(The following is an abbreviated transcription from a video I recorded with Jeff Brown. Please excuse any typos or errors.)
Hey guys, I’m excited today because I got to interview Jeff Brown about how to enjoy reading again (and why it is so important).
He is an author speaker and he runs this fantastic podcast called Read to Lead, which I highly recommend.
It’s been nominated for a lot of really great podcast awards.
Jeff’s really well known for a lot of things. He’s actually somebody who lives in Nashville or Franklin, TN… down south with me.
I recorded the discussion I had with Jeff that you can listen to on our Podcast, or you can opt to watch the video we recorded of our conversation on YouTube, which can be viewed just below.
But, if you would rather read the full transcription, you can do so here in this article! Enjoy.
Bob: Jeff, thank you for taking a few minutes to come to chat with us today.
Jeff: I am excited to be here.
Bob: Jeff just released his book, same name as the podcast called Read to Lead, and I’m really excited about it because I love reading. I actually have had to overcome a dislike for reading for a long time (and had to learn how to love reading books again). Because school unfortunately kind of beat it out of me. I was forced to read and forced to read things I didn’t like. And I learned to dislike reading. As I grew up and once I got out of school, I slowly found my way back into the benefits of reading.
So we’re just going to talk a little bit about that today. But anyway, Jeff, I want to ask you the question that might be obvious at this point, but what’s the single best thing that you can do to improve yourself professionally?
The single best thing that you can do to improve yourself professionally
Jeff: Well in my book, it’s definitely reading. And in my experience, mirrors yours tremendously. I had the desire to read, the desire to learn educated out of me by school and spent the better part of my twenties, not reading at all. It wasn’t until my early thirties, when I sort of had that fire that love for reading, I had as a child rekindle.
Sort of serendipitously through the efforts of the leader that I worked for at the time and Seth Godin. And I got introduced to Purple Cow back in 2003.
Bob: Yeah, great book.
The benefits of starting a reading journey
Jeff: Loved it. And, and my reading journey began really there as an adult. And I’ve been a voracious reader ever since then.
Bob: Yeah, that was what you started this podcast, what like eight years ago or something you’ve been doing this. You started falling in love with reading and started seeing the benefits of it. And that led you to start the podcast and ultimately write the book, right?
Jeff: Yeah. I didn’t know that it was going to become a book eventually, but after about 10 years of, of being a pretty avid, podcast was something that I wanted to explore, but for several years, I wasn’t really sure what I would podcast about (how to discover the wrk you were created for). I was like, what would people listen to me for?
Jeff: And as I was tracking my reading goals early one year, I guess it was 2013, I was adding up the books I had read three months into the year and realized I had read about a book a week. And that kind of surprised me. I didn’t realize I was reading at that pace until about three months into the year.
Jeff: And when I had that thought a light bulb went off. I thought maybe that’s the idea for the podcast I’ve been looking for. I love to read, I read every week, most of the podcasts I listened to were weekly podcasts. You know, I thought maybe I could get some free books out of it. And how cool would it be to have conversations with these authors and maybe through this process I could create a way, much you know, book summaries do, a sort of an audio CliffsNotes and, and be a way for people to have an on-ramp to books or audition books, if you will.
Bob: Yeah. I love that. That’s great.
So yeah, one of the things that I think you talk about in the book is why you need to read like your career depends on it. I have some thoughts on this, but I want to hear what you have to say about this.
Why you need to read like your career depends on it
Jeff: Yeah. I found in my personal career, my personal journey that my career didn’t begin to take off until I was practicing this habit. And I’ve found, and I think this is still the case 20 years later, that when you practice this habit you will be one of the few people doing it. And as I practiced it and began to then execute and experiment with what I was learning through the books I was reading.
The funny thing is, is the things that I tried that failed were quickly forgotten. But the things that I tried based on what I was reading that worked got me noticed. And as I got noticed, I got more and more opportunities to do more and more things.
Formal Education and it’s alternative
Bob: Yeah, that’s good. I went to school for business. I ended up getting a four year business degree. And so when I tell people that I run my own business, they’re like, oh, what’d you go to college for business. So, oh, okay. Well that makes sense. And I’m like, not, not really I know it seems like it, but in reality, if I look at any hints of success that I’ve had with anything in business, to be honest, it didn’t come from school.
