Problem solving, self-discipline, adaptability and empathy are some of the most valuable skills that companies look to attract and retain in their people.
When done the right way, reading allows us to develop and strengthen many of the cognitive skills and qualities that we’ve listed above.
Many companies, however, overlook how effective reading non-fiction can be for their people’s workplace development pushing instead for courses, conferences and the like. The trouble with that is, some people learn best from books.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of World Book Day, we’re going to take a closer look at the importance of reading for personal and professional growth.
We’ve also provided some tips on how to get the most out of non-fiction books to help you action these learnings beyond the page.
Reading as a Learning Style
Before we go into more detail about why reading non-fiction is valuable for your people’s development, let’s take a closer look at it as a learning style.
A person’s learning style refers to how they receive and absorb information, as well as which resources and exercises suit them best.
One of the most popular frameworks to describe learning styles is the VARK model, which was designed by Neil Fleming in 1987.
This theory divides people’s learning into four different styles:
Although one learning style tends to dominate, it’s also common for people to use a combination of the above.
Once you have a better understanding of what your people’s learning styles are, you’ll be able to direct them towards resources that best suit their learning needs.
For the reading and writing learners in your organisation, this would involve helping them choose the right books or articles for the skills they’re hoping to develop.
It would also be helpful for them to know how to take effective notes while they read so that they can action their learnings. We’ll show you how to do this later in this article.
If you choose resources that don’t cater for your people’s needs, it’s likely that the learning will be disengaging, ineffective and forgettable.
Ignoring the reading and writing learning styles of your people will also make upskilling more challenging.
The Benefits of Reading Non-Fiction for Personal and Professional Development
The growing popularity of podcasts and videos has meant that companies have started overlooking more traditional learning materials like reading and writing.
In the next section, we take a closer look at why non-fiction books still have a significant place in workplace learning and highlight some of the benefits they can offer your people.
Reading Allows You to Learn from the Best
One of the key benefits of reading non-fiction is that it allows people to learn from experts and thought leaders.
Similar to receiving coaching from a mentor, reading allows you to better understand the mistakes and problems others have encountered in their careers.
Non-fiction books also provide your people with practical tips on how to avoid or navigate similar situations.
Many people also forget how efficient reading as a learning style can be. Reading non-fiction books by experts gives you the knowledge it took someone else decades to learn in just a few chapters.
It Exposes You to New or Different Perspectives
Hundreds of thousands of new non-fiction books are published worldwide each year. This means that there is an unlimited source of knowledge for your people to benefit from.
Not only is there a huge selection of topics to enjoy, but each book exposes readers to new perspectives that expand their thinking and opinions.
This allows readers to challenge and develop their own beliefs while learning more about a topic that they’re interested in.
Reading and learning from different perspectives also helps people grow as individuals, as well as form more holistic and well-informed opinions that are valuable for all businesses.
Reading Non-Fiction Teaches You Practical Skills
Non-fiction books discuss real-world ideas, theories and help us develop practical skills.
From improving our communication skills to becoming better leaders, there is an endless list of learnings that non-fiction books can help us apply in the workplace.
Non-Fiction Books Encourage Critical Thinking
Although non-fiction books are popular because they help people find solutions or answers to particular problems, they’re also sought after for the questions they raise.
Think about Yuval Noah Harari’s popular non-fiction book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
This book encourages the reader to question a variety of preconceived ideas about the world we live in and our belief systems.
Not only do non-fiction books like Sapiens spark our intellectual curiosity, but they also help us to think more critically about our opinions.
For example, this may mean thinking more deeply and analytically about issues in the workplace to find more creative or efficient solutions.
Reading Is Good for Mental Health
We’ve all heard that reading is good for the soul, but research by the University of Sussex has shown that it’s also good for our minds.
In the study, the researchers found that reading for six minutes a day reduced stress by as much as 68%.
Many non-fiction books also provide readers with strategies on how to better manage their work-life balance, stress levels and mental health.
