Note: This post is written by Diana Beyer
Most people hate Scarlet O’Hare. I found her interesting when I first read Gone with the Wind. She reminded me of a fellow student – totally self-centered, but creative and clever, even in her shallowness.
Other plots and characters have provided insights and skill development that cause me to realize that reading fiction enhances my performance at work. Here are six ways that happen.
1. Insight into Human Behavior and Motivation
All business school students take courses in interpersonal relationships. They study theory and case studies. If they would read a bit more fiction, they might gain additional insights into motivational theory in action. In fiction, we also find complex human relationships and learn how they unfold and progress based on personalities and values.
Good fiction all involves psychological studies of people, and readers of good fiction develop the soft skills of understanding the human side of operating a business with a diverse group of people. Fiction might provide much more learning than the Wall Street Journal.
2. You Open Yourself Up to New Ways of Thinking
In fiction are found grand ideas, curiosity, cleverness and creative problem-solving. Career professionals often find themselves in a rut, looking to the same problem-solving routines. Reading the Hunger Games Trilogy and experiencing the ways in which Katniss and Rue use their creativity and knowledge to solve problems can open you up to a new way of thinking. For example, how can you use the resources you currently have, in a tight budget year, to accomplish what you need to?
Reading fiction promotes out-of-the-box thinking – something we can all use some more of.
3. You Develop Empathy
One of the key skills of effective leadership is empathy – the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another and see a problem, a challenge, an issue from their vantage point. Authors of good fiction show you how to do this by providing insights into their characters that allow you to relate and to understand their values and motivations.
Jay, Nick, and Daisy in The Great Gatsby provide the fodder from which empathy can be enhanced, and every organization has such character types. Who cannot empathize with Willy Loman, the tragic figure in Death of a Salesman? Fiction teaches us to develop empathy.
4. You Solidify Your Values and Principles
We all find ourselves slipping at times. We begin to compromise our values and our principles for the sake of expediency. Reading fiction can get us back on track. Atticus Finch and Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird will help us renew our commitment to doing what is right rather than what is convenient.
5. Mental Focus is Enhanced
We become harried and frayed at work. Several projects are all on our plates; we are trying to focus on one, but in the back of our minds are the 5 others that also need our attention. We seem unable to place our complete focus on any of them. We can ease this madness by reading fiction.
Good fiction absorbs us completely. Our brain is focused fully on the tale being told. We are training our brains each time we become absorbed in a novel, and we are able to shut out all of the “noise” around us.
Here is a great exercise. Choose a massive novel that you have always wanted to read – maybe one of James Michener’s classics. Set a deadline by which you will have it finished. Schedule your reading time and commit to it. Once you have succeeded, transfer that behavior over to your projects.
You will be better able to focus on one at a time.
6. Improve Your Own Writing Skills
Your work-related writing may consist of memos, occasional reports, and some letters. One of the things that career professionals must learn is to be clear, succinct and effective.
A lot of fiction teaches good clear writing. Consider the short story writer who must get a plot, a theme, and character development all into a few pages, as opposed to a lengthy novel. Consider Ernest Hemingway whose writing was about as simple and clear as it can get. Reading this type of fiction not only teaches you better writing, but it teaches you to get to the point quickly.
The next time you chide yourself for getting “lost” in a piece of fiction, think about all that you have to learn from it. Sit back, enjoy it, and know that it is enhancing your career skills.