It came from the books that I read after I graduated. The books that I paid $15 for or $20 for (and only $1 for some) instead of $150 textbooks (if you need textbooks, learn how to save money on them!). That were kind of outdated in my college curriculum and stuff. You know, and that’s what I’ve always tried to encourage people in. And it’s like the benefits of reading.
How reading improves your finances
Bob: And you know, we talk about finances a lot around here (we’ve even created courses and written books to help our readers!). So it’s been the same way with my financial journey. I was such a mess financially 15-20 years ago, but the books that I’ve read (outside of God’s grace) have been the number one catalyst that have moved us forward on our journey and helped us really just be in a completely different place than we were all those years ago.
So I’m a huge proponent and always advocating for people to just continue to read. And I know, you probably do too, some adults who haven’t read a book like in a decade. You know, and it’s so sad to me because it’s such a potential for growth, you know?
The easiest, cheapest and simplest way to further personal and professional development
Jeff: Yeah. And such a relatively easy one. It’s the easiest, cheapest, simplest way I know of to further your personal and professional development, you hinted at this, but, I’m a big fan of using books to create a curriculum for yourself rather than going back to school and spending all that money.
And I’ve done this a couple of times in my career related to you know, when social media was first coming on strong about 15 or so years ago, 17 years ago, whatever that was. And, and I was in a profession of radio where we were trying to sort of get a handle on what this means for our industry.
How is this going to disrupt us? How are we going to leverage these tools to, you know, more intimately connect with our listeners and all those kinds of things. I created a curriculum for myself and that was some of that experimentation I began doing that got me noticed.
And as that got me noticed, I began being asked to then go present to other factions within the company to share my findings. And so then I thought, well, now I need to read about public speaking because that’s not something I’ve done very much of. And that journey, that curriculum led me to aiding the president of the company in creating his presentation, that he would leverage to share his vision for the company, for the next 10 years.
Creating your own curriculum
Jeff: So none of those things would have happened, have been possible. Had I not been creating that curriculum for myself.
Bob: So what’s really cool about that, and I’m making an assumption here, but when you say you built this curriculum, (and I want to hear what it is) but how many books are in this curriculum that you built? Is this 50 books or was this five to 10?
Jeff: Yeah, it’s much fewer than you think. So in the first instance, probably three or four with regard to social media and social media marketing. And then in the case of public speaking, initially, it was just two. It was Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen, and it was Nancy Duarte slide:ology.
I started with presentation design because when I started I was fearful of public speaking. There weren’t any (at least not that I was aware of) books on that topic, specifically the fear of public speaking. So I deduced that, I would feel a lot more confident presenting if I felt good about my slides.
Jeff: And plus maybe they’d be looking at those instead of looking at me. I don’t think that’s necessarily great advice for public speaking necessarily, but for me at the time, that’s what I felt I needed. And so I started with those two books. Now, since then I’ve read probably 25 or 30 books on public speaking spanning the last 18-20 years.
Jeff: But in the early going, it was just a handful.
Minimal time investment
Bob: So what’s so cool, that I think most people miss, is that reading two books or three to four books isn’t a year long investment. This is literally something that you could do in a week. You can read two books in a week. You can spend 10-15 hours and knock out two books on a subject and have such an advantage over everyone else, in whatever your industry.
That’s what I love so much about the power of reading a good book. But, even any book. Just continue to expand your understanding because it just gives you such a head start. And I think most people think, “oh, I need to go get a four year degree to do this thing.” But you can literally read two books and they will set you apart from everyone else.
It will lead you down this path of becoming an expert in this thing you’re trying to achieve. And you continued to learn and continue to read, but that initial starting point is just not nearly as intense and as big a deal as I think a lot of people think.
Putting in the work after you read
Jeff: Yeah. There’s more work that comes after, in the actual doing you know, because it’s not enough to just read and fill your head with facts and knowledge. And if that’s all you do, you’re kind of wasting everybody’s time.
But once you start taking action on the executing, what you’ve learned and experimenting, as I talked about, that’s where the real work begins and where you truly are able to show off a little bit and and demonstrate your knowledge along the way.
Bob: Yeah, I love that. All right. So one of the things you talk about in the book is technique that you use to double or triple your reading speed. Can we talk about this?
How to double (or triple!) your reading speed
Jeff: Oh, sure. My co-author, Jesse Wisnewski is the expert when it comes to speed reading specifically. However one particular technique that we talk about in the book, but I’m particularly fond of, is quite useful when it comes to a reading non-fiction.
