Reading Best Selling Business Books is overrated!

Or maybe not.

The truth is that like most things in life, it depends on our expectations. But what do we really expect from the experience of reading non fiction books? Without oversimplifying it, there are three thing that we are usually looking for:

a) Tools

b) Ideas

c) Life Solutions

Our expectations and the value that we will get from the book vary across these three broad categories. Let’s see how:

Tools: Buying a book to learn a skill is probably a good investment provided that you are determined to learn this new skill. It also implies that you have real needs and real questions that you are trying to address, so chances are that you will manage to pull some tools and insights that you will be able to use. So this is usually a good investment of time and money, unless the skills you are trying to acquire are unrealistic considering your starting point.

Ideas: This can be trickier. It can be as broad as staying up to speed with latest thinking…finding conversation starters to look smart at the next cocktail party, or just getting a nice coffee table book. A lot of us do that. You are at the airport killing time. Or you walk into a Barnes and Nobles between meetings. Or you just stop by a friend’s house and you see the latest books on the coffee table. Nudge. Tipping Point. The world is Flat. There is a n unlimited production of books on trends and “new thinking”. Inviting covers. Catchy phrases. And who knows? The promise of an insight or two that can provide a return on our “investment”. But research suggests that we don’t read most the books that we buy. We read a few pages and “get the idea”. Then something happens and we lose momentum. (It’s like going to the gym. It only takes one day to throw you off schedule). Then, another interesting book comes along and the cycle starts all over again.

Life Solutions: this is probably were expectations are much higher and consequently, less likely to be met. Granted it’s a very tall order for a book, any book, to change your life. But then again, this is a real need… a cry for help among a large share of the population. Numerous studies suggest that happiness is a U-shaped curve and usually dips when people reach their 30’s and 40’s. This is where people need to come to terms with who they are and who they are becoming. Not an easy thing.

So this is where books come to “save the day”: Change your career. Find happiness. Start your own business. Become a millionaire. This is where people expect a defining moment or an epiphany to come from the experience of reading a book. And how often does this really happen? After all, there are a lot of untalented people with no real insight writing books for this audience, so what are the chances, really? Best case scenario, people will be inspired and live the dream for a week. Talk to their wife and friends about their new plans and ideas. And then go back to normal. But then there is this other group of people that will do something about it. Quit their job, make a big leap and change their life. For better or for worse.

So here is the surprise. Maybe it’s not about the type of book after all that defines the result. Maybe it’s more about the type of person that drives the same result again and again. Behavioral studies in health care have proved that the single most important predictor of medication adherence is past behavior. The same probably holds true for books:

As we are trying to reinvent ourselves, we constantly repeat ourselves.

So next time you are about to buy a book take a deep breath and ask yourself: how did you use the last book that you bought? Did you read it? Did you change anything in your life because of the book. (even the smallest thing) Regardless of the answer you can still buy the book. But this time you maybe a little cleared about the expectations.