A lot of futurist writers, including me, have indicated that the world of work will be much different in 5 to 20 years. In particular we have talked about jobs and the advent of robots and other forms of artificial intelligence taking over what we do from day to day. I have talked about the skills that humans will need to have in order to remain relevant. In one such post I specifically wrote about the importance of reading. I want to explore that skill in greater depth.
It Is Not Just About Amount
Reading both today and in the future is a skill that business leaders, including human resources leaders, need to have. There are major advantages derived from reading widely. These include:
1. A greater exposure to different ways of thinking, certainly an essential for someone in human resources
2. A bigger vocabulary
3. Broadened cultural references
4. Reduced stress
5. Increased knowledge
6. More empathy; certainly a skill that artificial intelligence will not possess for quite some time
7. Building critical thinking skills
8. Improved focus
9. Improved writing skills
10. Developing problem-solving skills
Reading, however, just for the sake of gaining knowledge will not keep you safe from the robots. IBM’s Watson has more book knowledge than you will ever be able to acquire. Humans will never win based on the amount of things they know. What is the distinguishing factor is the ability to reflect on the things we read.
Reflecting On What You Have Read
Shane Parrish, the author of Farnam Street, wrote a piece in Time about philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s premise was that reading just for the sake of reading could be detrimental. He says “And so it happens that the person who reads a great deal — that is to say, almost the whole day, and recreates himself by spending the intervals in thoughtless diversion, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who is always riding at last forgets how to walk.”
Parrish feels “It’s important to take time to think about what we’re reading and not merely assume the thoughts of the author. We need to digest, synthesize, and organize the thoughts of others if we are to understand. This is the grunt work of thinking. It’s how we acquire wisdom.” For me this is the “humanness” of reading that will help us preserve our jobs in the face of robots. We will not be able to out acquire knowledge. We will not be able to beat them in speed of recall. What we can do however, is create new associations and new thoughts by reflecting on what we read. This ability will continue to make us unique in our abilities and help preserve our value in the world of work.
We Do Need More
At a time where 28% of the population reads no books on an annual basis and another 25% reads fewer than 5 books a year it is important to read more. It has been said numerous times “Leaders are readers.” But the amount you read is matched in importance to the reflection you do on reading. If you read about leaders you will find they often re-read powerful books. They write about what they read and they apply the lessons they learn. Often these lessons are learned from reading fiction.
So grab a book. Read the book. Apply some thought to what you have read. Then apply your own take to what you have acquired.
Photo credit: Master isolated images.