And that is this idea of skimming on the surface. Skimming sounds obvious, but there’s a technique to it. Again, related to non-fiction, that I think is pretty powerful. And so when it starts with non-fiction. I recommend that the first thing you do is begin with the end in mind, as Stephen R Covey is famous for saying.
Begin with the end in mind
Jeff: And that is, decide on a book you’re about to read. Why are you reading it? What is it that you want to get out of that book? What’s the goal of sitting down and reading it in the first place?
Write that down, identify that once you’ve done that. That now informs where you’re going to begin in that book, which isn’t necessarily with chapter number one, look at the table of contents and make a decision as to what chapter or chapters really seem to speak at this goal I’ve set for myself. The purpose I’m reading this book in the first place and start there.
And that may mean reading just three or four chapters from the book, and then you’re done because you’ve got what you needed. You got to the goal, you met the goal. From there, start at the beginning of one of these chapters and read just the headings and the subheadings, and go from beginning to the end of the chapter. And familiarize yourself with the points that the author is making in this particular section of the book.
And then go back to the beginning of that same chapter and allow yourself to read the first and last sentence from each paragraph. You’ll find once you’ve done that for that a whole chapter, you now are able to comprehend and even better retain what you read. Comprehend of course, but understand, retain, remember about 80% of the meat of that chapter.
That’s how most non-fiction books are typically structured in the way we structured our book. You can consume it in that way. Now long-term that’s not something that I would prescribe, especially for books that you do plan to take specific actions on. But in a pinch, in the 11th hour and you’ve got to get it done, you need to get through it that’s one great technique for doing that. And, again, you walk away with most of the key insights and main ideas in the process.
Benefits of speed reading
Bob: So there’s two thoughts that I have about this.
Number one, what I like about this is that I have a stack over here of probably 20-30 books that I want to get to. But I’m in that phase of life where I’m not able to read as much. And so that’s what I like about that is because some of these books, I don’t know if they’re great or not. But this technique allows me to move through quicker and evaluate.
And the second point that I think is really important for someone like me, who struggled with reading was another thing I was hung up on. I always felt, and this is because of school, that if I don’t read every page, every chapter, if I don’t finish the book, then I’ve failed. And I did not accomplish the reading goal (which was not helping me in learning how to love reading books again).
The freedom of not “having to” read an entire book
A hidden key to enjoy reading more
Bob: And that’s something just in the last few years, honestly, I begun to get some freedom on. I’m kind of doing what you’re talking about, where I will actually pick and choose chapters that I want to read. And sometimes I’ll go back and go through the whole book. But by giving myself the freedom to not have to read every page or every single chapter, it takes so much pressure off.
You know what I mean?
Jeff: Yeah, it does. And I believe I’ve gotten to the place finally, because I used to be just like that. What you’re talking about, I got to a place finally, where I give myself the freedom of going on Goodreads and marking that book as read. Even if it only means three or four chapters. Because again, I got out of it what I set to get out of it.
I think it’s okay. Then to mark that as one you’ve actually read. Read, doesn’t necessarily have to mean finished verbatim. Read can mean getting out of it what you set to get out of it.
Bob: Yeah. And that’s such a small and silly point for some people. But there’s plenty of us who are like, I don’t know if I should check it or not because I didn’t read every single page.
It feels good you know. And I just love having the permission to say yes. Yes, I read this book because I got out of it what I wanted to get out of it. It’s really liberating. You know what I mean?
How to get in the habit of reading
Bob: So all this to say, I’d like to talk a little bit about the habit of reading and what this looks like for you. What you’ve learned.
You’ve been talking about this for a long time. How would you encourage someone who just doesn’t have a great reading habit to create a better reading habit.
Jeff: Well, I think the thing to think about at first is to start with what interests you. I think James Clear says in his book, Atomic Habits, if you read toward your interests (and I’m paraphrasing) you’ll never be bored.
And I think a lot of people miss that, they think that reading about things that interest them is somehow cheating. You know, I remember walking in and seeing my boss years ago at his desk reading and thinking that he was goofing off. That was my attitude toward him reading. And sometimes if it interests us, or if it’s not hard, but it’s enjoyable that it’s somehow cheating.
Let go of that.
