I read a lot of business and self-improvement books. For my taste, many books in these genres lean far too much on anecdotes to explain concepts.
While reading an anecdote-heavy book, I find myself asking:
- You’ve already explained the concept. Why are you telling me a story that just explains the concept again?
- If you can’t explain a concept without using an anecdote, how tight is your grasp on the concept?
- Are all these anecdotes just a way to pad this book thick enough to justify your $25 price tag?
- Aren’t you concerned that leaning via anecdotes might give the impression that the concept only applies in contexts similar to the ones in the anecdote? Or that some of the anecdotes unrelated elements might be seen as salient?
- Why are you wasting my time trying to entertain me? I have other books that can entertain me.
Story-friendly types my rebut: Humans are built for stories. They learn through stories. And that in the old days we all sat around the campfire and told stories and story story story….
We don’t need a story for everything. You don’t need to go on the hero’s journey to tell someone how to scramble an egg. You can just lay out the steps and let the person try it out.
I do agree that we learn from stories. But what kind of stories? Or more importantly, whose stories?
We learn best from our own stories, not someone else’s.
Suppose I told you I hit a big pothole on your street and messed up my tire. You might remember it.
But if you hit the big pothole on your street and messed up your own tire you will definitely remember it.
Because it’s your story then.
When reading, I prefer to take the concepts and ask, how does this apply to my life? What examples do I have where this concept played out? Where I wish it had played out? Where it might play out in the future?
When I ask those questions I am in the story as the lead character instead of an outside observer and I think that changes everything. I am tying the new concept and ideas to past memories. (“neurons the fire together wire together.”) I have a much better chance of remembering things if it’s my own story.
This approach requires a different approach to reading. It often means I read a paragraph or a page, then set the book down and look off into space contemplating how it applies to me or could apply to me. It requires me to actively engage with the book and my thoughts. It’s slower and more challenging reading, for sure. But because I make it more meaningful, the learning sticks far better. And that’s why I picked the book up in the first place.