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Balancing the Books

If you've got too much reading to digest, try changing the menu.
March 1, 2003
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/59738

If stacks of reading material are starting to gather dust and rot on your desk, or if you find yourself feeling guilty because you can't seem to get through every single business book other people have recommended, maybe the problem isn't that you're trying to read too much--it's that you're just trying to read the wrong things.

Of course, as an entrepreneur, you'll always need to keep up with trade journals and the latest business news. But that shouldn't consume the bulk of your reading time, according to Steven B. Sample, president of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and author of The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership (Jossey-Bass).

Sample recommends you focus on "supertexts"--that is, texts that are 400 years old or even older, such as those written by ancient philosophers Plato, Socrates and Homer. "Leadership, as opposed to management, is all about getting people to change and understanding human nature," Sample explains. "It's the supertexts that give us the best insight into the unchanging properties of human nature."

But even Sample decides to read a more current book from time to time. That's exactly the kind of balance that Tim Sanders, chief solutions officer at Yahoo! and the author of Love is the Killer App (Crown Business), believes is important.

"Think of [reading] like a diet. Lots of businesspeople don't eat the right stuff," says Sanders. "They look for snapshots of the present day instead of learning cause and effect, [which will make you] a better leader."

Sanders advocates devoting just 20 percent of your reading "diet" to print media and "Internet grazing," while focusing 80 percent on well-written, well-researched books that contain some in-depth discussion of cause and effect. He recommends an assortment of old and new books because, he says, "Cause and effect truths never change over time, but [current books] take classical theories and test and apply them against a current context."