Read what interests you – it’s the key to enjoy reading books
Jeff: So start with interest. Think about the people that fascinate you. The topics or disciplines or skills that fascinates you (). Maybe the places or the times in history that fascinates you and start there. And then that will prompt you to your interest, to branch out from there and going directions that you would have never have foreseen otherwise (you could read the Bible and learn fun ways to memorize scripture!)
So that’s where I’d begin. A lot of people say to me, “Jeff I want to be able to read a book a week or a book a month, and I just can’t seem to make that happen. How do you do it? How do you read a book a week?” And one of the first questions I’ll ask back to them sort of ingest is, “Hey, before we get to that, tell me about some of your favorite TV shows.” Because I’d love to know what some of those are.
And when they get to about TV show number three or four, they go, “Oh, I see. I see what you did there.” There might be some things you’re doing, that you do hours a day that are taking away from other opportunities to do more impactful things.
Scheduling the time
I’m not saying that watching television is bad, I’ve got my Netflix and Hulu and whatever subscriptions (yes you can still watch sports if you cut cable!), too. But I’ve also put reading as a place in my life of high enough importance that I actually schedule time to do it.
Now I was sharing that with somebody earlier this week and they were like, I love reading so much. I just do it without having to think about it. It’s the other things that I have to schedule the reading would get in the way of. And if that’s you, great.
But if you’re struggling with making reading a priority, my recommendation is to schedule it and protect it like you would any other meeting or appointment. Only then is it taking a place of importance it probably needs in your life.
And so when someone comes to me and asks for a piece of my time, if that time overlaps with time I’ve set aside to read, I can make a choice. I can decide to acquiesce and give up that reading time knowing I might make it up later or what have you. Or I can look at that on my schedule and go back to that person and say, “well, you know, I’ve got an appointment at that at that time. Can we do this a different time?”
So treat appointments with yourself, especially appointments having to do with reading, just like you would treat any other appointment.
It’s okay to say “no”
Jeff: And we’re in this mindset. I think a lot of us have, of when someone asks for our time, not that we shouldn’t be helpful and participate where we’re needed.
But oftentimes when someone asks for our time, we default to yes. And if we say, no, we feel like we have to defend no to that person when no can be a complete sentence. Surprise! And I think instead we need to learn to default to no. And if we are going to say yes, we need to be able to defend yes to ourselves.
Bob: That’s so good. I was thinking about, as you were saying, I was thinking about Stephen Covey, because you had mentioned him before. I’m trying to think of where I was going with that. But yeah, like this whole idea of. It’s just fascinating as we’re talking about this.
I’m just realizing, and working through all these things that I’ve developed in school that have affected my reading, which have, you know we’ve talked about the benefits of reading have affected the rest of my life because of some of these simple mindsets and some of these guilted things and you know, a little bit of a tangent here, but yeah, when we’re talking about scheduling things, I think there’s so many people who struggle with this.
Reading is important
Bob: Just this idea of, well… this is reading. This isn’t important.
And, circling back to Stephen Covey, just the idea of the big rocks versus the small rocks. You know, the things that aren’t urgent, but they’re actually really important. And reading is one of those things that should be, if we really want to advance and grow in our career and our business and our spiritual maturity or any other way. Readings should be part of that equation.
And so it is very important, even though it’s not urgent in most cases so many of us. Especially in the 21st century world where it’s just nonstop distractions. We default to whatever is urgent. And so we’re just running towards wherever the fires are and taking them out, rather than having the boldness to say “no, I’m busy. I can’t make this appointment because I’m reading.” And you don’t have to tell people that, but it can just be “I have an appointment.”
I have an appointment with myself to read. This is what I do on this day, at this time and schedule it.
Jeff: And I think the person who does not read, I’m going to say it arrogantly, a person who says I don’t need to read or I don’t want to read is basically saying I don’t need to think.
Bob: Wow. I love that.
Reading fiction is a good start to creating a reading habit
Bob: So, you know, one of the things I wanted to touch on because basically I feel like we’ve mostly been talking through the lens of non-fiction. And I’ve found some people that I’ve talked to, who I’ve tried to encourage more in the direction of reading and it might be different for each person, but I found that some people agreed reading fiction can be a better on ramp to the habit of reading.
Because essentially, what you’re doing is like you’re watching a movie. If it’s a great piece of fiction, you’re essentially watching a movie in your mind’s eye and then many times it’s more. It’s better than you could see on Netflix or anything else.
