Updated: Mar 13
When I read a book with the goal of improving my professional life, I am not afraid to mark up pages, fold corners, and generally beat the hell out of that book. To me, non-fiction books are meant to be consumed to the fullest, regardless of the collateral damage. When a book has a dull cover, that is my absolute favorite.
You may have some guesses as to why I would say that; maybe I like boring book covers because it makes me feel less guilty than when I’m destroying a beautiful work of art. That turns out not to be the case, as I shamelessly defile beautiful and ugly books alike. Well then, perhaps I like to beat up my books to show off my thorough use of prose that I’m proud of. Nope again. While I do respect those who wear out great books through repeat use, it’s not the reason why I love boring book covers.
So why do I like boring book covers? Let me start with my undying hatred of dust jackets; I hate those floppy devils, sliding all over while I’m just trying to read my book. With any new non-fiction I always pull the dust jacket off before I start reading. For a time I had great respect for authors who had a hard cover with its own artistic flair, beyond the dust jacket. I got over that.
Now the best thing I can find under a dust jacket is a flat, plain, boring cover, and here is why:
A History of Constructive Destruction
For a little history on my book abuse, I used to keep it contained to simple highlighting. A great book could have two or three key ideas highlighted per page. That escalated to writing on pages. With so many highlights I needed to know which were the really great points, so arrows and asterisks became my friend.
As I continued to learn a system for deconstructing my books, I started writing notes when a passage gave me a great idea for a blog post, presentation, or new work product. I wanted to be able to return to my books at any point and know exactly what I found most valuable.
"They failed me when it came to making these key insights easy to find, and remember. They failed at synthesis, as many organizations do."
Even though my highlighters, asterisks, arrows, and notes were capable of capturing important ideas, they failed me when it came to making these key insights easy to find, and remember. They failed at synthesis, as many organizations do.
By sketching my major insights on a boring, plain cover, I was able to visualize them in a way that was more consumable at a glance. This Visual Thinking would serve to jump start my memory on what and why a point had significant importance. I helped myself remember what excited me about a passage without digging page-by-page. If the picture wasn’t good enough to spark my memory -- which it usually is -- I at least knew relatively where the passage was by the placement on the cover, because I made my visual notes as I was reading them.
Why Synthesize Information into Visualization
Many organizations are in dire need of this kind of synthesis. Data is worthless if it’s dropped into a report only to be forgotten later. If insights aren’t actionable then they won’t easily communicate their value to the organization, and soon fade away. Creating strong high-level visualizations that tie into deeper insights provide leaders the ability to view ecosystems at a high level, while giving activation teams the ability to dive deeper into the details that apply to their objectives.
"If insights aren’t actionable then they won’t easily communicate their value to the organization, and soon fade away."
At the end of a book my canvas doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to tell the story of what I found most valuable within the hundreds of pages that I combed through to get there. It summarizes my personal insights. That ugly book cover is now a tool for communicating to myself, visually.
Wouldn't it be brilliant if businesses could communicate top-to-bottom, in the same way, thinking visually?
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