You should start Reading and Connect the dots

A few months back I came across a video where Bill Gates talked about how the next big threat humanity faces, will be an epidemic — a disease rather than a nuclear war.

Fast forward by 5 years — we face Covid-19.

How could he have known about this?

The Visionaries

The fact that they know, makes them a visionary. Their vision not only helps them infer about political, healthcare, or the next challenge humanity will face, but also helped them in making their extraordinary careers and leave a mark on the history. These people have changed the way we live. One can only dream of being such great.

But the questions remain unanswered.

  • How can these people infer the future?
  • Why have their experiments, their products have been so successful?

This made me go into a research mode, to find what they did differently.

And the answer I got from learning about Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, and almost all successful visionaries was — They Read.

Yes, they read a lot. They started from an early age and never stopped.

Buffett reads news articles, books, 10-K financials for all the hours he works in a day, Bill Gates reads books and technology patents. Elon Musk has admitted reading for at least 2 hours a day every day.

I am getting acquainted with Economics and Finance, so I started following big names in the field. Chris Haroun was the first I got to know (I completed his finance courses on Udemy), and he recommends reading 10–Q and 10-K of a company (even though the financials are available in excel format on the investor relations website), Warren Buffett’s first Business-centric book was How to win friends and Influence People (Not The Intelligent Investor).

One thing I knew, I got to read!!!! And when I started, I failed miserably.

How can someone who can write this medium article, fail at reading?

I wasn’t reading the right way. It took me a lot of time to cover a small portion of a book and had almost no comprehension when I was done with a section, except the points I wrote out.

How to Read

I have never read anything except academic books, that too most were summarized notes. After a lot of searching for resources to tackle this problem, I compiled the below pointers that help me, and they can help you.

Don’t subvocalize

Read with your eyes, not your voice.

Subvocalization is pronouncing the words that you are reading either with your mouth, or in your brain. Maybe you’re doing it now as well. And we are taught to read in this way. But this is a bottleneck if we want to read faster, and to retain information. Why?

Let me demonstrate you with the diagram below –

Speaking a sentence takes time as we pronounce each word as its spoken. Speaking using mouth and inner voice is not so different when compared. Also, retaining images in memory is much easier than retaining text.

It is a habit most of us are following from when we were born. And it will take much more than a few months to get out of it.

There are many resources available that can help us pave a path away from this habit, few pointers that I got are —

  1. Use background Music — You can use background non-intrusive (maybe instrumental) music while reading. Personally, it didn’t work for me as I’m a music fanatic.
  2. Engage Inner voice — You can engage the inner voice to count 1,2,3,4 repeatedly, and you can visualize the words written. (Works well when paired with monotonous background sound as noise cancellation)
  3. Engage Mouth — If you also have a habit to pronounce words with your mouth, you can chew gum to keep your mouth busy.

Visual Markers

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Our brains can process an image much faster than text, so it makes sense to read from our eyes rather than the inner voice. A perfect reader would be able to create visual images from the words she sees, without pronouncing the text.

We can train our brain to create Visual Markers from a section of text that we read encoding the relevant share of the text in the image.

FlashCards

The best thing about memories is making them.

Creating flashcards or simple outlined notes helped me a lot to retain learnings from what I read. I can go through them as I want, re-assess the visual markers.

It helps to retain the learnings, and when you read more you can connect the ideas.

Apply

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. — Bruce Lee

This is my personal favorite. Every time I gain an insight from the text, I also try to relate it to what I have already read, and how can I use this latest information. It can be as meager and simple as the small mistake I did while shorting a stock.

Practice

Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do. — Bob Ross

To get better at what you want, you practice. Reading is no different. And it will help if you start with some genre you are interested in, fiction/non-fiction it doesn’t matter. You can always find easy books in the genre to start with. (I started with Finance and found my easy book — How to win friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie).

A friend suggested reading Goosebumps by R.L Stein to get started, and this is what I’ll be spending my next few reading hours on.

Connect the Dots — Steve Jobs

While reading a book on behavioral Economics (Thinking, Fast and Slow, By Daniel Kahneman), I read about two systems our brain has,

  1. System 1 — The quick, intuitive, always working fellow which we shouldn’t trust to make the right decisions always.
  2. System 2 — The rational being who works on logic but is slower.

A simple demonstration would be when you are uneasy (can be due to hunger, less sleep), your System 1 is primed to be more active and makes decisions for you — which can be irrational sometimes. You tend to ignore system 2 which requires effort.

The gist of the book is how to tackle your System 1 instincts and be more rational by priming System 2.

After this, I came across Sales/Business methodology book How to Win Friends and Influence People (By Dale Carnegie). He talks about simple but effective tactics to use as a business leader, or a salesman, or even in normal lives (though, I recommend limiting to professional). And many of the sections give an idea of not doing what seems to be your first instinct —

  1. The other person is wrong? Don’t just say it just like that.
  2. If the person is shouting? You shouldn’t start to do the same.

And this was my first “AHA” moment in reading, when I realized the author is asking to use System 2, and not System 1. (Interestingly these books are written 60 years apart.)

The more I read, I try to connect the dots.

Bill gates in this interview says,

Reading is like fitting the learnings into already placed blocks, increasing your knowledge base (Mind-Map/Mind Palace — you can call it anything).

Some Suggestions

Reading is one of the things I didn’t do for a long time. But now that I have started, it only makes me think why I didn’t start it earlier. And for this situation, I got a Chinese proverb that goes —

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best is now.

You must start learning and practicing this amazing skill. The insights I gained from the past few months, makes me wonder about the power of reading. There are a lot of changes happening and we can explore the ideas and connect the dots using reading. Best of luck.

That’s All Folks 😃

I am a software developer with some skills spread out to soccer, boxing and badminton.