And so you get a really good fiction book. It gets hard to put it down and that can be a good on-ramp to the habit don’t you think?
Reading for improving creativity for empathy
Jeff: I absolutely agree. And I think it’s often missed in studies and research backs this up that reading fiction can be great for improving creativity for empathy.
You begin to see perspectives from the perspectives of different characters in a story. And these skills or these things that you read about these characters you read about, sometimes you don’t even realize what you’re learning, something from that reading and transferring it to real life.
Suddenly you have empathy for that person over there in part, because of that story. You read where there was someone in a similar situation that you had empathy for it. So, fiction is great for many of the soft skills to creativity and communication a chief among them.
Bob: Yeah. I personally do not read much fiction. And I want to read more. I just haven’t really developed a strong habit of doing it. But I’ve noticed, and I remember hearing, I forgot who, but a couple of different people talk about it. It seems logical that if you want to learn a skill, you should read nonfiction specifically teaching about this topic.
Fiction can inform and educate, too
Bob: But there are arguments presented that you can learn a lot of these lessons through fiction and in some cases a whole lot better through fiction. Through hearing a story. We all know how important stories are and getting us to remember and hang on to a concept or idea. So anyway, yeah. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Jeff: Well, I totally agree. I think fiction, as we were saying earlier, is often overlooked. You know, in non-fiction too doesn’t necessarily mean to that side of the equation. We tend to think that well reading non-fiction means I’ve got a to-do list whenever I finish, right?
Of these things to go out and execute. And I mentioned some of that earlier about the importance of taking action, what you’re learning. But sometimes we’re reading even non-fiction just for how it impacts our thinking. Right? It’s okay to read non-fiction and fiction for just how it impacts your thinking and not to have necessarily a to do list, that comes after.
The benefit of reading biographies
Bob: Yeah. And speaking of non-fiction, I think some people don’t think of in terms of non-fiction books, but like biographies. Where it’s essentially a story, but a real story. And I remember Andy Andrews, author who sold millions of books, talked about apparently he was homeless living on the beach and this was his on-ramp. He just started reading biography after biography of really successful men and women. And that just started affecting his thinking, just reading how some of these brilliant and really successful people in the past have thought.
And so there’s real power in that, even though it’s not a five steps to do this thing, just reading someone’s life and their journey and their story can be really powerful.
Jeff: It’s one of my favorite genres. I’ve read the Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin biographies written by Walter Isaacson. And another author who’s written a number of biographies on creative people. Speaking of which is Brian Jay Jones, and I’m reading a biography he wrote on the George Lucas. And he’s also written biographies on Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss, which I’ve read and Jim Henson from the Muppets among others.
Bob: That’s cool. That’s really great. Yeah. And that’s another area where I’ve read full biographies, but and every time I do, I can see some of their thinking seeping in. And so, yeah, I want more of that. I want to add more of that to my list. Jim Rome has a quote that I love. He said “the difference between where you are today and where you’ll be in five years from now will be found in the quality of the books you’ve read.” I’m like well said.
Jeff: Man, after my own heart.
Read To Lead Book
Bob: Yep. All right. So your book comes out August 31st, 2021, correct?
Jeff: Yeah, it’s readtoleadbook.com. If you’re able to pre-order, when you choose our publisher Baker Books as your vendor (as the place you order the book from), it’s 40% off from Baker, but that is only through August 31st (2021).
So if you’re hearing this before, then readtoleadbook.com get 40% off. And then the bonuses include a mini course that my coauthor, Jesse and I have put together. There’s a bonus chapter that wasn’t included. Not because it’s not good, but it wasn’t included because Jeff didn’t get it done in time. That has turned out to be my wife’s favorite chapter of all.
And so only the people who pre-ordered, the book are going to get that and you get the audio book for free. So if you’re an audio book fan, pre-order the physical book. Know that you’re going to get the audio book absolutely free! There’s some other stuff in there as well.
Bob: That’s awesome. All right, great. That’s cool. All right, so everybody run, check that out. And I appreciate you taking the time to come chat, so it was good hanging out. We should do it again.
Jeff: Well, thank you for having me. And I will add that if you’re interested in the book and it’s after August 31st, you can still get the introduction and the first chapter for free as well.
Jeff: Thanks for having me, I really appreciate being here.
Bob: All right. Thanks Jeff. Take care.
If school made you hate reading, have you learned how to enjoy it again?
Let us know in the comments!