I recently tweeted this after mulling over the differences I’ve seen while working with various clients. Some of them have practically been begging people to slow down, finish less with higher quality, and to take time out to read. Others are so scared that they don’t produce enough, that people are running in every direction trying to get something done, while finishing practically nothing, and learning even less than nothing in the process.
Of course, the first tweet I received in response was from JB Brown, at Nordstrom’s Innovation Lab. Since “Innovation” is well, what they do, they like to read a lot and… apparently…are fond of statistics:
To me, the benefits of giving teams the time to read is self-evident. But I thought I’d let the people actually giving their staff the time time to read speak for themselves.
Simon Marcus: COO of the Library Corporation
I encourage people to read at work for the same reason that I encourage them to write things down. Reading and writing give you time and room to think. Mostly at work people think they are supposed to be DOING ALL THE TIME. But if they aren't thinking, the result of all that doing can be a whole lot of nothing.
I love when I am reading and stumble on a word or a phrase that sends me spinning off into one of my own real world problems or opportunities. I love it even more when it happens to other people, but the long range value of reading at work is that it slows people down and makes them more thoughtful and intentional about their work.
Lastly, a word about why we encourage people to read AT work (instead of just expecting them to read on their own time). If I think that something is important enough to ask people to do it, I owe it to them to give them time to attend to it. This is part of the larger effort we make to respect people's time AT work. Reading is Work in Progress (WIP), just like everything else we ask people to do. We try to avoid making work WIP slip over into people's home life. All of that isn't to say that I don't love it when I find out that people have gotten the reading bug and are reading on their own time too. I find that the reading bug can be contagious. Eventually, about one out of three people who we encourage to read at work seem to start reading more on their own time. When I hear that someone who "never reads" has started reading, it makes me smile from ear to ear.
Jabe Bloom - CTO of the Library Corporation:
I have 2 general concepts for why reading is important at work.
1) Technical Knowledge is more valuable the earlier you can apply it. For many of my developers ensuring that they are constantly retooled is one my most critical tasks. Encouraging them to read helps them to maintain a “landscape” view of the technologies they are using so they have a better chance of “finding” the right tool at the right time. Exposing developers to a wide range of new and interesting thoughts is a good way to inoculate them against complacency and “I have a hammer-and-everything-is-a-nail-itus”.
2) I think.. more critically... Having an open environment at work where individuals can be SEEN reading, activates the social space as a learning environment.
More and more studies of cognitive science support a concept of ritualized changes in thinking patterns... transforming from one way of thinking to another.. I think that having people read at work, helps them to think in a “learning activated” mindset.
3) Encouraging employees to read AT WORK, sends a clear message that we EXPECT and VALUE learning in the work environment. Employees aren’t expected to keep up on changes to the industry on “their own time.” Our encouragement of reading at work has seen an increase in;
1) Teams’ abilities to communicate internally and with other teams via shared vocabulary
2) Increase in individuals sharing learnings and source materials.
3) Decrease in defect rates, especially escaped defects.
As you've stated, a staff that is willing and equipped to read is a staff that understands the need for continuous improvement. In that regard, reading, reflecting, and learning is crucial. To understand why, let's simply look at one of the most common reasons given (to me) for why some don't read.
"I learn enough through experience! Everything I know I've learned through the school of hard knocks. What could a book *possibly* tell me that I can't get from experience?"
While it's true that experience is likely the most powerful means of learning, the sad truth is that we don't have as much experience as we think we do. As I've learned (in books no less) most of us rarely have "20 years of experience". We typically have one year of experience FOR 20 CONSECUTIVE YEARS. That's right. If we reflect on our past, occasionally we have brand new experiences that indeed teach us quite a lot. But for the bulk of our past, we tend to repeat what we know over, and over (and over) again. In that way, I would argue we need to step outside the boundary of experience-based learning and learn from others collective experiences. You do that in books, articles, websites, blogs, and yes, tweets.
As you might guess, it's important that your teams are "willing" to read. Just as important, they need to be "equipped" to read.
As employers, we can help control the second of these two statements. Our obligation while building learning organizations is to model behavior, challenge assumptions, infuse an attitude of curiosity, and generally create conditions that allow (and encourage) people to read and reflect. After all, as adults, quiet reflection is critical to our growth. We are therefore obligated to not only "allow" people to read at work, but to encourage and incentivize them to read at work as well. In that way, each employee becomes a well spring of "new" ideas, and a potential catalyst for infusing those ideas in our organizations.