, but your ability to lose yourself by engrossing yourself in a book that allows you to escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world. Although this may sound like avoidance or distraction, in reading you are actively engaging your imagination as the words on the page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.
Reading enhances your creativity
Another entrepreneur that is known to be a prodigious reader is Elon Musk. He has admitted to spending up to ten hours a day reading science fiction, covering subjects such as fiction, philosophy, religion, programming, biographies of scientists as well as physics, engineering, product design, business, technology and energy. As the head of four tech companies that bring to life products and ideas that were previously only imagined in science fiction, you can be sure that reading all of those books and employing his imagination is a big part of how he developed his creativity.
Combined, the neurological acrobatics that go into improving your brain function, improving communication, and reducing stress all work together to enhance your ability to think and act creatively. By stimulating the area of your brain linked to memory, it aids you in retaining multiple ideas and threading them together to something truly innovative. By aiding in developing empathy, you are able to see the world from more than just your own perspective and widen your viewpoint to better understand your customer and your team. By allowing us to de-stress and lose ourselves within another’s story, we create more space within our brains for positive thinking and creative ideas rather than letting it be clogged with worry and stress.
Analytical thinking, management, strategic-decision making, and competence are all required skills for a successful entrepreneur, but just as important or perhaps even more so are verbal intelligence, public speaking, empathy, social perception, and de-stressing. These good news is the tool at your disposal to develop them has been around for thousands of years: books.
Although there are similar and different benefits to anything you choose to read, in general you should choose subjects that interest you, whether it’s directly related to your industry or not. By maintaining momentum, you can become like the great entrepreneurs and CEOs of the world and read upwards of 60 books a year, motivating you and giving you the material for groundbreaking business ideas.