Here's a question I ask every candidate I interview: What's the last great book you read?
Catch: It can't be a business book.
It always stumps them.
Some of them are honest: "I don't read fiction. But, I just got done reading a new book about Jeff Bezos ...."
Me: (Inward sigh)
I wish this only happened when I was talking to young recruits, new to marketing, eager to show me their dedication to learning business from the greats. But it's not. I can't even tell you how many CEOs, presidents, entrepreneurs, managers, designers, developers, and even fellow copywriters that have confessed to me that they don't read fiction.
They offer a variety of reasons why. All of which I consider bullshit.
I don't like fiction.
Bullshit. Do you watch movies? Television? Those are fiction. (Even the "reality" shows are scripted.) If you don't like reading fiction, it's because you're not reading good fiction.
Or, it's because you know it's fiction, and others who see you reading it will also know that it is fiction, and you fear they'll judge you, take you less seriously.
Those people are assholes...who should read a good book. Don't let others define your entertainment.
I like to learn while reading.
So do I! The premise that fiction is devoid of lessons is willfully ignorant.
Little Blue Truck isn't an expose on US agriculture, but it sure as heck taught plenty of little ones what sound a goat, sheep, cow, horse, duck, chicken and big green toad make. You used to learn through fiction.
Learning through fiction is part of the learning through philosophy. And learning through play works. When we play, our brains are stimulated. Serotonin levels rise. We remember things better, we make new connections, and we can adapt to new learning situations faster.
Here's some anecdotal evidence about the power of reading great fiction to learn:
I can recite the Tudor lineage from the Plantagenets (Henry VII and Elizabeth of York) straight through to James VI of Scotland. No, I didn't learn them in history class. And I didn't learn them in a non-fictional book about the Tudors. I know them all because they came alive in Philippa Gregory's historical novels.
I learned more about World War I and World War II through Ken Follett's Century Trilogy than any history class I was ever forced to take.
Just about everything I know about the US judicial system came from reading John Grisham novels.
Great fiction transports us to another time, lets us walk in someone else's shoes, reveals truths about the world and ourselves. The lessons you learn from reading The Grapes of Wrath, Bridge to Terabithia, 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, or Stranger in a Strange Land are just as real as the entrepreneurial hacks you'll pick up in the next business bestseller. But they'll stay with you longer.
Reading fiction increases your ability to empathize, and your cognitive abilities as well. Fiction teaches you to be human.
And being human is the best secret weapon you can have in marketing.
I don't have time.
Sorry, but STFU. I don't have time either ... to listen to your "busy complex" bullshit.
We all have time to read. And technology has made reading easier than ever.
You can listen to books in the car or on the treadmill. With a tablet, you can read a book in line at the grocery store, in the doctor's office waiting room, even during a really boring work meeting. (Kidding. Well, half-kidding.) The point is: There are moments in your day you devote to some other entertainment. Probably reading a business book that new tips on Big Data, or how to persuade people, or increase productivity, or (god forbid) to think more creatively.
And if you seriously don't have time to read anything--fiction or otherwise--you need to make some schedule adjustments. As creatives, we need downtime. Delegate more. Turn down a project. Reclaim your lunches. Save yourself 30 minutes every day to read something. Your brain will thank you.
You need fiction. And fiction needs you, too.
You need to read fiction because it will make you a more empathetic person. It will ignite your imagination, making you a more creative thinker. It may also teach you something new about technology, or history, or the judicial system in our country (thanks Grisham!). Who knows? Not you, not until you crack a spine and start reading.
Fiction needs you, too. Without readers, there's no business in publishing great literary works. And a world without great literary works is like a world without great art. Or great music.
Here's your challenge, creative business peeps: I want you to read a work of fiction. And then I want you to tell me what you read, something you liked about the book, and what you learned from it. Share it here in the comments, or drop me a message, or find me on Twitter.
Me? This month I've read The Last Tudor (historical fiction), The Haunting of Hill House (horror), and Streams of Silver (fantasy adventure), because my husband just finished it and he left it on our shared nightstand table. Leave a book around, I'm going to read it.
Unless it's a business book. Sorry, I just don't have time.