Keeping Ahead of the Wave

You’ve probably noticed by now, things around you are changing and changing faster.  Which means it gets tougher to see problems and issues before they arise and actually practice Strategic Problem Anticipation.  Or what we might call Defensive Driving in Life, or Defensive Living.

Once upon a time, when we got a telephone at home it came with two things: a wire (now called a landline) and a black, rotary dial phone.  The rotary dial phone could last for over 40 years and still work fine, and most of the wires are still with us.

Today, people change phones every six months or so, phones are wireless, they have more computing power than I had for my thesis, there is at least one per person, and there are app updates daily.

More information flows much more freely, which brings news of changes much more rapidly, which puts heavy pressure on just keeping up, much less ahead.

This affects everyone, from large organizations down to individuals.  How must one manage one’s life and career under such circumstances?  How can you count on growing in a career and being recognized as a value-adding asset?  Regardless if you are a new hire, a middle manager, or an executive, it boils down to one critical habit:

Read.

Not just occasionally, but continuously.  From many sources.  Don’t read just tweets, read books.  Read articles from well-regarded sources and experts (authors as well as publishers).  Read from different genre, different subjects, different viewpoints.  But READ.  The problem now isn’t finding enough things to read, but to filter out the c–p so that there’s only the good stuff remaining.

I have found that there are various reasons to read, and for me they fall into the following simple categories.

First, I read to Relax, to enter into a different world.  I read books (those paper thingies), as well as e-books on my Kindle reader, and I subscribe to numerous newsletters and e-zines.  I take these with me on vacations, the further away the vacation the more electronic they are, the longer the vacation the more of them there are.  Granted, vacations are for relaxing so my favorites tend towards fiction, historical fiction, short stories, and light reading.  I don’t feel the least bit guilty for falling asleep while reading, either.  Unless it’s on the beach.  The mind relaxes and gets rejuvenated when it enters into another world.

Next, I read to Review, to Renew, to Revitalize.  One could also call this Resurrection because it typically means I need to go back and bring back to life what I once knew (long) ago and haven’t needed to use in quite a while.  I need first to refamiliarize myself with what I once thought I knew, make sure I understand that again, and then progress to deal with becoming familiar with what has changed since I was last paying attention.  Usually I choose to engage in this form of reading only when there is a project or a process that I need, or want, to become involved in.  I have also been known to grab a textbook on Calculus and read chapters before falling asleep at night.  While this shocked some of my students, they failed to realize that reading material of this nature was often useful for putting oneself to sleep.

With higher aspirations, I read to Test what I believe, to test my hypotheses about life, my worldview, and the things that impact my life daily, and to confirm them or make changes where appropriate.  After all, I recognize that I will never have all the information so there are probably holes that need to be filled.  Or bricks changed in their position.  Perhaps considering another’s viewpoint, information and experiences might confirm what I believe, or convince me to change it.  On the other hand, another’s viewpoint might be shown to be misguided due to missing information.  But in every case, the testing always goes on.  That’s what hypotheses are for.

But I primarily read to Learn.  We are meant to be constantly growing; constant growth is an investment in yourself.  Being honest, all of the previous reasons fall more or less into this category.  I can tap into other sources more expert than I am to glean information that was missing and hopefully come to a new level of understanding.  Maybe even synthesize something new.  I can also hone my writing and communication skills by experiencing how other writers express themselves and their ideas.  If you can learn something new with casual reading, just think what can be accomplished by directed reading.

How did this approach to reading come about?  Through slow growth in understanding.  Early on in school reading was something that was, to be honest, forced upon us.  Part of the reason was exposure to the material, the information, but another part was establishing the reading habit, the needed skill.  Later in education, college and graduate school, it was the process by which one could find pieces to puzzles, the missing or new information that was needed in order to practice the “synthesis” that showed an increase in understanding.  In a career it was often a reality that you were put in charge of a project or process, and there was no expert available or going to be hired because, bingo, you were to become that person.  And that would lead to understanding a very worthwhile extension of Fundamental Principle 11 for career and life:

I Read; I Do; I Become.

This is closely related to the old saying, “If I hear, I forget; if I see, I remember; if I Do, I understand.”  It is also said, “Leaders are readers.”  Nothing could be closer to the truth.

This is an incredibly simple approach to keep ahead of the change/growth wave in career as well as life, to increase the value you can add, and be better prepared to deal with the forces that life constantly throws at you.

Why not pick up a good book or article today?

One new book I recently picked up was an incredible book in an almost entirely new genre for me, Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History.  I’ve decided to digress in the near future from my plans for the blog, first to bring together some thoughts that may show how I think the blog and Toynbee’s book dovetail, and second to show how that happened through the experience of the Read, Do, Become process.

Stay tuned.

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About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 02: Value Added, A Definition, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing, 11: Growth, Career and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Keeping Ahead of the Wave

  1. Jim – I’ve often heard the old saw “leaders are readers.” I think that a better one is “leaders pursue knowledge.” One method in pursuing knowledge is reading…(BTW, I also read to relax!)

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    • Jim Edmonds says:

      It truly is the pursuit of knowledge on the way to wisdom (ofttimes acquired through the School of Hard Knocks) that’s the key. I think the “Leaders are Readers” sticks with us as it rolls off the tongue more easily, and is probably stored in a wider, easier accessed cubby hole in our minds.

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