Speak less, read more, and write if you want to gain knowledge and wisdom
Updated: Sep 25, 2022
We spend a substantial amount of time talking with other people or even to ourselves. Verbal conversations are extraordinary and, in many cases, represent significant opportunities to bind with others, negotiate deals, clarify matters, or just do them for fun. A typical verbal conversation covers one or two primary matters at a time. As conversations are fantastic, both casual and formal conversations have inherent fundamental limitations.
Limitations of verbal conversations
One core challenge of verbal communication is the limited time available during a normal conversation; we all feel pressured to speak or respond fast while in a conversation in order to keep the communication valuable and engaging. This applies to business, friendship, family, or other conversations. The time limitation is a significant problem that, in most cases, impacts the quality of the entire conversation as a good portion of the time when we listen to others talking could be spent on considering what to say next instead of practicing what is referred to as active listening. This leads to what many researchers disclose: around 70% of what we say does not go through to the other party.
Many techniques are used to overcome this issue with varying success. The most famous approach for better effective verbal communication is taking time to answer, saying let me think about it, or give me time to think, or I will get back to you. Wise people speak slower because this can help them become better listeners and communicators. However, in all cases, verbal communication has this inherited challenge. Verbal communications are a kind of talking before you think rather than thinking before you talk. This approach is problematic.
What about written communications?
Writing has always been described as the simplest and most effective way of communication. Writers are usually under no direct time pressure and even have access to other resources to produce better content. Generally, written communication can be thought of as of higher quality compared with typical verbal communication. This leaves writers with a little excuse not to produce good writing if they are serious about that. If we focus on professional writing, we expect contact to be informative, engaging, timeless, and answer relevant questions. A lot of literature exists on various styles of writing, and it is so interesting to keep exploring such an area about writing as it is hard to grasp and master.
Everyone can write, but that does not make them writers. Such a statement is subjective but accurate. Therefore, writing is very difficult in comparison to verbal communication. Writing simplifies communication and makes it much more effective but much harder to do in comparison to verbal. I have avoided writing my entire life publicly until I felt enough confidence that I could produce something I could feel proud of. But it is never easy.
Why writing is hard?
Writing can be much easier for those competent in a specific topic and writing about it. Most writing difficulties, in this case, would be related to styling and formatting, which are not too challenging to master after good practice. On the other hand, writing can be very difficult for those writing about a subject that is new to them or they do know well. This could be one of the main reasons why most written content today is so poor in quality. Moreover, writing is hard because what we write will always be stored somewhere and might reach other people. This forces people to pay good attention while writing or get ready to be in trouble. Writing is hard for many other reasons, but we will stop here.
Spreading Knowledge vs. spreading ignorance
Assume that a person gets into a tragedy, creating an inflection point in the person’s life, leading him to discover the secrets of happiness, and he published that in a book (by the way, this is a real story). The book becomes a best-seller, and this person speaks all over social media on the road-map to happiness. As this may seem attractive, it could be a typical example of spreading ignorance rather than knowledge. A single case study can be valuable data but should never be generalized; this is the basics of what we learned in scientific research methods when studying case-study as a research design under qualitative research. Therefore, such a book should be scoped within one person’s personal experience or a single case. Producing knowledge happens through the application of a systematic research method, and the outcome is what is known as a theory, not personal claims. Therefore, sharing personal stories is fine but concluding from that is dangerous.
Who writes today?
Most content around us is produced for a specific set of purposes. Below are some typical scenarios of how content is produced focusing on non-fiction material:
Paid marketing content (content marketing): A company-funds content creation to promote a particular product or subject. Those may come in many formats, such as web pages, blogs, social media posts, brochures, videos, and even books. While some of such content could be useful, the majority is poor. Such types of content are designed for search engines and paid ads. Many companies appoint writers and pay them for a number of articles or even an entire book. Many writers have no problem writing about any subject when paid. Here is the quantity that comes first. You can even use an AI (Artificial intelligence) engine to write content for you. Check www.copy.ai. The internet is filled with such poor, no-sense content.
Poor books: Poor Books are roughly at least 85% of the books published, according to many experts. This is perhaps the most striking issue. Millions of books are produced for specific biased reasons by fake or poor writers. And they strive by all means to promote their books and drive them to become a best seller in many cases. The good question is, who produces those poor books and why? I recently bought a book about the Metaverse, and it was horrible. The book was flagged on Amazon as Best Buy. I looked at the writer’s profile on LinkedIn and noticed he runs a company selling NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) funding. So, as it is evident, the writer's primary interest is not in writing or the book itself but in Blockchain-related funding. The writer here aims to gain credibility to raise funds, and perhaps he is not the actual author but a freelancer who did the writing for him. Even though we constantly hear claims by online booksellers like Amazon about fighting fake reviews. It is also actual that such platforms are the primary beneficiary of making most books rank so high, like 4.5 to 4.9 stars. It is hard to find a book rated 1 star these days as if all books are so great. Books with low ratings are hard to sell. So, let’s make all books have high ratings to increase sales. Recently, Google did the same to Google’s Play store by changing the algorithm.
