The single most important ingredient of effectiveness is clarity, and the only way to increase clarity is by minimizing noise. That actually is the reason why you should read history more than news: history has much less noise than news. By reading history, you will consume a much more noise-free information compared to reading news. This, unfortunately, is not the norm. Most people read news much more than history. This won’t help you increase your personal effectiveness since news is the among the most noisy kind of information you can possibly get.
Now I’d like to expand that one reason of why you should read history more than news to five more specific reasons. Here they are:
1. You won’t get lost in details
Reading news is like reading a book word by word, without first previewing the book (i.e. without looking at its table of contents, reading its back flap, etc). You simply read it from the first word in the front cover to the last word in the back cover. Unfortunately, by reading a book this way you will very possibly miss its main messages because you look too close to the details.
Similarly, by reading news you may get lost in details without ever knowing what the main messages of what’s going on around you are.
Reading history, on the other hand, is like previewing a book before reading it. You can then read only the important parts and capture its main messages.
2. You will clearly see the contexts of events
Reading news is not just like reading a book word by word. It’s like reading a book without table of contents nor chapter titles. You will see only the details without knowing what the context of anything is.
For example, many of us may read hundreds of pages of news on outsourcing and the development of the Internet. But very few of us could see the patterns outlined in Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat (by the way, it’s no coincidence that the book’s subtitle is A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century).
Since history talks about something which has happened, you can see the context of everything which happened there. A 100-year period of events may be given a simple title which describes what it’s all about.
3. You will read only what are truly important
99% of what you read in the news today won’t make it to the history 100 years from now, let alone 1000 years from now. They are simply not important enough to pay attention to. Unfortunately, we spend most of our time on those 99% unimportant stuff.
History has filtered all those unimportant stuff and gives you only the important. In history, you will get only what have passed 100 or 1000 years of filtering.
4. You won’t reinvent the wheel
One of the biggest time wasters is repeating others’ mistakes. Why should you fall into the same hole when someone else had fallen into it and give you a warning sign? Unfortunately, we are often too busy to even read the warning sign! The history provides you with thousands of years of collective wisdom and experience to learn from.
5. You will recognize patterns in what’s going on around you
It is said that “there is nothing new under the sun”. The patterns in what is going on right now should have occurred somewhere in the past. By learning the patterns of the events in the history, you can recognize the patterns in what is going on around you and then take the appropriate actions.
Our attitude toward global warming for example, may resemble those of the Easter Island people in the past who cut all trees in the island that eventually caused them to extinct. They were committing unconscious suicide by exhausting the island’s natural capacity.
Recognizing patterns like this can help you avoid pitfalls and see opportunities.