Expand Your Business Reading List

IMG_3805I’ve been reading a lot of literary fiction this year. I always enjoy escaping into a different world, meeting diverse characters and the underlying complexity that informs their choices. Storytelling that challenges me to understand a different perspective or imagine another person’s motivations doesn’t just fulfill my leisure pursuits it stretches my mental muscle. And there’s proof that it does just that!

A 2013 study by researchers at The New School in New York City found that people who read literary fiction improve their empathy. These readers have a greater capacity for understanding social behaviour than those who solely read non-fiction or genre fiction. And we all know how important emotional intelligence (EI) is to being an effective leader.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman brought widespread recognition of the concept of EI when his book was published in 1995. He argued that the most successful leaders had greater EI, or the ability to recognize their own and others’ emotions and use that information to adapt their approach and work styles.

So, I propose the at-work book club with a twist. Sure, it’s valuable to consult the latest productivity tome or a bio from a well-respected leader, but add literary fiction to the reading list. Expose yourself to challenging characters who push you to alter your perspective and think about how you’d manage a scenario outside your sphere.

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Knit Wit

I recently took up knitting. I’m always one to try various creative, crafty pursuits — knitting, jewelry making, painting — anything that allows me to flex my creative muscle, work with colour, and enjoy a tangible finished product afterwards. If it’s beautiful, all the better.

As a child, I dabbled in knitting, too. My Scottish grandmother knitted a lot: strange doily-like neck wraps, scarves and hats, but I remember the utilitarian slippers most. My Mom made those slippers and that’s how we learned. My sister and I lOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAearned to knit by making the slippers that my maternal family could knit with their eyes closed.

So, back to modern times, and I’m trying to knit again. Only now my tastes are much more discerning. I want to knit scarves with modern colour combinations and fancy ribbing. I want to make hats that fit just so.

My approach to this pursuit? I drop by the local knitting store, pick up some wool and needles and download a free pattern online. And I’m all set. Away I go.

When I encounter a problem, I simply Google it, watch a YouTube video, and, of course, I have Amazon deliver me a dictionary of 400 knitting stitches. Every source I consult tells me that I should spend the time knitting a swatch of 4” x 4” first to check my knitting gauge against the pattern. If I knit tighter or looser than the gauge of the pattern, I’ll need to adjust the pattern accordingly to ensure the final product is the size I want it to be.

But do I knit a single swatch? No, of course not! I need to create right now. I need to finish the hat. I want to wear the scarf tomorrow.

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Not what I had planned. I could fit a lot more hair under there!

I’m surprised when I finish the hat and it sits on my head like a watermelon rind that I scooped the insides out of. There’s no stretching to the perfect fit, a snug warmth. I’m devastated. I invested so much time on it.

My a-ha moment? Well, I regularly advise clients and business partners to take the time to understand their audience, the root of their business challenge, or the opportunity before them, before diving head long into developing creative ad campaigns, PR strategies, or blasting off email sales pitches. If you don’t take the time upfront to identify the need or test the likelihood of a communications strategy’s success, even the most inventive prose will be wasted.

In communications, as in knitting, take the time to understand the environment, obtain an outside view or an expert opinion first, and when it comes time for creativity, you’ll be much more likely to achieve what you set out to do.