How smart people
read books


Many people agree reading is one of the ways to get smarter. However, in many cases, you will meet people who know and read a lot to be quite clueless about how to apply those concepts in life. I met a student who majored in Finance who happened to have learned some of the techniques that private banks use for their clients that I was talking about. While he knows the concept pretty well, he admits that he’s pretty clueless about how to apply that in real life. So, knowledge isn’t always power until you know what it means to you and how you can use it to better your life or those around you. 

I have always been interested in learning how to learn. Previously Blinkist (book apps) wrote a blog about using science to improve your reading game. Here is a 7 steps of better ways to read books to become a better you along with my own experience working as a strategy consultant across many sectors and domain for many years.

#1.Read from a personal angle: Ask yourself what does it mean to you. Tony Robbins said the best strategy to learn anything is to relate what is unknown to what is known to you. The reason why you can’t understand someone or someone can’t understand you is because you or that person don’t / doesn’t understand the topic well enough to talk about it based on the audience’s background. That’s also why when you try to make an engaging presentation, you need to find ways that the audience can relate to. It’s the same when you are reading. You need to find a way to relate to the writing. 

#2. Read with intention: Smart people like Tim Ferris, the author of the 4-hour Workweek call this “Just in time information”. Strategy consultants call this “hypothesis-driven” or “Don’t boil the ocean”. While this application driven approach seems more relevant to business books, it’s equally usefully to use this approach in reading biographies and personal stories. Powerful leaderships like Obama read biographies like the “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela or Team of Rivals about Lincoln. The key here is to keep your brain simulated in similar situations that you read in books.

#3. Get the big picture first. Get the gist of the idea. Understand why the author wrote the book.  Get the basic outline of the book by skimming through the table of contents. Then try to skim through the rest of the book. Don’t make any notes. Force yourself to skim through the book. Train yourself to capture the key words only. Flip through it. Try finding a central theme. And ask yourself what the book is about, what this chapter is about. Your brain learns and retains knowledge better when it’s forced to generate output; merely reading is a one-way learning – ask yourself what you have read is a two way process. 

Insider Tips: Often time people find it hard to do things like reading a book. Because they are making that too big a task. The trick here is to trick your mind into thinking it’s a 5-minute or 10-minute task such as reading the preface or reading the table of content and getting a bird’s eye view about the book. 

#3. Read with curiosity: Come up with a few curiosity questions based on the theme; consider these questions as you read the book. The key is to trigger your the central of your brain – your feeling – your active search of something. 

#4. Create your own structure and record key insights: Identify key points or key themes in the book. In the best case scenario for your learning, you are solving a problem that needs part of the information from the book that you are reading.

#5. Share it with others: This step process works perfectly to retain your learning because you are internalizing what you have learned. By forcing yourself to explain what you have learned in the language that others understand. At the minimal, share what you have learned with your friends. Better yet, use what you have learned to support the point that you are trying to make.

#6. Review your notes and revisit the key points as needed: Now that you have shared with others what you have learned. Or you have a little summary for yourself. What you need to do next is to internalize the concepts. Try telling your friends what you learned from the books and see how well you retain that learning from what you have written down as key points.

#7. Practice this process with another book: Science shows that the more connections you make in your brain, the more you know and the faster you learn. It also explains why when you share with your friends what you learn, you actually learn more in that process of sharing / explaining a concept to your friends in the language that they understand.

As a side effect of working as a consultant, you will develop that super power by getting forced to learn things quickly, use graphical framework to structure your communications, and explain something difficult (e.g. blockchain) in simple terms to your staff, partners, and clients. It is in this process of that you turbocharge the learning. In the 21st century, you will need to constantly learn something new so that you don’t get placed by a Robo (e.g. bankers, lawyers, accountants). That’s why improving your reading game is so important.


CareerTipsHK: Reading, learning, and growing is the way to success in life. And that’s what CareerTipsHK is all about. We want to share with the fundamental skills that will enhance your long term career success.

Like this post? In my Result Coaching I share specific strategies to help you:

  • Figure out what your dream job is
  • Make the right connections 
  • Craft a CV that the hiring manager can’t ignore (even if you’re underqualified)
  • Crush every interview
  • And much more

Most of my advice is very different from other career “experts” or coaches. Check it out here.

Source: Blinkist; Image Credit: Unsplash; Image Effect Credit: Pixlr