The Need To Read: Neglect It At Your Own Risk

“I don’t read books.” “The last time I picked up a book? Maybe back in undergrad.” “Books? I’m too busy to read.”

In a time when it is possible to carry an entire personal library on a mobile device that is thinner than most elementary school workbooks, it is mind-boggling to me that there are people who can say–even boast–that they do not read books. This is especially alarming when I hear this from young African Americans, who have as much to gain as anyone from the immense return on investment of intellectual curiosity that only books can deliver. Worse, increasingly, I am meeting far too many older adults–I’m talking college-educated professionals and business owners–who openly admit that they don’t see reading books as worthy of their time and attention. They might as well hand out business cards that read, “I’m good with mediocrity. I’m done with learning. I’m too busy to excel.”

BE 100s CEOs; top corporate executives; accomplished entrepreneurs; successful investors; and leaders in religion, sports, entertainment, academia, and politics–including nearly all U.S. presidents (yes, including President Obama)–have one thing in common. They recognize that reading books is an invaluable act of continual learning and personal growth, of expanding the capacity to recognize opportunity, of developing the robust imagination necessary for innovation. Self-education, an eye for opportunity, and the ability to innovate is quite simply the universal formula for lasting success and wealth.

The wealthiest, most successful, most powerful people in the world read books. They reread books. They never stop reading books. They are endlessly committed to their own continuing education, to learning what they need to know to attain and sustain their wealth, power, and influence. Are there exceptions to this? I’m sure there are. But there are also people who live to a ripe old age despite smoking, abusing alcohol, and consuming a diet laden with sugar and fat. The fact that it’s possible to survive self-destructive habits is a poor excuse for embracing them. Similarly, that it’s possible to get through life without reading books is sorry justification for not reading them.

The best part about reading books is that no matter what the topic of the book, or the genres you are partial to–biographies, novels, humor, self-help, how-to, mysteries, etc.–the mind-expanding benefits are the same. For example, my passion for books on military history would seem to have little relevance to my life as a business owner and publisher. However, those tales of men and war have proven invaluable to my understanding of the principles of leadership, business strategy, and motivating others that have been key to my business success.

To reject or forgo reading books is to embrace mediocrity–period. If you are going to excel in business, and in life, you can’t learn everything you need to know to set and achieve your goals from TV, the Internet, and social media updates. None of these stimulate the mind and fuel the imagination the way books do. Attending conferences and seminars is good, but not enough. All of these are great resources, but none are substitutes. It doesn’t matter if you read them on bound paper or an electronic device, or even as an audio book. If you are committed to your own success, you need to read books.