I am a voracious reader of fiction, capable of ploughing through a 400 page book in a day (if on my own and not doing anything else) and have a tendency to remember the content for a very long time. Research and academic texts* on the other hand have always been a struggle, the words running together as I try to transfer the knowledge from the densely filled page to my struggling-to-stay-awake brain.
This difficulty with factual works has had a detrimental effect on my ability to pursue academic recognition, making the writing of a simple assignment into a mountain of Snowdonian proportions.
Everyone I spoke to about the best way to approach research and academic text would recommend the well practiced dip-in method of searching the contents list to find what you wanted and briefly reading that part in isolation. And whilst I eventually taught myself to do this, it was never satisfying to my curiosity and failed to get information to stay in my head for longer than the time taken to finish the assignment.
However, this month brought a breakthrough. Last weekend I finished reading Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance by Matthew Syed which I managed to read cover-to-cover (ok, e-reader page to e-reader page) in a surprisingly short amount of time….for me! Not only did I read it with relative ease but also found it possible to quickly quote and paraphrase it to others in support of my viewpoint.
Which begs the question, why was this text different?
Was it because I find the subject interesting?
Maybe, but I am hugely passionate about Coaching and its benefits yet find it difficult to crack the sheen on many of the accusing spines looking down on me from the bookshelf.
Is it due to the fact that the findings support my own experience (talk about cognitive dissonance)?
Another good reason for sure, but I have at least four publications on leadership in my current line of sight that provide lots of support to my views on that subject and only one of them has been used extensively.
Wait! Of course! It’s the ‘density’ issue, after all it isn’t exactly a massive tome is it?
Possibly, but on my desk is a paperback with no more than 150 pages about another passion of mine (non-work) but I’m struggling to get past page 23.
Do you think it could be because it’s easy to see the real world application?
Interesting idea but, to be fair, most of the good books have case studies and anecdotes that enable us to visualise them in practice so I doubt it’s that.
The question of why this book was really troubling me so revisiting its pages the answer became clear and was something much more revealing about me and how I absorb information.
It’s a story!
The author managed to structure the content so that there is a clear progressive exploration of his findings. Whether by design or happy accident is unclear (I would like to believe it was a deliberate action) but he has managed to hit on the basic premise of a story; take the reader on a journey with a satisfying denouement.
Of course his writing style and use of language, carried over from the day job I’m sure, smooth the passage but in general it is the overall structure that seemed to engage and motivate me. Which in conjunction with the other reasons shown above made this a very accessible read for me.
In Learning and Development circles we talk about the importance of using stories to help people learn and I have read some works where individual sections follow this idea, but it seems to be rare for a whole publication to have an almost narrative flow.
Obviously, each to their own and I’m sure there will be some who find the work fails to engage them, or can not see the route I followed. But for me it worked and has managed to reignite my desire to read more factual texts and that can be no bad thing.
Also, it has reminded me to stop and think about the way we support people through learning and that embracing curation should not preclude us from considering the story we create.
So, this brings me back to my request: when you want me to learn.
Please, tell me a story!
* after a lengthy discussion with my academic and researcher colleagues we were still undecided as to whether Matthew’s book falls easily into either of these categories, but they will suffice for making my point……..maybe!
Image: Once upon a time – Steve Czajka
Please, tell me a story by David Wallace was written in London, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.