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Friday, September 23, 2011

Kent Blumberg: How to understand a business book in under four hours

Kent Blumberg: How to understand a business book in under four hours: "How to understand a business book in under four hours"

Are you overwhelmed by all the books you think you should be reading? If so, try this approach, developed by Tony Buzan.

I've been using Tony Buzan's Mind Map Organic Study Technique (MMOST) for years now, and find it helps me study and understand business books quickly and easily. In four hours, or so, this technique will give you 90 percent of most any business book, with enough understanding to explain and use the concepts in your own work.

I'll talk through the technique in outline form. If you'd like, you can download this PDF mindmap of the technique [7kb], and follow along as I work through the process. (Sorry there aren't any graphics in this mindmap. It was my first shot using Visual Mind, and I haven't yet figured it out completely.) You can also see Buzan's version of the process in Chapter 9 of Use Your Head(Tony Buzan, BBC Active, 2003).

Here's what you do:

  1. Browse through the book for ten minutes or so. The goal is to get a feel for how the book is organized, whether or not it uses graphics, lists, useful headings, chapter summaries and the like.
  2. Budget the time you will spend studying the book and the amount you will study. Buzan suggests working for 20 to 50 minutes at a time, followed by a break of ten minutes, so work with that as a starting point. Step two should take you five minutes or so.
  3. Do a quick mindmap of what you know about the subject of the book. Do it quickly - two minutes or so. The point is to put your studying in context - no sense wasting time hashing over material you already know. [If you need a reminder of how to mindmap, see my June 26 article. You might also search Technorati for "mind map", as other folks post on the concept fairly regularly.]
  4. Spend ten minutes on a new mind map, this one focused the questions and goals you have for the book - what you are hoping to gain by studying the book. This will help you know when you have studied enough.
  5. Okay. You've spent a bit under 30 minutes getting yourself prepared for study. Now get up and take a ten minute break before returning to work.
  6. ALL BOOKS. The first study step is called "Overview." In this step, you will look only at headlines, pictures, graphics, tables, bold face material and lists. Don't read any text yet! Your goal is to understand the big picture, the main concepts. With many books, you'll pick up on the central model. [For example, see the model from Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. This model gives you the major concepts of the book, and you will pick it up during the Overview step.] By the end of the Overview step, you should have a central image for your mind map, and the first level branches. If the book is built around a model, the model often serves as a great central image for your map. Depending on the book and on your goals, this may be all you need to do with the book. If you need more, go on to step 7.
  7. ONLY WHERE NEEDED. Buzan calls this step "Preview." Now you will work more selectively. You will only use this step on parts of the book which remain murky. If you understood a chapter in step 6, don't do step 7 for that chapter. But if you do need to know more, read the first sentence of each paragraph. And read chapter summaries. Work to fill in the gaps in your understanding and extend your mind map. If you come across a difficult passage, leave it for the next step.
  8. ONLY IF NEEDED. For only a very few books, or parts of books, you will need to use step 8 - what Buzan calls "Inview." Inview is just plain old reading - slogging through difficult passages to extract meaning. Don't do this unless you really need to in order to achieve your study goals.
  9. ALL BOOKS. Finally, for every book, you will want to do the "Review" step. After completing steps 6, 7 (where needed) and 8 (if needed) redraw the mindmap. A day later, draw the mind map again from memory, then compare to your original and fix it as needed. If the material is really important to remember, draw further review maps at one week, one month and one year.
  10. I always share the contents of a book with peers, bosses and friends. That helps focus my study - if I know I'm going to expose my understanding of the book, I will work smarter to understand it. You can share a book by writing a blog article, writing a review for publication, or writing a memo about it to your peers. Share it somehow - the best way to learn is to teach, after all.

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