Read beyond business books this summer to revive your grey matter

With Christmas virtually upon us, I know that a lot of motivated businesspeople will be using the break to put in some serious reading time. It is a great opportunity to catch up on all of the business books that you have been too busy to read during the year.


I bet there will be an entrepreneur’s autobiography or two on the list (one of which will almost certainly have something to do with Steve Jobs) and some titles around the latest management, marketing and strategic buzzwords. The GFC may also get a look in.


All of that material is worthwhile reading. However, I think it’s really limiting because where do new ideas come from?


They come from connecting disparate and previously unrelated thoughts. So, how can you expect to be the generator of novel and innovative ideas when all you do is feed your brain the same diet of business books?


Moreover, how fresh are your ideas going to be when you are consuming the exact same material as everyone else?


Take the aforementioned Steve Jobs. In his famous Stanford University speech, he explained that when he was at university he sat in on a calligraphy class that he wasn’t even enrolled in. He had lectures from expert typographers that taught him the finer details of working with type. He surmised that those classes gave him the appreciation of design that became a key element in the eventual success of Apple.


So, this summer, I suggest you look beyond the business and management shelves as you put together your reading list. Go down to your local bookshop and visit a couple of sections that you would ordinarily never visit. (As you can tell, I am still a bookshop kind of guy. I’m not sure how you wander around a virtual bookstore with one of those fancy eReaders but I’m sure you can!)


What sections you choose to visit is entirely up to you: history, politics, sport, biography, art, design, fashion, travel, fiction, so on and so on.


Use the break to expand your mind and your universe of potential reference points beyond what you would normally consume. And don’t even just limit yourself to books. Buy a few newspapers you wouldn’t otherwise read. Buy some magazines that only interest you at the margins, or not at all. Go to the cinema and hire videos that wouldn’t automatically appeal to you.


I spent about a decade working as a copywriter in various advertising agencies. Whenever we would get a big brief, I would always have a stack of random magazines and books on my desk. They were all on topics I had absolutely no interest in – gossip, golf, horse riding, bodybuilding, astrology, computing, financial planning and so on.


After a day or two of banging my head against the brief, I would start flicking through all the magazines and try bouncing the brief against the various ideas and references in the magazines.


Invariably, it would help open my mind to new and novel routes and directions and would enable me to come up with a great idea. It made me far more creative than merely re-reading the brief a million times or going through the client’s countless pages of product information again and again.


I would also sometimes go to an art gallery or to the cinema to try and force new ideas and images into my mind. (It was a great industry for that – every book, video, cinema and gallery ticket was also a tax deduction). But you know what? It worked. You could almost feel your brain jumping tracks onto a new potentially lucrative line of creativity.


So, if you want to return from your break feeling fresh and vibrant, full of new creative potential for 2013, take your mind for a walk this summer.


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