Best selling books: Perhaps about 5 to 10% of books. The story behind most of these books is typical, a famous writer takes an idea like a theory in business, like tipping point theory or motivation theory, or contingency theory. The writer reads the theory published for free in a peered academic journal and converts the entire single idea into a book. The writer, in most cases, does not give credit to the original authors of the theory. Amazon recently announced the existence of thousands of fake Facebook review groups. People join the groups and get financial compensation for giving fake high-rated reviews. The majority of those best-selling Books are okay but overrated. How many fake reviews such books receive to become snowball recommendations is unknown. Reading such books is better than reading nothing but most of those 300-page books can be a few pages long.
Good Books: Finally, here are the excellent books which are less than 5% as I see the evidence. ****Such books are excellent and usually written by authentic authors and really written well. Good Books are super unique and may take several years to complete. Many books are pieces of art and amazing to read and keep as references. Some books can teach us something that we can benefit from our entire life, create economic value for ourselves and society and change how we feel towards life and other people. Many of those books can be priceless.
How to spot good Authors?
What defines a good author can be subjective and highly depends on the match between the reader and the author. Good authors write about what they know best. Here I mean actual accredited knowledge, which is specifically true in the case of non-fiction content. On the other hand, when we speak about fiction and personal biographies, everyone can be an author and share personal experiences, but without exaggerating and unnecessary generalizations. On the other hand, when we speak of academic writings, an author becomes a researcher. This is even a more complex side of writing. Only researchers can produce research, and researchers are scientists. There is good and bad research today, but the area of scientific peer-reviewed publications is still intact as not many academic publishers and research institutions are as spoiled as the general content marketers. Therefore, to spot good authors, check their background but be careful from being deceived.
How to spot good books?
Below are my personal experiences on how to increase your chances of finding good books.
Start with the publisher: Some publishers, such as Sage Publishing, as they do only mostly books for education. Those books are usually written by academic professionals. You find plenty of good books from Sage or similar publishers.
I look at the edition of the book. Most of the time, poor books do not make it to the second edition as they simply die in the first edition. If a book comes to a 2nd edition, it is likely the book has rich content. One exception is books used in universities, which may go into multiple prints, but could be a better alternative.
Try a sample of the book. Find the sample online and read it. Read well the table of content. If Trying samples is very enjoyable and rewarding also!
Research the writer. In addition to the section above, this could help. Look for the author’s profile online. If you see a salesperson writing a book on selling techniques, the book might include good experiences but do not expect to see much knowledge or theories in the book. If the author is a researcher, expect to see more knowledge and theories than experience. It is essential to look at the complete set of books written by the same author. One severe and alarming sign is if you find the writer has many books published in a short amount of time and on different diversified subjects. If the books are best sellers, rest assured the writer did not write the books but put his/her name as the writer to sell the book. Any good book needs at least six months of work.
Age of the content: Time is essential for information as knowledge has an expiry date in our digital age. A book on digital transformation does not make much sense if it is older than five years.
The title of the book. As you may have read, a book can be read from its title. I look if the title has generalizations like, “How ABC is changing everything.” It is most likely a poor book. Nothing changes everything. See some titles of research papers to get an idea.
Read the bad reviews: Always assume all top reviews are fake or biased. If you find five people or more say the book is jargon, it is most likely the case.
Extra Bonus: The best books are not those best-selling. What? Yes, the automotive industry is similar here as not the best-selling cars are the best cars. They always sit in the middle and are never the best in quality/experience/luxury. The book industry is worse as most books have similar prices.
Knowledge is not in books but in journal articles
I should mention that when knowledge is first produced, the academic scientific community dictates authors publish their work as journal articles in order to register the research under their names. This is how Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and all other knowledge were announced to the world. Another example, Harvard's first article on the balanced scorecard came as a research journal article published by Norton and Kaplan. So, Journal articles (peer-reviewed) are the primary source of knowledge and are used as references for the production of additional knowledge. If you are into research, you are likely to have access through your academic institutions to the majority of research papers published. Try https://scholar.google.com/ to see an index with links to various libraries. Yes, that is very cool and one of the main drivers for getting into higher education with my doctorate.
Publishing journal articles, in most cases, gives little or no financial return or publicity. Many authors combine their research, expand and publish their work in a series of books on the same subject. So, as most people are not into the production of additional knowledge or do not enjoy reading journal articles, they just enjoy reading books.
When to read and when to write
Tell me what you read I will tell you who you are. There is an admirable personality trait readers have, which is respecting what they read. This is why we do not often find very harsh comments for poor books. Good readers strive to find something useful in anything they read or come their way. It depends on your objectives in life. Reading gives a different flavor and requires different moods to videos. I believe reading is essential to gaining actual knowledge. Therefore, just read. A poor book stored digitally on their Kindle or collecting dust on a bookshelf does not harm, but a good book is very rewarding and valuable.
When to write also depends on your objectives. Writing gives you that piece of mind of being with yourself and sharing your thoughts and knowledge. Academic writing is much more demanding than casual writing, like this article. I would encourage everyone to write, even to their family members and friends. This is how to establish lasting experiences and achieve a much higher impact. What you can achieve in writing can never be achieved in verbal communication, and the opposite is true. The guarantee that makes you always produce good content is to write with honesty. Write about a genuine feeling or experience or something you have been doing or studying for years. This will make your ideas get appreciated and stick. This is how we participate in building a knowledge-based economy and achieving prosperity.
If you have made it so far, congratulations on being a distinguished knowledge seeker...
I hope you enjoyed reading this post, please share your thoughts. As much as I enjoy writing, I still enjoy reading more.