In the pre-Internet era, each of us probably subscribed to a few magazines and newspapers, to follow what was happening in the world around us. It was a time when three factors were key to driving more readers to your publication. These included brand positioning and clarity of content offering, availability and access and, of course, quality of content. People “hired” magazines to accomplish specific tasks; like keep them entertained with gossip from Bollywood (like Filmfare did) or read a carefully curated set of articles from corporate India (like Business India did).
Of course, the Internet era has changed all that. The reading habits of people has moved from being “structured”, if I can call it that, to completely “random”. Today, an article gets majority of its readership because it is shared on social media or over e-mail (yes, e-mail. Someone did a study on that and the best articles in the world still get shared a lot over e-mail).
Even if a magazine’s brand positioning is absolutely clear, and people subscribe to it, there is no guarantee that people actually read more than an article or two, let alone the whole edition. Each and every article competes with millions of other stories on the Internet. So, how does a magazine editor make the article stand out? At The Smart CEO, we’ve started deeply analysing the “reading habits” of our target group. The results from the study gave us some phenomenal insights (that is now being fed into our web-based product development process) but let me save that for another day.
It also gave us a reasonable idea of what some very senior entrepreneurs read, that the early-stage folks often miss out on. I believe articles of the following genres will help the early-stage entrepreneurs make business decisions a little more holistically. Read on. Here’s our recommended reading strategy for 2014.
1) Lateral reading: Several of the senior entrepreneurs we closely observed searched for and read several non-business articles. From articles on the science of happiness to ones on human psychology, they read it all. Additionally, they often looked to draw ideas from other sectors, carefully spent time analysing the cause and effect of historical phenomena, and closely tracked the creative world (films and art, among others).
Jeff Hoffman, the American serial entrepreneur, says he spends about 15 minutes every morning reading about stuff that has nothing to do with his daily work. He calls this process ‘info spunging’ and vouches that it enhances his ability to think laterally.
2) A ‘Do-not-agree’ List: Several entrepreneurs often read articles that strongly supported their own personal beliefs. A study conducted at Ohio State University (that I read about on Fast Company Magazine) concluded that over 36 per cent of the people read an article if it aligns with their beliefs. However, entrepreneurs have now realised that it is critical to hear the opposing view. One young entrepreneur in the microfinance space recently told me that a senior banker pointed him to articles and opinions on why the microfinance model wouldn’t work in India. This was back in 2009. The Andhra Pradesh controversy hadn’t started but the rest of the business press was gung ho about the prospects of microfinance. He confesses that had he read the articles he didn’t agree with, it may just have changed (for the better) some of the decisions he made at the time.
3) Read what is not shared: The Twitter and Facebook phenomena have also resulted in ensuring that the really good articles are shared extensively. What happens then is that you’re reading what everyone else is reading. To take this to another level, experts even suggest that your brain starts thinking like everyone else’s, thanks to the sharing syndrome. But, can we for a moment step back and think if we’re wasting too much time reading what other people are reading? Can we, instead, subscribe to certain kinds of content and read to enhance our thinking process. Wonderfully written opinion pieces on Narendra Modi can certainly entertain you but can it help your business directly? Why not read an article, say, in the New Yorker or, for that matter, articles from MIT’s Technology Review Magazine that can help with a different perspective?
As is often repeated, the people who differentiate their work rule the startup world. You like it or not, your ability to differentiate comes from what your mind thinks and does. To enable the brain to do something different, it is crucial to make sure what is fed into it is different as well.
Hope you enjoy reading The Smart CEO. Wish you all a wonderful new year. See you next year, with all those differentiated articles!