How to read and seeing the invisible

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We have a problem. You are reading this (although possibly for not much longer): so why on earth should you read about how to read when you can already read? Because there is a huge difference between reading for pleasure and reading for business.

I thought I knew how to read, until I came across Andrew. We were all sitting in the old fashioned partners’ office.  We thought we were all pretty bright, except for Andrew. If we shone as brightly as a hundred watt bulb, he was a solitary, spluttering candle. But much to our annoyance, all the staff reckoned that Andrew was brighter than the rest of us.

One day, I saw Andrew scribbling away. I asked him what he was doing. “I have some associates coming in with a paper to test me” he said. That surprised me: I had always thought that was our chance to test them, not the other way around. “They want to see if I can add any value to their draft. So I am making some notes”. He then patiently explained to me how he would pass his associates’ reading test. He had three rules:

  1. “Make a note of my point of view on the paper. They are all smart, and I do not want to get caught up in their internal logic.” That hurt. I was always getting caught up in the internal logic of what I was reading: I would then find it hard to come up with an original insight.
  2. “Make a list of all the topics that I expect to see covered. That helps me see the invisible: what they have not covered in their paper”. I was starting to see why they thought Andrew was so smart. I never spotted the invisible until too late: after they had left the room.
  3. “Outline a few coaching points I can cover, so that they feel they have got something out of me”. Now I started to see why they not only thought Andrew was smart, but they liked him as well.

I had discovered that reading for pleasure and reading for business are completely different. Reading for pleasure means reading with an open mind, and enjoying the journey of discovery. Reading for business means reading with prejudice and with purpose. Eventually, I found that just a couple of minutes preparation before seeing a paper or hearing a presentation would make me a much more critical and effective reader and listener. Some people even started to think I might be smart. Getting to be liked was entirely different challenge…

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