Reading vs. Thinking

In an age of endless Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram feeds, it’s easy to scroll forever and never actually dive in and read anything of value.

When we sit down and open up a book for real, uninterrupted learning our chances of gaining knowledge or perspectives of value increase dramatically.

This weekend, I stumbled across what Farnam Street call’s “The Buffet Formula.” The Buffet Formula refers to the reading habits of billionaire investor Warren Buffet and his partner Charles Munger. In order to build knowledge, Buffet allocates about 80% of his workday to reading.

Reading not only allows us to gain new knowledge, but also allows us to connect bits of information. These connections provide us with uniquely valuable insights. Over time, we can turn those insights into action.

But reading isn’t everything.

We must also think.

Some of the best ideas I’ve had came to me while standing at a whiteboard trying to solve the problem in front of me. Not looking through old notes. Not skimming through the books on my desk. Not Googling a solution. Just standing at a whiteboard alone.

Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, advises us to avoid being overly inspired by the ideas of others:

It’s so easy to get sucked into other people’s work. Following industry news, attending every conference you can, picking brains. But I’ve often found it better to retreat into your own mind and bring something original. The more you see how other people do what they do, the harder it becomes to do things differently.

Orginal thought is so hard to come by. Why would we crowd out the scarce time we have to create our own ideas by spending all our time reading the ideas’ of others?

Ultimately, we must balance reading the ideas of others with coming up with our own ideas and solutions. Both activities are extraordinarly valuable in a world where they are becoming increasingly rare. By doing both, we can do incredible things.

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