The Greatest Shortcut to Success is Reading Books

Reading books is a shortcut to success.

All great leaders and masters talk about reading a lot of books. All-star NBA coach Phil Jackson used to give his players reading assignments that would enhance their approach to the game. Robert Greene, author of the 48 Laws of Power references over 300 books for many of his works. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said he was “raised by books.”

I’ll explain why this trend holds so strongly and how reading books is a shortcut to success.

Where Real Knowledge Comes From

“I cannot understand how some people can live without communicating with the wisest people who ever lived on earth”
— Leo Tolstoy

The entire scientific method is based on the admission of ignorance.

Scientists start out by saying, “I don’t know,” and then ask questions to find out. You have a hypothesis that you need to validate. “I don’t know, so let’s test and find out.” Once you find out, you’ve now learned whether or not your hypothesis is true.

That’s how learning happens, by asking questions and then finding out the answer. The hard part is finding out the answer. Most people do it through trial and error. They invest money, start businesses, and build important relationships based on feelings, thinking they’ll be able to figure it all out on the fly through trial and error.

Working towards a goal through trial and error will teach you some very harsh lessons. It is both risky and time consuming. Imagine being given all the different parts to build a rocket ship, and then being asked to build it from scratch, just by experimenting. No books about rocket science and no asking anyone about it… Good luck to you, but you’re screwed.

Yet that’s how most people go after their goals. They buy stocks because they’ve bought a few things from the company they invest in. They start their businesses based on a hunch. They go into negotiations and important meetings unprepared, completely winging it. This method of learning through experience, while beneficial, is ultimately far too risky and time consuming.

Instead, why not learn from the very best to have done it?

A book is a compressed version of information from someone much more experienced and much more knowledgeable in a particular subject than you and I. When you read a great book, you’re able to learn at an accelerated pace. All the tips, tricks, experiences, wins, and losses, all compressed into a few hundred pages or less. You don’t have to make the same mistakes as people have before. You’re starting at a higher point by default when you read their book.

Learn From the Success and Failure of Those Before You

“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.”
— United States General Jim Mattis

Time will limit your experiences in life. You can’t do all the investing in the world, you can’t fight all the battles, you can’t learn all there is to know about social interactions, and philosophy, and habit building and every subject in between. None of us will ever have that much time to learn all of those things by trial and error.

Instead, you can use books to speed up your learning and give you a significant advantage.

The job you want, the business you want to build, the people you deal with, sex, love, fitness, money, strategy — books have literally been written about it all. The knowledge is all there. You don’t have to go through costly trial and error.

All you have to do is read about it. Learn from other people’s success and failures, so you can get to their level of success faster and avoid their failures.

The beauty is that over time, the knowledge you gain from reading will compound. As you read new books, you’ll learn about new ideas and ways of thinking — your knowledge is growing. Those new ideas lead to even more learning, growth, and new ideas.

One of the first non-fiction books that got me into reading was the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. By employing the techniques in that book, I was able to land my first internship. That later led me to books on the subject of stoicism by Ryan Holiday and Marcus Aurelius. My hunger for learning from books has expanded ever since then, to where I aim to read at least one book every 2 weeks to learn as much as I can.

Reading more books will help you establish the magnificent habit of life-long learning. You’ll constantly be exposed to new thoughts and ideas that you never thought possible. That knowledge will compound over time, ever-expanding to make you smarter and stronger.

Cultivate the experience and wisdom of all those who have passed before you. Let reading books lay the foundation for your success.

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for”
— Socrates

For more on reading books

12 Thoughts on Reading Books

How to Pick the Best Books to Read

The 10 Best Books for Self-Improvement

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