There's a single tweak you can make to your reading habits to become even more successful, says Northwestern management professor Brooke Vuckovic, who teaches a MBA class on extracting leadership lessons from literature.
Her tip: After you've finished reading a new book, try describing it in one sentence.
Your description should include what you learned from the book and what it got you thinking about, Vuckovic says. It should also be catchy, designed to leave the other person wanting more. Keep it broad enough for someone new to the book to jump into the conversation, but pointed enough for a clear tie-in to real-world concerns.
That's easier said than done, of course. Practice helps — and before you try on your own, you can draw inspiration from Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer's one-line summaries of top business biographies, Vuckovic says.
"The Power Broker" can be summed up as "embrace ambiguity," Pfeffer notes. Steve Jobs' biography could translate to "eschew popularity contests."
You can use the same format for fiction. Take Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro's 1989 novel "The Remains of the Day," for example. Instead of saying "It's about a butler in England," you can say something like: "It's a cautionary tale about the pursuit of professional excellence and the pitfalls of misplaced loyalty."
"Who doesn't wrestle with that?" Vuckovic notes.
The more you do this, the easier you'll be find summarizing other complex ideas, she says. There's another benefit, too: When students in Vuckovic's MBA class write one-line book descriptions, they're often struck by how differently other people see the world, she says.
One person might write a summary about Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" that focuses on the central love story. Someone else could exclusively focus on the book's depiction of class. Both takes may be considered accurate, and the potential lessons from each range wildly.
Students usually emerge with a fresh perspective, and the same kind of friendly discord solves business problems, Vuckovic says. Indeed, having diverse viewpoints in the workplace matters: It can motivate employees, improve collaboration and drive staff retention, according to research firm Gartner.
"That's a leadership lesson, in terms of the importance of having diverse thinkers," Vuckovic says. "Are you gathering the data that you need? Are you consulting with people who might see the problem differently?"