Read Books. Old Ones.

read old books

There’s a myth that old books aren’t worth reading anymore. The latest information is on the Internet, after all. Plus, we just don’t have the time. I ask you to reconsider.

We’re also busy these days on our email. Slack. Skype. Zoom. Jira. Phones. And we just keep replying. Getting “pinged.” All of those notifications designed to increase our productivity ultimately steal our biggest resource from us: our time. And so we convince ourselves that we just don’t have the time to read books anymore.

We tell ourselves that everything that exists between two bindings is ancient history. All the latest information is at our fingertips on the Internet. The wide-open World Wide Web. We get our daily email newsletters. Our news on Facebook and Twitter. And we get the news relevant to our careers on LinkedIn. If we want to learn anything new, we hop on YouTube, Khan Academy, or EdX. We may even spring for Coursera if we’re desperate.

But as we’ve increasingly learned, websites and applications have become very good at delivering us exactly the kind of content that we want (or, at the very least, happy enough to stay on the platform). That’s fine for entertainment. But to learn—to truly grow—we need to be challenged. In the same way that tough-to-swallow feedback from a co-worker is often needed to help us grow, picking up a book that doesn’t align precisely with our point of view, interest level, or background knowledge could be exactly what we need to grow.

Today I stopped by my local library for a few books on accounting. While looking for some solid introductory-level textbooks, my eyes passed by some intriguing titles on organizational culture—a topic I spend a good number of my hours each day thinking about. These were mostly older books that I had never heard of before. Books I never likely would have been recommended on Amazon, see referenced in a blog post, or see promoted on LinkedIn.

This experience reminded me of a 2016 interview with Danielle Morrill, the former Head of Marketing for Twilio and CEO of Mattermark. In the interview, Morrill extolled the power of reading business books that were published before the popular adoption of the Internet. Contrary to popular belief, the core principles of business strategy have not changed significantly due to the Internet. The productivity of an accountant has increased dramatically thanks to computers. But the principles of accounting largely have not. An old library book does more than get the job done. It explains concepts with the expectation that you are reading closely. After all, if its an older book, it was written before people could even imagine SnapChat. Grab one.

Bonus: How can we find time to read?

Spend a rainy Sunday morning curled up in bed with a cup of tea and a paperback.

Shift from working in coffee shops to public libraries, where you can pursue the new arrivals as we exit. It’s cheaper than a latte.