When your people are less stressed, they will be better equipped to do their best work for your company and generally live healthier lives.
How to Get the Most Out of Reading for Workplace Development
One of the reasons non-fiction books are overlooked as impactful learning resources is because people don’t know how to action them effectively.
Below, we have outlined some tried and tested tips on how you can get the most out of books and apply your learnings beyond the page.
Be More Efficient by Skim-Reading
This is a selective reading method where you only focus on the main ideas of the text.
When skim reading, you deliberately skip the sections that provide data, stories or elaborate on finer details.
Instead, you only focus on reading the introduction, the first and last sentences of paragraphs, bold words and chapter summaries.
Not only will this cut down on the time you spend reading, but it will also allow you to focus on the author’s main message and the sections that really grab your interest.
Take Detailed Notes
One of the best ways to remember what you learn from non-fiction texts is to take notes as you read.
These notes can be written or typed—remember, digital notes are easier to search through!
Whatever your preferred note-taking style is, make sure that you format your notes in a way that allows you to action your learnings.
For example, you could write down an idea and then make a note of how you will embody that idea in your personal or professional life.
This will help you capture relevant information and refer back to any key ideas or lessons at a later stage.
Tips for Taking Notes in Physical Books
Using highlighters, pencils and sticky notes are great ways to skim and take notes in physical books.
I always used to be against this because I didn’t want to ‘ruin’ the book, but I’ve come around to the idea. Books are learning tools and it’s okay if they look used!
It’s also important that you have a structure for your note-taking. For example, you could underline sentences that are thought-provoking and highlight important details.
You could also use a certain colour pen to write down action items, but make all of your general notes in black.
Tips for Taking Notes on Digital Reading Platforms
If you’re someone who prefers reading on a Kindle, make sure that you use the highlighting feature.
This is an easy way to highlight different sections in the book that capture big ideas.
If you want to add more context or write down how you would action it, you can also manually type a note about why you selected that section.
Using a Kindle also allows you to sync your notes to a database like Readwise or Instapaper.
These platforms make it easy to keep your notes in one convenient location and keep track of your learnings.
Use Books as a Stepping Stone to Discover More
It’s important to remember that learning doesn’t need to end with a book.
Instead, you should see non-fiction books as a way to find topics or ideas that you want to follow up in depth, or to learn about other perspectives.
Make a note of these ideas and look for other resources like podcasts, videos or courses to expand your learning on the topic.
Find Ways to Take Your Learnings Beyond the Book
Reflect on the Learnings
You don’t need to finish a book and start actioning it right away.
In fact, it can be helpful to press pause and come up with a plan on how to apply the learnings to your professional and personal life.
Join or Form a Workplace Book Club
It can also be incredibly valuable to find or form a book club around what you’re reading.
Not only can discussion groups really help you process and action learnings more effectively, but they can also help you identify lessons that you didn’t pick up on.
For example, we held a book club session on How to Own the Room by Viv Groskop and Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Many of our people said that this helped them better understand key concepts, develop critical thinking around the content and explore different ways to action the learnings.
Keep Your Learnings Close By
When you find a book that has learnings you want to action, make sure that you put them in a place where you will see them every day.
One of the most efficient ways you can do this is to stick the notes you’ve taken on the mirror where you get ready each morning.
Now that many of us work from home, you can also keep the books you’re trying to action on your desk or somewhere else within reach. Pick it up and reread an impactful paragraph to kickstart your day.
Instead of just closing the book and forgetting about the learnings, this will help reinforce the book’s lessons and remind you to apply them every day.
Make the Most Out of Your Reading
In this article, we’ve seen just how important and effective reading non-fiction books can be for our personal and professional development.
Not only does it give us the opportunity to learn from experts and discover new perspectives, but it also helps us grow as individuals and develop our critical thinking skills.
The tips we’ve provided will help you make the most out of reading and spark new ideas on how you can take your learnings beyond the page.
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