The Importance of Reading


More so since I’ve chosen of my own free will to, I have found the art of reading to be a useful way to relax and explore ideas and my imagination. So far this year I have read 30 books and enjoyed every one of them; it’s not the 52 I set myself the goal of but probably more than I have ever read in a year before.

Interestingly, since Purple Cow Ideas Management started, I have met so many more peers and friends who also cherish the enjoyment of stepping away from the technology and settling down to a good book. It’s clear that I’m in good company when I appreciate the value such a basic skill gives you and that got me thinking about those who don’t just opt not to read but about those who simply lack the ability to competently communicate through the power of literacy.

I always research the subject of each post I make in the Cow Shed just to understand what others have discussed as well as to see what I can re-invest into this site. Interestingly, on the topic of reading, I came across the some interesting statistics:

  • Business people who read at least seven business books a year earn over 230% more than people reading just one book a year*;
  • 22% of men and 30% of women in the UK are below level 2 in non-working households;
  • Reading proficiency increases if the four types of reading materials (books, magazines, newspapers, and encyclopedias) are present in the home;
  • Half of all offenders in the UK are unable to read and when inmates learn to read, only 15% of them are ever arrested again;
  • 63% of men and 75% of women with very low reading skills have never received a promotion;
  • Low literacy levels averages at around $73m per year in direct costs to the US Healthcare system**;
  • The process of reading is based on a succession of quick eye movements, known as fixations, across the written line, each of which lasts for about a quarter of a second. Depending on the rate of fixations and the difficulty of the material, an adult can read and understand anywhere from 200 to 1,000 words per minute;
  • 95% of all employment in the UK requires employees to be able to read… 16% of adults between 16 and 65 are below level 1***

The first one amused for it’s dramatic percentage you get a sense that these numbers have the potential to hold a lot more truth to the idea that our economy will never recover unless we all improve our ability to read!

Reading is a basic activity that involves greater levels of concentration and adds to the conversational skills of the leader should it be consistently adopted. The deluge of email and online information has certainly changed the way in which we absorb the information we receive, so much so that the simple concept of sitting quietly with a good book is increasingly becoming a rarity.

Our habits and influences have meant that the convenience of online social media allows us to engage in different mediums for quick-hit shots of information without the chance to always digest what we have learned and consider it in the context of our own lives. Think addictive social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, films, and digital news, and we must ask ourselves, do we risk stifling our own creativity when we allow others to do the thinking for us?

So why should we care about how well read we and those around us are? The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown said “It’s probably one of the best anti-poverty, anti-deprivation, anti-crime, anti-vandalism policies you can think of”. He and many of us realise the importance of such a fundamental skill, particularly when it is rapidly in decline and our levels of unemployment are standing at 8% of our UK workforce (5.70% for Australia, 9.6% for US, 10.1% in the euro area).

Cambridge University recently conducted an investigation into England’s primary education system and as a result have recommended that our schools need to provide our children with a better personal education to equip them for life in the wider world. An estimated 20% of all 11 year old children starting secondary school in the UK this year are below the expected literacy levels. To overcome this, Cambridge University recommend focusing the children on eight ‘domains’, one of which is oracy and literacy.

According to the Learning and Skills Council, the majority of employers in the UK are demanding increasing levels of skills in customer handling, communication, and management. Exactly the sorts of abilities needed when businesses are striving to stand out in a noisy industry. Young people growing up in our modern world are failing to receive the fundamentals needed not only to read, write, and speak, but also the ability to creatively interpret information to help develop their chances of living a fulfilling life. How sad, that as employers, we are now faced not only with a tough economy and weighty regulations, but now also with a young workforce without the skills to effectively integrate within our industries. With more and more and more redundancies set to take place due to the loss of key markets and jobs to emerging economies, the real opportunities are only out there for those who recognise their career is dependent upon their skill levels… and that includes the ability to read.

Stretched resources within small businesses risks negatively impacting on employer and employee alike when trying to establish their career development path. The employer often struggles with finding appropriate candidates to select from and employees typically become technically proficient before they even consider the skills required to progress within the organisation. Unless its a manual or online forum shows you how to customise security settings by using the Outlook Security Template, then the rest of the time, those who struggle with texting ‘What time are you coming round later?’ in full will not be placing priority on ‘Rework‘ over ‘Halo: Reach‘ if they can help it.

So how can you help? Well, firstly, you can set the standard, start by taking the time to read more and encourage others by talking about what you’ve learned as a result. Positivity breeds positivity and you would do yourself no harm by starting with you.

In addition, you may want to see how those struggling with their literacy can improve using existing third party resources such as Reading Matters at Work or the Reading Agency training. That way it should take less time to help others achieve and further develop a skill that will grow their knowledge and imagination.

Oh, and apologies to anyone who thought this post would be about that City just off Junction 10 on the M4.

*US Labour Department Secretary Elaine L. Chao

**Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2002

*** Skills for Life Survey, DfES, 2003

Susanne Dansey is the Managing Director of Purple Cow Ideas Management – an organisation that facilitates a paradigm shift in the collaborative nature of the ICT Industry. You can follow her on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook.

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4 thoughts on “The Importance of Reading

  1. Pingback: The Cinderella Moment « The Cowshed

  2. Paul and Simon, thank you very much for taking the time to submit your comments.

    I’m yet to swap the smell of a new book and the texture of the pages for a Kindle. I’ve seen many people warmly welcome them as it has really helped them fall back in love with reading.

    Whatever way you use to develop your reading ability is fine by me – the results and benefits you gain by the art of reading are far too good to keep just us book readers. 🙂

  3. Have read a fair bit in the past couple of years, but having recently bought an Amazon Kindle I am now reading a lot more.

    It is really a fantastic device that I highly recommend. The content is no different, but the ability to choose a new book whereever you are in the world and start reading right away is great.

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